Nothing will make you feel old and out of step more than being clueless about the latest trend. One trend, which has actually been around for a few years (and I’m still clueless about) is “digital badges.” If you’ve already heard of them, you’re ahead of me. If you haven’t heard of them, read on.

Of course “real” badges have been around forever. In the middle ages people wore heraldic badges proclaiming their allegiance to an individual or family. Another popular use of badges in the 14 and 15 centuries for Roman Catholics was to take a pilgrimage for which they could buy a badge, and then throw the badge in water for good luck. (I just report this stuff, I don’t try to explain it!

I had a sash full of badges when I was a Brownie. I think I had to knit something and maybe sing a song. I made some cookies and got my badge even
though I burned them because badges don’t really indicate how well you did something, just that you did it.

My husband started out as a “bobcat” in Cub Scouts and worked his way up to Bear. He earned badges for hammering nails and doing sit-ups. He decided not to become a “Webelo” because it meant wearing a plaid neckerchief and saying “we-belo” without snickering (nearly impossible for a ten-year-old boy!)

Digital badges have their roots in the gaming world, where gamesters earn them for achieving certain levels or I don’t know … virtually killing things I suppose?

The education world from kindergarten through college — particularly the online education world — has embraced the idea of digital badges wholeheartedly. It has been backed and funded by groups like The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The MacArthur Foundation, Duke University, Mozilla, and many more.

The concept is to encourage learners without stigmatizing them. It has sort of a pass/fail feel to it. You either earn your geometry badge or you don’t. Just like burning cookies, as long as you made it to the end of the course you get a badge. Or as a friend (a former marine) once said, “It’s about clearing the bar, my friend. Nobody gives a **** by how much.

Lots of places like the online Khan Academy have cute names for their badges. You can get a “Brain Bonanza” badge or a “Copernicus” badge or even an “Awesome Listener” badge. (I think that one’s for not falling asleep.)

The big idea is that you ultimately don’t need an organized degree in a particular discipline when, instead of a resume or a diploma, you can show people your virtual sash with all of your sparkly badges.

To that end, I propose a badge system for marketers, but instead of offering badges for accomplishments, I think it would be more indicative to award badges strictly for our battle scars. I would suggest the following:

  • the “My keynote speaker showed up drunk” badge,
  • the “My brochure went out with the wrong phone number” badge,
  • the “My event venue didn’t provide a VGA connector for my presenter to demo on his iPad!” badge,
  • the “Crap, I thought I was only $5,000 over budget” badge, and of course
  • the “I’ve been re-orged three times since January” badge.

I don’t suppose that’s how this badge thing is supposed to work. As I said, I’m a little clueless about this. But I will stand by my belief that I’ve learned as much on the front lines of marketing as I did in the classroom, so there may be something to this after all.

At the very least I deserve a badge for all of my experience.

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