Reflections on the 2018 Badge Summit



I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2018 Badge Summit in Chicago, IL and wanted to take some time to write about the intersections of badges in 21st century learning environments.

STEM Macro 3.png

The summit was led by Noah Geisel (@SenorG), co-founder of BadgechatK12, and included discussions about the power of badges, while also tackling some of the more controversial issues that arise when talking about badging, such as: the predictability of metadata, how to ensure the use of encrypted student information and how to create a trust structure that properly represents student engagement.

What Exactly is a Badge?

Covering the Basics

Digital Badging Example 2.jpg

A badge is an online representation of a skill, achievement or knowledge earned by a learner. Badges can be issued by anyone, including schools, industry and cultural and civic institutions.

The Mozilla Foundation defines badges as “a way to symbolize or indicate an accomplishment, skill, quality or interest.”

Digital badges support connected learning environments by motivating learning and signaling achievement both within particular communities, such as a school, as well as across communities and institutions, such as industry partners.

Badging is Being Talked About More Frequently

The Role Social Innovation Plays in Learning

Badges are changing the delivery of education by focusing on the learner’s needs in more diverse ways. They have been used to set goals, motivate behaviors, represent achievements and communicate success for individual learners.

Social Innovation.png

Due to the heightened emphasis on the importance of Social Innovation (SI), education has focused on diversifying the ways in which it tackles students’ unique needs. The Center for Social Innovation (CSI) defines SI as “new ideas that resolve existing social, cultural, economic and/or environmental idea that works for the public good.” Although many other definitions exist, there are several key characteristics that describe social innovation:

  • Systemic: SI targets root causes of macro level problems.

  • Sustainable: SI involves strategic planning that is not perpetually dependent on public/private funding.

  • Scalable: SI has a wide-ranging impact.

  • Self-organized: SI involves active engagement with communities and grassroots movements, and requires community partnerships.

Research has made connections between SI and the cognitive process defined by Bloom’s Taxonomy. Moreover, SI and badges can help with deeper-level cognitive activities such as evaluating and creating. Speakers, and workshops, at the 2018 Badge Summit focused on the ways in which badging can holistically investigate student learning based on learner preferences. Badging allows for evaluators to compare learning from traditional sources of education, to new and innovative ways of learning, and use cross-pollination strategies that ensure involvement from sources beyond education.

For instance, some learners obtain skills on their own through the use of emerging technology, internships, daily experiences within their communities and interactions with professionals in and outside of education. In that regard, a badge is an example of SI since learners are provided a key to open new learning opportunities. In short, providing a way for the user to discover their preferences during the learning journey -- by recognizing that learning comes from different sources and different learners gravitate to varying sources of learning -- is truly a human-centered approach to education delivery.

In the modern learning environment, students are becoming increasingly aware of their ability to self-direct their learning. Through the emergence of new educational technologies, self-direction is becoming more and more prevalent. Self-direction allows learners to create their own individualized pathways centered around their personal goals. However, there is not currently a way to demonstrate the acquisition of knowledge, skills or accomplishments learners gain through self-direction because there is no existing credential that reflects said learning. Badges provide a way to give credibility to that self-direction by depicting the skills, knowledge and achievements the learner discovers through self-directed learning pathways.

How is Motivation Impacted by Badging?

Humanizing Motivation

Badges connect learner interest to motivation by allowing for feedback and rewards outside of traditional assessments. Daniel Pink, a leader in student motivation, suggests that the traditional carrot and stick model is outdated and instead, motivation is comprised of autonomy, personal mastery and purpose. Looking at motivation through that lens allows education leaders to engage in learning opportunities differently.

In other words, it allows education leaders to look at motivation from an intrinsically human view; it allows us to motivate people by making them feel like they are a part of something greater than themselves, rather than motivating them by dangling something in front of them, just out of reach.

Badges can help engage and motivate students by providing avenues to acquire and demonstrate their skills on their own. Badges provide that source of thinking because they are a more detailed view of informal learning, which is referred to as transparency in credentials.

What Are Some of the Limitations to Badging?

Tempering Expectations


With all of the promises of badging, it is important to note that the 2018 Badge Summit did not shy away from the limitations of badges. The Summit provided nascent research to demonstrate how badging can be improved through a focus on an important area of interest: creating trust structures. A trust structure means that both industry and education agree upon the substance of the badge. Said differently, a diverse stakeholder group that has a common understanding, and agreement, about what the badge represents must be established.

A trust structure means that both industry and education agree upon the substance of the badge. Said differently, a diverse stakeholder group that has a common understanding, and agreement, about what the badge represents must be established.

In order for a healthy trust structure to be accomplished, the private sector, education professionals and members of the local and national community must collaborate and co-develop the skills badges represent. The 2018 Badge Summit provided practical steps to creating a trust structure that will ultimately disaggregate data from the classroom level to the individual level.


Operating in the 21st century, learners must master several intersecting concepts, like critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, emotional intelligence and adaptability, in order to be successful. The 2018 Badge Summit provided a few areas that thought leaders of digital badges are paying attention to when working with badges. Once such area is the intersection of individual privacy and student learning.

This year’s keynote speaker, Samuel Dyson, spoke about the importance of creating a system where students opt-in when making decisions about who views their learning in order to protect their privacy. That is because badges can help determine a student’s learning preferences, and those preferences have the ability to be aggregated and ultimately predict which direction learners will take their learning.

Additionally, Emily George from the Providence After School Alliance suggested during the 2018 Badge Summit that the future of work itself is changing. Given that occupational opportunities will be different in the future, a new set of credentials are needed. These credentials can be represented by badges, which can align with the skills demanded by the evolving workforce. Therefore, the question remains: are education leaders thinking far enough into the future to support the needs of the future workforce? Are industry professionals? Are communities?

Lastly, the content of public education was debated during the 2018 Badge Summit by Don Fraisure from Education Design Lab, Kerri Lemoie from OpenWorks Group and LeiLani Cauthen from The Learning Counsel. This conversation addressed the ever-changing content in public education. The conclusion of that conversation was that content no longer features individualized projects, but instead, connects with a larger purpose of using learning to support communal values.

In that way, the thought leaders who presented their ideas during the 2018 Badge Summit claimed that education leaders should be looking at the compilation of learning, and they called it the “algorithm of learning”. Badges can represent data that can be aggregated and investigated in a holistic sense.

Thanks for stopping by! If you have any comments, suggestions or musings drop us a line in the comment section below.



P.S. Before you go, make sure to download our free e-book if you haven't already! 

5 Simple Ways To Free Up Your Time As An Educator So You Can Focus On The Things That Matter

Ebook Screenshot 3.17.59 PM copy.png