4 Benefits To Using Badges In Online Learning

4 Benefits To Using Badges In Online Learning
Summary: There are several benefits to using badges in an online class. Among these are greater autonomy for students, greater levels of feedback, and a variety of assignments. Students also enjoy the ability to try again if they don't succeed at first and the badge graphics they receive once they earn the badge.

Using Badges In Online Learning

Several years ago I learned about gamification and started thinking about how I could apply this to my online courses. I decided that using badges would be a good way to introduce these ideas into my classes and began an experiment. As a result I discovered several benefits to using badges which I would like to share with you.

Before I discuss the benefits let me share with you how I use badges. In each of the classes for which I use badges I have 24 different badges that students can earn. Each one is a “micro-assignment” which asks students to apply some concept or set of concepts we are covering in the class. Students submit their responses and if they meet the badge criteria they earn the badge. When they earn a badge they receive the points for that in their grades and also receive a badge graphic uploaded to their own personal profile which only they can see. One feature I would like to incorporate is the ability to share these badges via their social networks but I am not sure about how this would work with regard to FERPA requirements. More research on my part is needed regarding this.

If the student does not earn the badge, they are provided with detailed feedback and allowed to resubmit to try and earn the badge. They can submit as many times as they want or need to in order to earn the badge. Students need to earn a minimum of 14 badges to earn a C in the course and 18 badges to earn an A.

For me there have been several benefits I have observed for students in the classes with badges. Let me discuss four.

  1. Autonomy
    Many studies show that having a sense of autonomy leads to greater happiness in work as well as better results. With the use of badges in my class, students have autonomy in several ways. First, they can choose whichever badges they want to earn. There are no badges that are required for everyone to earn. The result is that each student can “customize” the course to some extent and tailor the material to their own learning interests. Second, they are able to work at their own pace since there is only one due date for all work to be completed which is when the semester is over.
  2. Variety of Assessments
    With so many different assignments, I can provide a great deal of variety in the work students do. Some assignments call for students to write a response to a video they watch, others require that they provide a response to a case study. In my Introduction to Philosophy course one badge assignment asks they to take a picture of a scene outside their window and provide a philosophical analysis of it. In my business ethics class one badge assignment asks them to wear a nametag all day, every day, for an entire week and report on their results. But, this is not simply variety for the sake of variety. The assignments are geared to help students see how the concepts we cover in the course can be applied in everyday life and often require an action to demonstrate this application.
  3. The Ability to Try Again
    One thing that has always bothered me about traditional assessments is that once the student receives a grade we move on to new material whether or not they have mastered the previous material. But, in many cases mastery of that previous material is necessary for further progress in the course. In other cases, the simple fact of failing one assignment takes away any motivation for further progress in the class. But, with badges it becomes easier for students to try again and again until they show mastery. While this is often done in classes with regular assignments such as exams and papers it is much more daunting to have to re-do an entire paper than it is to resubmit a smaller badge assignment.
  4. Greater Level of Feedback
    Another important benefit for my students is the greater level of feedback they receive from me as a result of using badges. For students who do not succeed on their first submission, they receive detailed feedback from me and often need to engage in a discussion to make progress. I believe that this discussion is an important component of the learning process and one that seems to be more facilitated by badges than other assignments I have used in previous courses. Since each assignment is short, it becomes easier to provide this detailed feedback than it would be to provide the same level of detail on a lengthy paper.

It is probably clear from this description that most, if not all, of these benefits are not intrinsic to using badges. They could be gotten from a variety of other course activities. But, for me the discovery of gamification and the use of badges helped me to easily bring these benefits to the class. I think the students enjoy the variety and they like seeing the badge graphics added to their individual profiles. It provides an extra little benefit that, perhaps, makes their experience in the class a little more memorable. In any case, as a result of using badges I have seen an increase in student engagement and achievement in my classes. So, for me, using badges has been a success.