3 Reasons to Make Learning Visible with Badges

by | Jan 14, 2021 | Featured, Learning Design

There should be no mystery in what students are learning.

And yet, when students finish most courses, it’s not clear what skills or competencies they developed, much less what those competencies could mean for them down the road. Sure, they researched and wrote a paper on the balance of power in American Government and which branch is the most powerful. But would that student recognize how evaluating and prioritizing information in order to make a decision will transcend that political science class to their internship at a Fortune 500 company? Probably not.

This Spring, TEL is launching its Student Learning Dashboard to help students better understand what they are learning and how it applies to their longer academic and career goals. It’s one of our first steps in building demonstrable equity for our students. A primary goal of the Learning Dashboard is to make learning visible for students. The first way we do that is through badges.

Here are three reasons why we decided to include badges as part of our Learning Dashboard.

1. Learning Should Make Connections

In most environments, learning is presented as a passive activity. Students listen to something or read something, but it is all about consuming. Taking in. We want to provide opportunities for students to become part of the learning and engage at multiple levels.

For example, when students are reflective about the skills they learn and the activities they complete, such as through a journaling exercise, they can slow down and look at the bigger picture. These learning reflections also give them the opportunity to start to draw connections between the activities in their course and how they relate to real-world activities. These reflective exercises are the perfect opportunity to set learning goals and build good habits.

Badges allow students to see the pieces so they make those connections and see progress. The visual elements make it obvious how their coursework can apply to other parts of their academic career. They can easily see that they worked on critical thinking skills in Language and Composition when drafting an argumentative essay as well as understanding and applying the scientific method in Introduction to Biology Lab. Badges also provide a touchpoint for ongoing reflection on what a student has learned over time and their cumulative work.

2. Learning Should Extend Past the Content of the Course

Learning is not just about the content of the courses a student takes. Learning also includes all of the other experiences that happen in a course.

Students not only learn the content of their specific courses, but they also acquire soft skills such as teamwork, communication, writing, and creative problem solving, just to name a few. Students are also sharpening hard skills like project management, computing, research, and data management. These are the meta-learning or meta-skills students develop as they successfully complete courses regardless of the course subject.

It is these meta-skills that are so important to employers and will be necessary for the career paths that these students will follow. More often than not, these skills are also the ones that students don’t even know that they possess.

Badging and skills-based connections help surface these skills for students so they can see what they are learning. These badges also give students the language to talk about their skills with others, such as during job interviews, and when looking for a career that matches their skills.

After seeing everything they accomplished in a course in one spot, students should be able to talk about their learning experiences at a deeper level and answer questions such as, “What challenges did you overcome to complete this course?” or “What went really well for you in this course and why?”

3. Learning Should be Obvious

Figuring out the skills and competencies embedded in a course shouldn’t require a Rosetta Stone. Learning should be obvious, but it has to be structured and presented to students. They should not have to struggle to figure this out.

With badges and the Learning Dashboard, we can tell them what they learn, how they can learn it, and help them track their progress in learning. Using badging to track what they are learning as they progress through a program can show them this scaffolding for learning and how they are progressing toward it.

Deciphering the Mystery

Learning how to communicate well doesn’t stop when a student completes Introduction to Communication. But the connections between courses and how topics overlap is often a puzzle students don’t know how to put together, or even that they can.

TEL’s Student Learning Dashboard is designed to make the learning process visible and to give students greater ownership of their learning. This means ensuring that students know what they are learning, why it matters, and how it fits in with their goals.

Learn more about demonstrable equity with our whitepaper, The Importance of Demonstrable Equity in Higher Education.

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