Badge systems, like other sociotechnical systems, are ways of building order in our world – but for now, at the early stages of design and development, we’re in an innovation free-for-fall, which can be both exciting and daunting to newcomers. To build out the badge ecosystem, it’s important that we create a full library of toolkits, templates, and other signposts to guide people.
I’m interested in minimizing the daunting part of badge system design. We need to take what early innovators are learning about the design process, and make that knowledge useful to others designing badge systems. What does Intel’s badge system have in common with Girl Scouts? How does the badge system at UC-Davis compare to Nature Badges at the Smithsonian? If we can figure this out, then we can find some solid footing or starting points for the design process. We can create a way for organizations to find their "You Are Here" pin on the map. Knowing where an organization is in relation to others will help make sense of the badge design process, and it will also light up opportunities and possibilities.
I spent a few weeks with piles of post-it notes and the 30 Project Q&As that our Badges for Lifelong Learning grantees shared about early stages badge system development. I started sorting bunches of phrases into bigger bunches, looking for categories that made good buckets. (Thanks to everyone in Duke’s Phd Lab for letting me take over their wonderful space for a short period.) Once I had a sense of how the lessons looked in those buckets, and I saw which projects were connected to which advice, I started to see some really clear badge system classes. I’m calling them classes because I have an information science background and that word choice makes sense to me, but they’re basically just buckets or categories.
I went back and forth about whether to define the badge system classes in more detail, and opted to make them as succinct as possible. Partly because I’m really interested in hearing your feedback and want to see how the classes resonate with short descriptions. And partly because I want to avoid any hint that one class is better than another. To my thinking, some organizations may also be between classes. They may start off as one class, and see how their decision points change if they shift to a different class -- by developing new learning content or opting to rehaul their current technology platform, for example.
Here are the original 4 badge classes:
- New build. The badge system, learning content, and technological platforms are designed simultaneously.
- Integrated build. The badge system and learning content are co-created and integrated into a pre-existing technological platform.
- Layered build. The badge system is layered on top of pre-existing learning content and pre-existing technological platform.
- Responsive build. The badge system responds to pre-existing learning content, and the technological platform does not yet exist, is optional, or is distributed.
I’ve been talking to others in the badge community about these classes, including Lucas Blair of Little Bird Games (check out his awesome Badge-Based Curriculum Design Process graphic) who not only gave excellent overall feedback, he suggested a 5th class:
- Badge-first build. The badges are designed first and the learning content and technological platform are designed around the badges.
Lucas rightly pointed out that many learning organizations are currently drawn to this 5th design approach. As soon as he pointed it out, I now see examples everywhere of this kind of badge system. I plan to dig into the conversation Lucas and I had about these classes and how they might evolve over time, but for now, if you’re interested in badges, badge system design, the badge ecosystem, or all of the above, please feel free to weigh in. What’s missing from these classes? Are there other classes we should include? How might these classes be used?
I’ve also begun linking the badge system classes to different examples in the Badges for Lifelong Learning projects, but before I make those links public, I need to revisit some of my notes to see if they do indeed match the classes I’ve sorted them into. If your organization is among one of the Badges for Lifelong Learning projects, do you see a build that reflects your design approach?
Eventually, I can see how badge system classes might act as an organizing principles for the work Dan Hickey and his team are doing with the Design Principles Documentation research, and perhaps it will also help with the way we think about toolkits for badge system design. More to come on these thoughts -- this is a first post of many as I gather more feedback from the community.