Digital Badges: As tempting as a candy rush

Digital Badges

Digital badges are as tempting as a candy rush. When consumed on their own, there is a quick hit while sugar courses through the body. The effect fades quickly, and the sugar does not provide lasting sustenance. While badges may serve as an effective short-term extrinsic motivator, they are not a panacea for student engagement.

digital badges
By Anyashy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
In a meta-analysis of gamification, Looyestyn et al. (2017) found that badges were the only game element in half of the cases where there was no significant effect on student engagement. They note the novelty effect of elements such as badges and points, and that they are often arbitrary and have little meaning outside of the context in which they were awarded (Looyestyn et al., 2017).

In many respects, badges are the present-day equivalent of printed certificates. While students may welcome certificates and, in some cultures, prominently display them, they usually are not incredibly motivating. Similarly, badges are less useful for motivation and more useful for scaffolding and credentialing (Devedžić & Jovanović, 2015). However, as is often the case, the devil is in the details. Rushing to replace analog certificates with digital badges is unlikely to give the desired results.

Since Moodle has built-in badge support, we have done some preliminary investigation for issuing badges at Horizon. (Some of the more helpful resources are listed below.) However, we have not yet moved ahead with this initiative because we have not yet developed a clear rationale and taxonomy. Further, in the higher education space in which we primarily work, it is unlikely that badges are going replace credits and degrees anytime soon.

This post is the fifth in a series (firstsecond, third, fourth) for this semester’s course, “Digital Tech in Adult Ed,” with Dr. Rob Power at UOIT.


Devedžić, V., & Jovanović, J. (2015). Developing Open Badges: a comprehensive approach. Educational Technology Research and Development, 63(4), 603–620.

Looyestyn, J., Kernot, J., Boshoff, K., Ryan, J., Edney, S., & Maher, C. (2017). Does gamification increase engagement with online programs? A systematic review. PLoS One, 12(3).

Further reading

Badge literacy: a field guide

Open Badges – The missing link in open education

Jisc Open Badge Design Toolkit

Design Principles Card Deck

Badge Bootcamp

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)





3 responses to “Digital Badges: As tempting as a candy rush”

  1. […] post is the sixth in a series (first, second, third, fourth, fifth) for this semester’s course, “Digital Tech in Adult Ed,” with Dr. Rob Power at […]

  2. […] post is the seventh in a series (first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth) for this semester’s course, “Digital Tech in Adult Ed,” with Dr. Rob Power at […]

  3. […] post is the eighth in a series (first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh) for this semester’s course, “Digital Tech in Adult Ed,” with Dr. Rob […]