Mar 242011

eLearning: By Anne Derryberry, March 22, 2011, Via learning Solutions Magazine

“There’s a “We Got Badges” badge waiting for you.”

Still don’t think gamification applies to you? Might be time to rethink that position. Seth Priebatsch, founder and CEO of SCVNGR, proclaimed during his keynote at SXSW Interactive that this is the “decade of the game layer.” As he sees it, the game layer is the next evolution of the Web, and will quickly become a ubiquitous component of the digital experience. If Priebatsch is right about the game layer, then eLearning practitioners need to start planning for this eventuality.

At present, the most prominent facet of gamification may be badges. Every social network, it seems, sees badges as the way to elicit loyal participation of its members. Badges are doled out for everything from showing up at a particular location or establishment, to revisiting a Website, to sharing your e-mail list, to signing up for a service, to winning a game. This system of rewards appeals because it acknowledges the small efforts and activities of badge recipients by giving them a visible (if not tangible) symbol of their accomplishments and a way to show those off to other community members.

What badges can do for eLearning

In a new report from Yahoo! Research entitled, “Badges in Social Media: A Social Psychological Perspective,” authors Antin and Churchill present five primary functions that achievement badges provide. I have adapted and expanded their list for eLearning purposes:

  • Goal setting – Goals can take many forms beyond the learning and/or performance goals we establish for our eLearning participants. Participants might respond to time-based challenges, opportunities to achieve multiple certifications, calls to act as a coach or resource for fellow learners, and even requests to hunt down typos or factual errors in an eLearning program. Research suggests that goals that are a bit out of one’s comfort zone can be highly motivating to participants.
  • Instruction – By presenting the range of badges available within an eLearning program, participants gain an orientation to the “value system” that surrounds the program. Badge systems can also provide an organizing framework for the kinds of social interactions that a learning program and associated practice community embrace.
  • Recall – Badges remind the learner of the experience that brought about the award. While subtle, badges can also help the badge holder recall the specifics of a learning event, including that event’s learning moments.
  • Expertise and reputation – Badges provide a visual encapsulation of a badge-earner’s accomplishments, interests, and interactions. When displayed, colleagues can gain information about others’ skill sets, levels of participation, and additional factors that are important to the group.
  • Status – Badges convey a level of status to those who earn them. The more badges earned, the higher the status gained. When badge systems provide rewards in many categories, badge holders can gain status related to things like expertise, team contribution, and helpfulness and availability to others.
  • Group identification – In receiving a badge, the (l)earner gains not only a sense of accomplishment, but also feels acknowledgement by the group and the group’s organizers. This contributes to the learner’s feelings of connection to and affiliation with the group as a whole. Particularly for distributed teams, these feelings of connection can be quite valuable to enhancing the cohesion of the group.
  • On-going incentive – Badge systems, by their very nature, keep learners connected to the learning community. The possibility of gaining new badges resulting from new learning and participation challenges, monitoring the achievements and successes of colleagues, and comparing personal stats with others’ accomplishments all serve to enhance one’s sense of attachment and to spur one to maintain one’s learning momentum.

Badges made simple

Designing and implementing a badge system need not be a complicated or expensive undertaking. Vendors like Big Door, Bunchball, and others have robust badge systems that integrate easily with existing programs, and they offer lots of good resources to help you tailor their tools to your requirements. Costs are free to low, and frequently, their engineers will handle the actual implementation work for you. In addition, these vendors also provide opportunities for participation in their monetization programs, which can not only mitigate the costs of implementation but also add new sources of revenue-generation to your existing revenue model.

So, get your game face on. There’s a “We Got Badges” badge waiting for you.


Antin, J.: Churchill, E.F., CHI 2011, ACM, Vancouver, BC (2011)

What are your thoughts on a badge system for elearning?  Please let me know. Tom


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Tom McDonald,; 608-788-5144; Skype: tsmw5752

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