How to Use Digital Badges in Your Online Courses

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How to Use Digital Badges in Your Online Courses

By Michael Weiss, Client Engagement Academy.

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This article was initially published at clientengagementacademy.com.

Watch Michael’s talk, “Course Creator Survival Guide: How to Ethically Position Your Course as a ‘Must-Have’, Increase Completion Rates and Beat the Post-COVID Competition, at the Elearning Success Summit


Digital badges are everywhere. Don’t believe me? Just check your favorite app.

Let’s take LinkedIn. You’ve probably seen the gold “In” logo on someone’s profile to signal that they’re a “premium” user (you may even have one yourself). The square logo both displays user status while encouraging other users to purchase a “premium” membership. This is a form of digital badge.

In simple terms, badges are an element of gamification that represent the achievement, skill, accomplishment or ranking of a student. From just passing a test or a student moving up to the next level of a membership site, badges can be issued to make them aware we are proud of their achievement, which in turn can motivate them to continue moving forward and increase their level of engagement.

Digital badges are actually what I like to call “magic technology”.

Because of their numerous benefits, I encourage you to incorporate them into your online course today.

Here are the 4 ways you can get onboard:

1. Establish a reward system

From the Army to the Boy Scouts, badges have been used to reward accomplishments and recognize top performing members. Digital badges in education can play a similar role.

You can use badges to “nudge” user behavior. For instance, if you want your students to be more active on your membership site, reward the most active users with a badge. Not only will this make engaged students feel “seen,” but it will also encourage fewer active students to increase their engagement.

Rewarding students is also an effective way to help students create positive associations with learning. Badges give students immediate validation and encourage them to consume more content and collect more badges to get to the next level.

In the case of online courses, engaged students mean higher completion rates and (hopefully) more happy students interested in purchasing your additional courses and/or referring you to other people. If you own a membership site, engaged members mean more users will keep their monthly memberships or even upgrade their subscriptions.

BONUS: Badges also offer creators valuable insight into their audience. As mentioned earlier, they are MAGIC TECHNOLOGY – with a badge you’ll better understand user behavior, allowing you to see what content/topics users are and aren’t following. This will also help you market future courses to users down the line.

2. Motivate and keep engagement flowing

Modern learners are used to playing video games or spend lots of time in mobile apps in which achievements are unlocked and digital trophies are awarded. Adding this same badging system to your course or membership site will make the journey more motivational and enjoyable.

Another reason why badges are so effective in increasing engagement amongst students is that they help to create a community. For instance, to grow your membership site or online course community you can welcome new members. To make it easier to identify when a user is new to the community, other members now see a “first-timer” badge from users that have been a member or contributed a lot.

e-NABLE’s volunteer community offers a list of badges based on user activity. Users can claim badges after completing tasks like donating parts, providing feedback, or introducing themselves to the community. In doing so, e-NABLE is not only motivating volunteers to contribute to their cause, but they’re also allowing for a community to form organically on shared interests and goals.

Creating a community with digital badges for your online course will create a similar environment. In your community, your students will engage with one another and hold each other accountable for finishing a course.

Tip: Create additional incentives by allowing students to purchase additional rewards with their badges. These rewards can be something more significant, such as extra credit, a one-on-one session with the expert, or unlock additional premium content.

№3. Mastery & accreditation

Digital badges are now seen as a form of accreditation. They are not only used as evidence of a student’s learning, but they also represent student accomplishments and work quality.

With badges, you can certify a student’s accomplishment in completing your course. You can also create “honors” badges to recognize top performing students. This will empower your students, as well as give them something tangible to show for their “graduation.”

To ensure your badges’ accreditation, you need to create a criteria to determine how users receive a badge. Your criteria will serve as a guide for both your students and employers/evaluators viewing the badge. Students will know what is expected of them–giving them a clear learning path–while, badge evaluators will be given context, allowing them to better understand students’ accomplishments.

In addition to a criteria, you determine the “shelf-life” of your badges. Setting an expiration date for your badge will or will not make sense depending on the material of your course. A badge expiration date for a class that is learning-based would make less sense than one for a class that is training-based.

If you DO decide on giving your badge an expiration date, be sure to also notify students when that date is approaching. This will lead your students back to your membership site to take additional courses.  

Tip: Allow your customers to also share their progress towards course completion OUTSIDE of your membership site or online course. Because badges represent a student’s proficiency in a topic, they can also be used in the same way someone would add a certification to their resume. Give your customers the opportunity to advertise their progress to peers and potential employers.

Get an inside look at how we helped set up Digital Marketer’s “HQ” certification program. Once the digital badge technology was in place, they achieved a 43% course completion rate (which is over 4x more than the industry average for online course completion rates).

Digital Marketer Certifications

In this ebook, Mike Weiss Reveals Five Steps That Got Digital Marketer’s Certification Course To Be World-Renowned – YOU can use these 5-steps if you are creating a new online course or have an existing one!

4. Goal Sharing

Related to the tip shared in the previous point: Your customers should be proud of their achievements. It means they’re on their way to mastering the course topic!

Encourage this sense of pride and excitement among users. Allow students to share when they’ve earned a new badge on your site. You can even send them a congratulatory message to offer a more personal touch.

Additionally, you should enable your students to share their achievements on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. Your students’ genuine and public excitement over your course is the most effective type of marketing you could have. Not only will you attract new students, but you won’t have to spend a dime doing it.

Conclusion & Example

I just want to leave this final reflection.

Online education is the equivalent of Barnes and Noble. Most people go ahead and buy a few courses here and there––but then what happens? They shelved. The mentality is not there. There’s no beginning and no end.

When you attach a final digital badge to your course, you’re telling members that your graduates will achieve a REAL, TANGIBLE outcome. By implementing digital badges, you’ll make sure your students have a target–giving them motivation to actually finish your course.

Watch Michael’s talk, “Course Creator Survival Guide: How to Ethically Position Your Course as a ‘Must-Have’, Increase Completion Rates and Beat the Post-COVID Competition, at the Elearning Success Summit

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