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MOOC Badging and the Learning Arc

posted Nov 16, 2012, 9:32 AM by Simon Cross   [ updated Feb 2, 2015, 6:56 AM ]
By Simon Cross and Rebecca Galley
[Author Note January 2015: Some of the ideas contained in this post have been worked up and published in the following open journal article: Cross, Simon; Whitelock, Denise and Galley, Rebecca, (2014). The use, role and reception of open badges as a method for formative and summative reward in two Massive Open Online Courses. International Journal of e-Assessment, 4(1) ]
In a recent blog post Rebecca Galley introduced the OLDS-MOOC Badging Strategy and the nine badges that will be associated with the MOOC. The first part of the post expands on some of our thinking behind the strategy by using a pictorial representation to explain the place of the badges in the course. This is predicated on (a) the idea that a course, just like a novel, a movie or a video game, contains a broad central 'story arc' - a 'learning arc' or journey with a start (beginning of course) and an end, and (b) the idea that there are different types of badge that have different relationships with this learning arc. The second part reflects some of our initial critical consideration of what the roles and benefits of badges may be. As the post is intended as a discussion piece, we welcome your thoughts and responses.
The first type of badge we considered was of it as a reward for achieving something on the main learning arc - for example, reaching a particular point or level or doing a particular activity. This, in a sense, rewards achievment and is shown on the story arc as a single point:
We thought the second type of badge could be to reward sustained, cumulative effort or, as Rebecca says in her post, to reward endeavour. The OLDS MOOC contains three Type II badges that reward 1, 3 and 6 weeks of participation.   
A third purpose for a badge may be to encourage deviation from the main learning arc - to help the learner explore the academic and social space around the course itself and even to make their own paths. The OLDS-MOOC has three such badges: 'resource gatherer', 'collaborator' and 'reviewer'. Each seeks to promote and reward exploration, deeper learning and independence. 
The OLDS-MOOC strategy seeks to offer badges associated with each of these three types and we are looking foward to seeing how they are recieved.
In developing the above models we found ourselves also thinking about what other 'roles' (besides pedagogic roles) badges may have. I have attempted to pull these thoughts together in the table below. This table considers the benefit to the receiver (learner) and the creator (awarder) and, where relevant, groups roles which at this level seem to offer similar benefits. You will notice that as we move down the table we consider more broader structural issues - for example, in thinking of a badge as a means of association or as a way for established social structures or hierachies to rentrench and perpetuate themselves. We would be very interested to hear your thoughts and expect this to inform our evaluation of the badging strategy used in this MOOC. 

Role of Badge

Benefit of the badge

Receiver (learner)

Creator (awarder)

1. As a motivator /

2. To promote engagement /

3. To prevent withdrawal

Greater sense and understanding of achievements, skills learnt and progress being made. Can set intermediate milestones and waypoints in the learning journey 

A solution to the 'motivation issue' for open courses that have no formal (or at least teacher marked qualification-related assessment). The drop-out rate for such courses is much higher than for traditional courses (even up to 90-95% of registrations).

4. As a meaning maker /

5. Signifier of learning objectives

Badges help show learners what the awarder think are most important to the subject/ competency being studied. It can give greater meaning to the learning

Badges can help describe what is important and can be constructively aligned with learning outcomes. Achievement of a badge may be seen as evidence that an outcome has also been achieved

6. As a low-cost option

The learner does not have to pay for assessment, nor potentially even study (or pay for) a course to receive the badge

Awarder does not need to mark, moderate, grade or award. This means less to no time spent on assessment and on maintaining the structures that support assessment and award

7. As a low-effort option

The learner does not have to enrol in a course if they have previously done something that demonstrate they meet the badge criteria.

Courses are repeatable with less effort from the awarder (less to no time required for assessment)

8. As a valuer


In a similar way to a qualification or certificate, a badge can  help the learner to value what is being learnt

Both the existence of a badge and uptake of it by learners, can help confer value to something that is clearly import to the awarder (otherwise why create the badge)

9. As a symbol of identity /

10. As a means of association

A shorthand to represent achievement, effort or skills and a way of associating with, and simultaneously distinguishing oneself from others

Helps ties the learner to the awarder and in so doing deepens the association between them and others holding the badge. For social or political groups for whom the goal of a qualification/award is not the primary purpose, badges can provide shared goals (or other foci) around which badge-seekers and badge-achievers can associate.

11. As an empower

Enables learner to gain status within a group by achieving badges deemed of value to the group.

Awarder gains status by being seen as an awarder and, potentially, this may help challenge and shift the authority/power to recognise achievement/skills. The awarder does not need to have formal qualification granting powers to create badges. May also allow individuals to attempt to determine the identify of a group.

12. As an entrencher

Those learners who can gain badges sooner (e.g. who already have the skills) place themselves at a competitive advantage over those who cannot. Rather than empower, this may simply entrench an existing hierarchy or social/professional structure.

Institutions, individuals or groups with established authority, status, wealth or  power may use badges to entrench or even extend this. This privileges 'super-players' at the detriment of small independents.

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