Blog Post

Badges Design Principles Database Project: Update on Principles

by Dan Hickey

This post is cross-posted at Remediating Assessment (

This post is a brief update about the design principles that have emerged in our analyses and interviews of the 30 DML badges awardees. We will begin posting the initial set of design principles for using digital badges to support learning. Specifically we will put up consecutive posts about the principles we have found for using digital badges to recognize, assess, motivate, and research learning. The first blog on recognizing learning with digital badges is up at HASTAC and Remediating Assessment. The second blog on assessing learning is posted at HASTAC and Remediating Assessment.

previous post introducing our project elaborated on how we were going to identify intended practices for using digital badges by the DML badge awardees. We did that and then interviewed projects to uncover their enacted practices as they put their ideas into place within their particular program or school. We identified practices in four aspects of learning for each project: recognizing, assessing, motivating, and researching. 

We then sorted each set of practices into more general design principles. This is intended to help projects learn what they have in common and link outside resources with particular principles. We hope this will be helpful for building a community of practice around digital badges and help make connections across existing and new badge design projects. Our ultimate goal is a self-sustaining open network organized around an evolving set of principles and resources.

In the coming days, we will post four articles listing the initial set of design principles in each of the four areas. We will describe the principles and the rough proportion of projects that explicitly described corresponding practices. For some principles, we will include an example of a corresponding practice from one or more of the projects that has endorsed our characterizations.i We have been debating the structure and names, and we are getting ready to formalize them, so we really hope people will provide input and suggestions. 

The next phase of our project is identifying outside resources (i.e., research papers, articles, blog posts, etc.) that seem relevant to each of the design principles. We will start by linking principles to the 170 resources in the Annotated Research Bibliography by Sheryl Grant and Kirsten Shawgo. Before doing so we hope to finalize our current set of design principles.ii

Here is our tentative order of posts and authors that we plan to post over the next several weeks.

Design Principles for Recognizing Learning with Digital Badges, by Andi Rehak & Dan Hickey

Design Principles for Assessing Learning with Digital Badges, by Rebecca Itow & Dan Hickey

Design Principles for Motivating Learning with Digital Badges, by Katerina Schenke, Cathy Tran, & Dan Hickey

Design Principles for Researching Learning with Digital Badges, by Dan Hickey

We look forward to hearing from you!


iThis is one of the most challenging aspects of our project. We want to give projects and teams credit for their insights and we want to help people connect with the projects and teams who are enacting practices they are interested in. But we also want to characterize projects and practices accurately. We have been asking (and perhaps begging) team members to review, edit, and endorse our characterizations of individual projects and practices. Once projects are satisfied with the current characterizations, we are asking projects to allow us to share those characterizations widely and publicly. As you can imagine, this is difficult given the number and diversity of projects and their continuing evolution. If you are involved in a project and have yet to review your characterizations, please visit the project website at And even if you have reviewed and approved our characterizations, you might wish to again visit the new Badge Design Principles section to see which design principles are associated with your project.

iiWe emphasize that these principles will continue to unfold as we learn more about them. Numerous decisions were made in deciding which practices go together and what each principle should be called. We are trying to use more general labels and everyday language for the principles. One of our more general project findings is that the process of identifying practices and principles becomes more subjective and more academic across the four categories of principles. Thus:

  • It was fairly straightforward to identify the principles for recognizing learning and characterize them with everyday language (e.g., recognizing rather than credentialing). That is to say that every project articulated the learning they were going to recognize and most articulated how they were making those decisions. These practices and the more general principles that emerged can be explained in everyday terms.
  • Projects were less clear about how they were going to assess learning. More importantly the practices and principles for assessing learning can’t be characterized without using some of the language and distinctions from the assessment research literature (i.e., formative, summative, transformative, etc.).
  • As for motivating learning, many projects did not offer explicit motivational strategies. This meant that the implicit practices and principles for using badges to motivate learning could only be inferred from the perspective of current research literature on motivation.
  • Few projects articulated plans for studying learning. This means that the potential practices and principles across the projects were almost entirely inferred from the existing literature and assumptions about educational research.

This reality has some complicated consequences that we are just beginning to understand. For example, some projects have already told us that they are enacting principles for assessing and motivating learning that they did not specifically articulate; it seems likely that projects that explicitly indicated that they were enacting those practices are best positioned to share their insights with others. This also means that that the design principles for studying learning are almost entirely speculative; by defining principles for doing so openly and with lots of community input, we hope that our project will yield a framework for organizing the research now getting underway, and organizing future research as this community evolves. 



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