How To Design a Digital Badge Strategy

Dramatic changes have occurred in how learning is recognized, accredited and validated. Digital Badges are a part of these changes and are set to make a big impact on education and certification programs in 2017. A flexible, structured Digital Badge Strategy applied to your planned and existing online learning programs will help to validate your badging initiative - ensuring that you meet your learning and organisational goals.

How to Design a Digital Badge Strategy - WBT Systems

It is no longer a foregone conclusion that organizations, associations, employers, or individuals are happy solely with courses and training from traditional higher-level and training institutions. More and more it is specific industry-recognized skills and experience that are most valued. Diplomas, degrees, certification, and skills quickly lose their relevance and become obsolete. Often it is the intrinsic, on-the-job skills and best practices that are learned and applied that provide the most value and benefit. Associations and other professional training organizations are uniquely poised to lead change in education programs of the future.

Digital Badges provide a viable and recommended solution for bridging the gap between traditional education and the skills required for successful employment. Badges can be awarded as a form of micro-credentialing, and can be shared using the Open Badges initiative. You can readily align badges within your online learning environment to complement, and strategically add value to, your existing and planned online courses. Research on the benefits of digital badges shows a wide variety of opinion - from those strongly in favour, to those markedly less so. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, one thing is becoming clear:

It is not enough to simply create a badge and let it out on its own into the wilds of your online learning ecosystem.

As is the case for your online learning materials, badges need to be researched, validated, designed, and given your full support. This article shows you how to design a Digital Badge Strategy to justify the existence of your badges, from the perspective of your business goals, your online learning strategy, and the perspectives of the users who will value earning each badge. By putting a coherent digital badge strategy in place, you will ensure that each badge merits its place with concrete research and data.  


What Does Designing a Digital Badge Strategy Look Like?

There are a number of options available to you to design and put your strategy in place. This article looks at the Badge Design Canvas produced and provided by digitalme, a not-for-profit organisation funded by foundations and through project design and delivery. Having researched and measured a number of possible design strategies against predefined criteria, e.g. usability, consistency of use, and core coverage – this format came out on top.

The canvas is a simple, well-structured template for you to determine the various inputs required to create a digital badge. More importantly, you can use it to determine if a badge under consideration for development adds value to your organisation, planned eLearning initiatives, and users.

Digital Badge Strategy Design Canvas (courtesy of digitalme)


How Do I Use the Digital Badge Strategy Design Canvas?


This template outlines a number of sections that should be carefully considered, researched and validated before completion. Gathering qualitative data to justify the creation of your digital badge is the most practical way of ensuring its longevity and acceptance.

The template addresses the following core needs for your Digital Badge Strategy:

  • Criteria: What does the user need to do to achieve the badge? Can it be represented by completion of a single online course, multiple courses, or is a blended learning solution required?
  • Skills & Knowledge: What particular skills does the badge represent? Does the online material (or blended program) reflect these skills adequately?
  • Behaviors:  What behaviors should the badge encourage?
  • Evidence: What deliverables are required to meet the criteria? Will the digital badge/users have access to online learning transcripts/completions data? How will this work for blended learning solutions?
  • Value Proposition: What benefits will the badge provide to users? Why should they care if they achieve it or not?
  • Endorsers:  Who will recognize the badge?
  • Channels:  Where do users gain knowledge of your badge and its existence? How will it fit within the current (planned) online learning delivery environment (LMS or LCMS)?
  • Award: Who will award the badge and how?
  • Users:  Who is your badge for? Why should they care?
  • Learning Pathways: How will the badge exist and relate to other online learning courses? Are there multiple achievement levels for the badge?
  • Resources & Sustainability: What resources are required to create your badge? Who will do the work and own the badge in the future? Will instructional designers be involved in the badge design & creation process? How and when will evaluation of badges take place? Will badge design and evaluation take place at the same time as the online course design and evaluations?

All of the above aspects need to carefully considered. However, there are a number of key areas that should be researched and considered to help decide whether the badge is of value in the first place. If you are struggling to get the data needed to complete these, or find that the costs (resources, time, investment etc.) are outweighing the perceived value of the badge, you should reconsider continuing.


Digital Badge Strategy Design Canvas - courtesy of digtalme


Key Area 1 – Users


Figure 2. Digital Badge Strategy Design - Identifying Users - WBT Systems

What are the different user types that will be directly associated with your badge?




These Individuals are receiving your learning and want to demonstrate a complete picture of their skills and accomplishments. Earners receive badges from issuers and display them to consumers (audience).

Some questions you might want to ask are:

  • Is the number of potential earners large enough to warrant a Badge?
  • Will these earners be able to achieve the Badge Criteria, e.g. online course(s) successfully?
  • Will they understand what the Badge is being awarded for?





Issuers are the individuals, associations, organisations, or groups that create credentials to demonstrate mastery of skills and achievements that are of particular value to that issuer. An issuer creates the set of competencies or curriculum and the assessments to determine if the earner has acquired the necessary skills. The issuer will usually be your association, organization, or a recognized entity within.

Some questions you might want to ask are:

  • Has your association, organization etc. agreed at executive level to advocate the use of digital badges?
  • Does your association, organization etc., value the learning/skill that the badge represents?
  • Can all the badge criteria be achieved within your association, organization etc.? Are the skills represented by the badge reflected in current/planned online/blended courses?





Your target audience (consumers) will be your association, other organizations, groups, or individuals that have a need for, or interest in, users with the skills and achievements symbolized by your badge. In many cases, an issuer may also be the consumer.

Some questions you might want to ask are:

  • Will your audience value the learning/skill that the badge represents?
  • Does the badge align itself with specific industry recognised standards and frameworks?
  • How does your badge distinguish itself from badges or credentials awarded by other institutions for similar skills and online offerings?





These are the platforms that your users (earners) will use to display their badge, e.g. your online learning environment, LMS/LCMS, social media, Mozilla Open Badges Backpack, etc.

Some questions you might want to ask are:

  • How easy is it to add and display badges in your online learning environment?
  • How do users display badges earned online?
  • Can badges earned be shared with social media?



Key Area 2 - Value Proposition


Figure 2. Digital Badge Strategy Design - Showing Value - WBT Systems

What benefits does the badge provide? What specific opportunities does it afford the various user types involved (Earners, Issuers, Consumers, Displayers) as described above?



Some questions you might want to ask are:


  • Will the badge motivate online learning/skill acquisition?
  • How long and how much effort will the badge take to achieve? Will this be acceptable to users?
  • Does the badge reflect soft skills & on-the-job learning where appropriate? Can these skills be fully represented by online courses?




Some questions you might want to ask are:


  • Does the badge represent skills/online learning etc. that are deemed of value by your issuing organisation or association?
  • Does the badge logo present your issuer in a positive light, and make it clear what the earner had to do to achieve the badge?
  • Will your issuing organisation or association host your badge criteria data? i.e. does your online learning environment provide access to all the online courses and learning activities that are represented by the badge?




Some questions you might want to ask are:


  • Will your audience value the skills/online learning etc. that the badge represents?
  • Does your audience acknowledge the credibility of the issuing organisation as well as the criteria for earning your badge?
  • Does the badge align with your target audience industry-specific standards & frameworks?




Some questions you might want to ask are:


  • Can your badge expire?
  • Can your badge be exported to other open online badging systems?
  • Can users import/present badges from other online sources?



Key Area 3 - Resources & Sustainability


Figure 2. Digital Badge Strategy Design - Resources - WBT Systems

What resources do you need to design & create your badge, and maintain/evaluate it in the future?

Some questions you might want to ask are:

  • How will you create your badge logo? e.g., Will you require additional software?
  • What is the anticipated shelf life of your badge? Is it dependent on the success/obsolescence of the underlying online courses and learning activities?
  • Is your badge standalone, or does it complement or build on other badges or credentials? Is it part of an overall learning program? Who is responsible for the evaluation and maintenance of these related online courses and materials?
  • How will the Badge be designed and developed? Will it follow an ADDIE or AGILE process similar to that employed for your online courses? Will the badge be designed in parallel with the online courses?


Strategy Design and Your Online Learning Environment

Recognizing your Digital Badge Strategy Design can also help you to evaluate your current (or planned) online learning delivery platform (LMS or LCMS).

By completing a sample strategy template as outlined above (even for a fictional badge or a badge awarded by another organisation), you will have the information required to make an informed decision on your LMS/LCMS badging requirements and policies.

Some relevant questions for your LMS/LCMS might be:

  • How easy is it for me to create my own badges?
  • What badge image formats does it support?
  • Can I set expiry dates on my badges?
  • Can I set multiple award criteria? e.g., I only want to award Badge X on completion of online courses A, B AND (C OR D).
  • How do I share/showcase my badges?
  • Can I export my badges to other open online badge platforms?
  • Can I import badges from other open online badge platforms?
  • Can I specify which badges to show/hide and sort the order of display?
  • Can my administrators/managers award badges?
  • How are users notified of badges they have achieved?
  • Will users be awarded badges based on past online courses completed?



Next Steps...


Complete the digital badge strategy design template(s) to ensure that you have captured all the data relevant to your badge and its online learning environment. Your completed digital badge strategy template will now be your reference document for the development, publication and rationale of your digital badges.


If you would like to learn more about how Digital Badges are the Future of Association Education, talk to us at ASAE Technology Conference 2016, or send us a message. We will be exhibiting at Booth #615 and displaying the latest social learning and digital badge features of our award-winning TopClass Learning Management System.

This article was written by James Sheil, Lead UX and Design Architect, WBT Systems.





Further Resources


Association LMS
Digital Badges
learning management system
Online education tips
Social Learning
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