Badges for online learning: gimmick or game-changer?

Reda Sadki Writing

As I’ve been thinking about building a MOOC for the 13.1 million Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers, I’ve become increasingly interested in connectivism. One of the platforms I’ve discovered is called P2PU (“Peer To Peer University”), which draws heavily on connectivist ideas. Surprise: on P2PU there is a debate raging on about badges, of all things. I initially scoffed. I’ve seen badges on Khan Academy and have read that they are very popular with learners, but did not really seriously consider these badges to be anything more than gimmicks. It turns out that badges are serious learning tools, and that makes sense from a connectivist perspective. A white paper from the Mozilla Foundation summarizes why and how, drawing on an earlier paper from P2PU’s co-founder Philipp Schmidt. George Siemens’s (2005) connectivism theory of learning is said to go “beyond traditional theories of learning (such as behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism) to include technology as a core element”. So badges in this theory would use …

George Siemens at TEDxNYED (3 June 2010)

A few of my favorite excerpts from George Siemens’s Knowing Knowledge (2006)

Reda Sadki Theory

My own practice (and no doubt yours) has been shaped by many different learning theorists. George Siemens, for me, stands out articulating what I felt but did not know how to express about the changing nature of knowledge in the Digital Age. Below I’ve compiled a few of my favorite excerpts from his book Knowing Knowledge, published in 2006, two years before he taught the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) with Alec Couros and Stephen Downes. Learning has many dimensions. No one model or definition will fit every situation. CONTEXT IS CENTRAL. Learning is a peer to knowledge. To learn is to come to know. To know is to have learned. We seek knowledge so that we can make sense. Knowledge today requires a shift from cognitive processing to pattern recognition. Construction, while a useful metaphor, fails to align with our growing understanding that our mind is a connection-creating structure. We do not always …