April 4th, 2018 E-Learning

How to use badges to build habits, encourage socialization, and teach learners how to use your system.

We’ve written before about how badges and gamification elements encourage learners to engage with a course. In fact, points and badges were one of the first feature updates to LearnDash, the result of high user demand. However, as popular as the feature may be, knowing how to use it in your course is another matter. Fortunately, top-notch examples for effective badge usage abound.

Case in point: I’m an audiobook addict, and Audible is my app of choice. I usually start my audiobook when I get up in the morning and listen while I’m getting ready for work. I also listen to audiobooks in the car, while making meals, and while doing chores around the house. Audible didn’t make me an audiobook listener, but its badge system did turn listening to audiobooks into a minor obsession.

And, as it so happens, it’s also an excellent case study in how to use gamification to support learners in your course. Here’s a run through of a few of their badges, and how to apply the to your online course.

Top Audible badge ideas for online education:

  1. Daily Dipper: Listening for consecutive days.

This one is great for helping your users build a habit. Once learners notice they have a streak going, they’ll keep checking in so as not to break it.

  1. Social Butterfly: Sharing to social media.

Reward your learners for making social posts about their course progress. Sharing with their network will help break down isolation, and it will bring you some publicity as well.

  1. Stenographer: Taking notes and leaving bookmarks.

I didn’t even know this feature existed in Audible before I saw the badge. It’s use for your course will depend on what functions you allow, but it’s a great example of how to use badges to encourage learners to explore the course tools.

  1. The Closer: Completing a book start-to-finish.

I can see awarding this to learners who finish a course within a certain period of time, or who complete a certain number of lessons in a day.

What other badges might work for online education?

Of course, not every Audible badge translates well to online education. The “Dabbler” badge, for instance, seems to be for listeners who keep moving from book to book without finishing any. (It’s one of the few I don’t have.) It’s basically the polar opposite of the kind of habit you’re trying to build in your learners.

Others, such as the “Night Owl,” “Weekend Warrior,” and “High Noon” are for listening at certain times of the day, but honestly it feels a little cruel to award badges to learners who are studying at midnight. Then there’s ones such as “The Stack” (for learners who have completed multiple courses?) or “Mount Everest” (for learners who have completed a particularly long course?), but they seem like more of a stretch to me.

That said, Audible is far from the only place to use badges. Looking around, here are a few more ideas that could work for online learners:

Badges to encourage forum use:

  1. Conversationalist: For being active in the discussion forum.

Reward learners for leaving comments and engaging in the content. Give extra points to learners who leave comments that receive a lot of “likes.”

  1. Discussion Leader: For starting a conversation topic.

Asking good questions and sharing interesting information helps add value to the community. Encourage learners to keep the discussion going and reward them for building participation.

  1. Supporter: For “liking” posts from other learners.

Learners that encourage and promote other learners help build the community. A badge recognizes them for their effort and marks them as a positive contributor to the forum.

Badges to encourage feature use:

  1. Tourist: For completing a user tutorial and taking a tour of the site.

A short user tutorial can help orient first-time learners and reduce the number of support requests. It can also introduce them to features that could help them complete the course.

  1. Librarian: For accessing and using the course library.

Do you have a resource library available to learners? Have they ever looked at it? Offer a badge for exploring the library and reading/downloading articles.

  1. Leaderboard: For scoring on/checking the course leaderboard.

Have you implemented a leaderboard to inject some healthy competition into your course? Award badges for checking in or achieving a high score.

Badges to reward learning achievement:

  1. Perfect Score: For acing a test.

For some learners, achieving a perfect score is its own reward. Others might be encouraged to study a little harder if there’s a badge at stake.

  1. Quiz Master: For finishing a certain number of quizzes.

Quizzing is a great way to help learners test their learning progress, and it helps move recently learned concepts from short to long-term memory as well. A quiz badge can be an incentive to encourage learners to take the quizzes as they go.

  1. Scholar: For completing a lesson.

This is an easy badge to level up as the learner completes more lessons. Maybe they earn the “novice” badge for their first lesson, “scholar” after a few more (the average length of a course, perhaps), and “master” for a large number (several courses).

  1. Course Badge: For completing a course.

Sure, you’re probably awarding them a certificate for completing the course, but why not include a badge for their profile, too? I know I’d want one.

Reward badges for large and small achievements alike.

Badges motivate some learners more than others, but it’s rare to find a learner who doesn’t feel a small thrill of pleasure and achievement for earning one. In fact, one of the things I like about badges is how you can award them for large and small achievements alike. The satisfaction for receiving a relatively easy badge (completing a tutorial) can spur learners toward working harder to achieve larger badges (finishing a course). The badges in between act as milestones, rewarding achievement and reinforcing certain actions.

Another way to add an extra level of interest to badges is to level them up as the learner progresses. I mentioned this in my suggestion for the “scholar” badge, but this is a feature of Audible, too. After you earn the regular badge, you can level them up to earn silver and gold versions. I’ve been listening to Audible for years, and I’m still working on advancing some of mine. (What can I say: I’m a sucker for badges.)

What are your thoughts? Do you have examples of badges that would work for online education?


2 responses

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I’m conflicted about badges. I like them used the way Scouts and Guides use them – for proficiency at a skill. I worry about their overuse being too much extrinsic motivation and completely filling the space that should be populated mostly by intrinsic motivation. At some point the help of a reward to get me to do something needs to be replaced by my own personal desire to consistently do it. I think it’s too easy to award badges for things without thinking about the long-term consequences to an individual’s motivation levels.

Avatar Joel MacDonald

Thanks, Joel. To your point, I think there’s certainly some evidence out there that shows that passing out awards just for showing up can actually be a de-motivator. But I don’t think that necessarily applies to some of the ones we’re talking about here. I might have a lot of intrinsic motivation to go learn things, but that doesn’t always translate toward a consistent action focused on achieving a specific goal. Moreover, if I don’t inherently want to do a thing, there’s not a badge in the world that’s going to convince me to go do it. I think you’re right about over-using badges if it doesn’t have meaning for the learner, but I think they have a lot of value if they’re used to reward achievement or encourage a certain kind of behavior.

Avatar Laura Lynch

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