Digital Badging

The Pros and Cons of Digital Badging

A look at the implications of badging for world language learners.

October 16, 2014

As more opportunities for informal learning are available on the Internet, digital badging has become more prominent as it has received support from entities such as the MacArthur Foundation, Mozilla and the U.S. Department of Education. In fact, the Internet has become spackled with digital badges, so you might be wondering what digital badges really are, what purposes they serve and how they might apply to learning languages and the Middlebury Interactive approach to language acquisition.

Badges have been around for a long time. If you were a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, you earned a merit badge that let everyone know that you had achieved a certain skill level in a certain area. Today, digital badges can do the same thing but in a refined way, since they contain metadata regarding skill or achievement specifics. Badges can also be part of a pathway for learning that demonstrates increasing mastery in a certain area in the same way a traditional curriculum does. In addition, badges can recognize informal learning and mastery of specific subjects and are also used in online communities, like Wikipedia and Khan Academy, to recognize participation and achievement.

So how do badges relate to Middlebury interactive’s courses and online world language learning? Since Middlebury Interactive's approach is grounded in researched pedagogy and methodology, badging has not yet been implemented. But there is some basis for conducting this research and possibly implementing digital badges in the future.

Just as Middlebury interactive’s courses are aligned with standards like the American Council on Foreign Language Learning (ACTFL), badges can also be aligned with standards. In fact, the Girl Scouts now align their badges with the Common Core, and there is an organization, Badges for Languages, that aligns language learning with the Common European Framework for Reference of Languages (CERF). As students become proficient in their Middlebury Interactive courses, they could earn badges containing metadata about their language mastery that they could include on their social media sites or in their own digital backpacks. This metadata could be organized in a way that could show multiple, standard-specific pathways to a mastery framework.

Badges could also be used in goal setting, as badges could be awarded for different competency and participation milestones within the curriculum. Since badges recognize informal learning, badging could acknowledge student participation in live sessions through Middlebury Interactive. These sessions, which actually support transformative learning, help students internalize and actively engage in language with live speakers. However, since the purpose of live sessions is not summative assessment, they are currently not graded.

Although badges do represent student mastery and motivation for further learning or mastery, they also represent the issuing organization or community. In order to be valid, they must be accepted by outside communities. In fact, badges are only as good as the institution or entity that issues them. Therefore, a Middlebury Interactive endorsed badge would give credence to the learner, just as completing a Middlebury Interactive course does. However, that endorsement could have a more visible presence than an academic transcript currently provides.

Although full of promise, badging may also have some pitfalls. There is still some debate about the motivational value of badges, although most researchers recognize that they at least have a motivational impact. Furthermore, as research is conducted, legalities must also be considered. Federal laws that protect privacy, especially of K-12 students, must be followed. Finally, the longevity of badges must be contemplated. Can a person qualify for a badge and then not use the language and lose the mastery? How would that possibility translate into a badging system?

Whether or not Middlebury Interactive Languages decides to include digital badging in courses in the future, students can be confident that existing pedagogy is not only sound, but also badge worthy in its own right.


Badges for Languages. Retrieved October 6, 2014 from

Grant, S., & Shawgo, K.E. (2013). Digital Badges: An Annotated Research Bibliography. Retrieved from

Randal, D.L., Harrison, J.B., & West, R.E. (2013) Giving credit where credit is due: Designing open badges for a technology integration course. TechTrends, 57(6), 88-95.

Strause, V. (2013, 27 April). And now Girl Scout badges aligned to common core standards. [Web log post]. Retrieved October 6, 2014 from:

Julia Zammit
Julia Zammit is an online teacher for Middlebury Interactive Languages and is also pursuing her doctorate in Instructional Design and Technology at the University of Memphis. Her research interests include motivation, learning analytics and online teaching pedagogy. She currently resides in South Carolina with her fifteen year old son. 
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