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Types of Digital Learning Badges: Drawing on the XBox Achievement Experience

Types of Digital Learning Badges: Drawing on the XBox Achievement Experience

Scott Beattie

Investigator on the OLT Project Curate, Credential and Carry Forward Digital Learning Evidence


Part of the appeal of digital badging is the wide range of learner motivations that badges might speak to.  At these early stages of innovation we are yet without a clear design roadmap but we may look elsewhere for inspiration.   Since 2007 the Microsoft Xbox platform has been digitally badging it’s entertainment platform, a massively successful innovation where players earn ‘Xbox Achievements’ that are kept in a persistent user portfolio and accrue points toward a total ‘gamerscore’.  If these entertainment badges are viewed through the learner lens, they might be considered useful examples from which an initial typology might be formed. 

Xbox Achievements as Learner Badges

The history and social context of the Xbox Achievement innovation has been detailed by Mikael Jakobsson (1), of particular importance is the way in which the Achievement meta-game took on a life of its own, motivating players to engage in new ways.   Players re-engaged with games they have otherwise complete to gather more achievements and even play games they do not enjoy just to harvest more points (this is derisively known as ‘achievement whoring’).  Achievement databases like are a useful source of inspiration for learning badge designers, both in the conceptual design but also for the badge artwork.

Achievements can be awarded where there are clear public criteria for achieving the badge or could be stealth badges that the awardee knows nothing about until they have met the criteria.   Between these extremes badges might be public, but could have cryptic hints as to how the badge might be achieved, to encourage curiosity and inquiry.  Where criteria are uncertain this can  be an active source of community debate, although this enthusiasm is quelled once the secrets are discovered and included in game FAQ guides.   Nevertheless there is social capital to be earned in being the first to uncover these secrets.


The field is evolving rapidly, below are some of the existing  types of learning badges that can be offered, based on the XBox Achievement experience:

Completion badge - completion of a task with specified outcomes or standards, in a way similar to a conventional assignment or task.   These are a weak form of game achievement but can be a way of capturing those who might not otherwise go out of their way to start collecting.

Participation badge- badge for ‘coming along’, ie no performance expectation or standards.   Generally this is seen as a weak learning badge as it does not connect with evidence of learning and a fairly weak game achievement as well.

Waypoint badge - marks partial completion through a task, can act as a guide to progress and as feedback.   Some games have their own badging system that runs parallel to the achievement system such as the Borderlands 2 ‘Badass Rank’ and these use waypoint badges to add further levels of detail.

Difficulty badge - earned for achieving a goal with an additional, optional condition that makes it more difficult.  For example, completing within a certain time, solving a more difficult problem, getting a perfect score,  scoring a number of ‘wins’ in a row.

Competitive badge - awarded on the basis of competition with other learners, eg the top score on a drill, the first to complete, the top ten on peer feedback scores.

Collaborative badge - awarded when a group achieves an outcome.  Each member of a group can have its own specific role, so that this badge first require gathering a team with appropriate skills.

Affiliation badge - join a group or community.  Could include additional requirements such as a participation/introduction task

Exploration badge - awarded for exploring additional content, meeting objectives which are not necessary to complete the core of a task.  

Collection badge - another badge directed at additional content, meeting a set of criteria that is rewarded when each item on the list is met.

‘Easter egg’ badge - a badge for finding a secret or hidden feature.   For learning badges this may be awarded for only the first, or first few to locate the easter egg because word will quickly spread.

Meta Badge - a badge awarded for completing a set of other badges.


These represent a very initial attempt to map out the terrain.  We are presently working to further develop these definitions and to tease out the difference between game and learning badges.  Nevertheless, these form a useful foundation for the digital  badging community to start thinking about the next stage in learner badge evolution.


(1) Mikael Jakobsson  (2011) The Achievement Machine: Understanding Xbox 360 Achievements in Gaming Practices, Game Studies, 11(1),

Image: Pokeman Types Wheel, by Kaminonero (, reproduced under a creative commons licence and with the knowledge that Pokemon do not actually appear on the XBox platform.


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