“We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” Or, do we?

by Vince Cyboran, Ed.D. Associate Professor, Graduate Program in Training and Development Roosevelt University

Much like the enigmatic emblems on Scout uniforms, “digital badges” are among the latest efforts for documenting skill competencies in individuals.  Mixed with an updateable–and up-to-date–portfolio, professional certification(s), and a wisely chosen graduate degree, badges supposedly signify not only the ability to “do,” but to “do well.” And, like the Scouts’ merit badges, digital badges must be earned.

What is a badge? According to a 2012 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education: “the MacArthur Foundation says it’s “a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest.” Got it? Please keep reading anyway.

AdobeEducationWho are awarding badges?  The usual suspects–including Microsoft and Adobe–award a variety of badges through their elaborate formal and informal learning programs and partnerships. Even institutions of higher education are jumping on the badge bandwagon. As universities and colleges struggle to re-establish their relevance and accountability, they are wisely reclaiming their place in the world by championing lifelong learning and awarding credit(s) for experiential learning. Two examples of digital badgers are the University of California at Davis (UC-Davis) and Concordia University (several locations).

badge-backpackWhere are digital badges displayed? The not-so-simple answer is anywhere that we share information about ourselves, particularly our “professional” selves.  If you go the ‘open badges’ route from Mozilla, you would proudly display them on your ‘badge backpack.’ Of course, you could include them on your LinkedIn profile. And, for specific instructions on how to do this, you could consult the Open Badges Blog on Tumblr.

What benefits do digital badges provide? At a minimum:

  • Badges are portable. They travel with individuals as they move through their careers and lives.
  • Badges are an institution- and organization-free. They can be earned through formal and informal learning environments.

While it’s too soon to tell whether digital badges are here to stay, they have certainly gained traction amongst the learnarati. It is clear that all professionals in the field of Organizational Learning and Development must be able to speak “badge.”  For more information about digital badges, please check the links in the References and Resources section of this post.

But why badges and why now? In the wise words of Craig Mindrum of Accenture, “The late twentieth century was the era of knowledge work and knowledge workers. The first part of the twenty-first century will be about ‘value work’ and ‘value workers.’” Can ‘value badges’ be far behind?

What experiences have you had with badges?  Do you think they are or will become relevant?

References and Resources

Bull, B. You Can Now Earn a Master’s Degree in #EdTech Through Competency-Based Digital Badges: http://etale.org/main/2014/09/07/you-can-now-earn-a-masters-degree-in-edtech-through-competency-based-digital-badges/?subscribe=success#blog_subscription-5

Carey, K. (2012). A Future Full of Badges.

Chronicle of Higher Education. http://chronicle.com/article/A-Future-Full-of-Badges/131455/

How to Display Badges on LinkedIn Profiles: http://openbadges.tumblr.com/post/55809369771/how-to-display-your-open-badges-on-your-linkedin

Microsoft Partners in Learning Badge System: http://dml4.dmlcompetition.net/fastapps.dev.hri.uci.edu/files/1089/files/Microsoft%20Partners%20in%20Learning%20Badge%20System-Final-0915.pdf

Mindrum, C., p. 171, in Vanthournout, D. (2006). Return on Learning:  Training for High Performance at Accenture. Chicago: Agate.

Open Badges: http://openbadges.org/about/

Pearson Learning Solutions. Exploring Badges:  A New Method to Recognize Professional Credentials. (Webinar recording; 56 minutes): http://www.pearsonlearningsolutions.com/webinars/

Pwc (2014). 17th. Annual Global CEO Survey: https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/hr-management-services/publications/assets/ceosurvey-talent-challenge.pdf


  • Thank you for the article and I am a little familiar with badges, although I have not used them in any eLearning courses that I created and placed on our LMS. However, my company awards badges for other concepts within the organization. For example, if an employee was helpful to you or lived into a certain principle, you can that employee a badge. This badge displays on their employee profile for all to see. In my opinion, I am OK with this type of badge.

    However, I’m not completely sold on the use of badges for learning. Should we award badges because you completed a required course that is part of your job? If you have more badges, does that make you a better person? I kinda of relate this to Facebook and the likes you receive when you post something. In my opinion, receiving a digital certificate for completing an online course should suffice.


  • I can’t really say I’m completely sold on the badges, however I’m not opposed to them. I guess they serve as a reminder of your accomplishments which is certainly a good thing, especially for adult learners who have busy lives and can sometimes get discouraged.

  • I must admit that based on the title and some experiences at my job I was not expecting what I read. My organization has recently started to do badges with different systems they are implementing. For example, they have implemented and internal site for networking and data storage. As you post, read, comment and follow others you earn points and eventually get badges. My initial thought was this was going to be around internal badging within an organization.

    This concept was new to me. I was not aware of the badging concept that currently exists. To answer the question around if they will become relevant. Even though it does not seem to be popular now, I think that in the future this may be something that will be implemented. Technology is changing, and those entering the world business have a different expectation of technology and ‘branding’ themselves.

    Great article.

  • I like the idea of badges. I think these could becoming motivators not only in a leanring environment but also as a recognition tool. Awarding ebadges to employess for a job wel done can go a long way in an organization where employee profiles are open to the entire organization (i.e. internal Facebook pages). Personally, I use the FitBit activity tracker and I receive badges for a variety of different activites. FitBit now allows you to connect with friends and you can see which badges they have achieved and acts as a motivator to keep moving. I think badges are here to stay!

  • I’m not too familiar with badges myself but I have to say I don’t see it as being beneficial for learners. I think that degrees are a lot more impactful than badges.

  • Yes, the idea of badges seems to be taking off. I have seen badges get popular as of late on Social Media and different apps, not so much on the professional or education level. One example I think of is apps like Foursquare, where you check in and comment on different restaurants and establishments and after you do so many you get a badge of some sort. We are in the 21st Century and with technology and social media the idea of badges isn’t so bad in my opinion.

  • I have gathered badges or micro certifications through training on sites such as http://www.pluralsight.com/. For me, the value is validation / certification of specific skill sets that are incrementally earned. Additionally, depending on the issuers—from university to private entities, these validations do not have to be reinterpreted or reassessed. They are easily recognizable.

  • I do not have much experience with badges. I do see the relevance as a means to promote your skills proudly. There is a need for learning to occur without the formality of an institution. Learning is always happening so I look forward to see if badges become acceptable as a means to show competency.

  • Interesting article, I’m not sold on the use of badges for higher learners. I believe that degrees, certifications and work history should be enough to show your expertise in a certain field. I do plan to look further into the use of digital badges.

  • This article has triggered my desire to revisit these badges. Several times in the past, I have clicked the button in order to make my way through the process and each and every time I’ve quit the process.

  • I need to further my understanding of the concepts. The only application I am familiar with is through skills endorsement on LinkedIn. As a faculty member in a community college setting, I am interested in learning more about its application in the context of higher Ed! Overall, I could see the advantage of its application as a promotional tool, supporting knowledge exchange, and promoting community building! Perceived flaws are possibly accountability and standardization.

    • Absolutely, Darlene, And, for some career-oriented curricula, they might be very useful.

    • Darlene I would agree with your post. I too see the advantage of using badges as a promotional tool, support knowledge exchange and promoting community. There definitely has to be a way to standardize badges so there is a fairness and credibility with the badges earned.

  • I read the article “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” Or, do we?” and this article was a great read because I believe that there is a difference from recognition of a knowledge worker versus a value worker. Having value signifies that not only do you have great knowledge of the subject but you know how to utilize it in the real world, which is important because to have a degree without the ability of proper application is useless. This badge will label the great from the mediocre.

  • I’ve never seen the use of badges in a professional context. Where are they displayed? Are they posted on LinkedIn?

  • I love the fact that the badges are not institutional or organization specific.

  • I looked at badges a couple of years ago and thought it a fantastic idea and but didn’t see widespread use or acceptance at the time. Your article has prompted me to revisit this concept and see it as a trend with staying power.

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