Gamification, Badges, and MicroCredentials

Using badges and microcredentials in the classroom

December 05, 2022
By: Michael K. Barbour, Ph.D., Touro University California

There is often much confusion around the terms digital badges and micro credentials.  Unfortunately, as the Commonwealth of Learning report Designing and Implementing Micro-Credentials: A Guide for Practitioners stated:

The term “micro-credential” can mean something slightly different to various constituencies around the world. In fact, the lack of an agreed definition and a global taxonomy can make it confusing and bewildering to navigate. Unlike more formal qualifications, such as the degree, which has some intra-global frameworks, the fledgling world of micro-credentials has no such framework. (Rossiter & Tyan, 2019, p. 2)

Adding to that lack of clarity is that the term badges or digital badges and micro credentials are used interchangeably by some individuals and organizations, while others have quite distinct definitions for a badge and a micro credential.  It is understandable why people are confused.  However, there may be an easier way to explain these terms.  If you think back to when you were a child, you may have been involved in scouts or guides or some other organization where you received merit badges for completing tasks or demonstrating skills, and those badges were sown or ironed on to a sash that you wore with your uniform to display what you had earned.

In a formal sense, the most common definition – and the one that Touro University has adopted – is that a badge is a digital representation of competencies and/or achievements (i.e., a digital form of that merit badge). Unlike some random image on the internet, a digital badge should include meta-data or coding that is embedded into the image that describes the name of the badge, the organization or institution that sponsored it, what the learner had to do in order to earn the badge, evaluation criteria, along with other information.  For example, a badge could be something that a learner earns after having completed a learning experience – much like in a traditional sense a student would earn credits for completing a course.  A micro credential is a sequence of digital badges that can be accumulated over time to create a pathway (i.e., if by earning your level 1, level 2, and level 3 merit badges for a particular skill, you were awarded a larger or more colorful badge).  For example, a micro credential could be awarded based on the completion of four different badges that were thematically linked in terms of their content – much like in a traditional sense a student would earn a certificate or degree upon completion of a sequence of courses.  It is important to know that in both instances the learning that is represented by the badge or the micro credential is often more discrete and focused than what is generally seen with traditional courses and degree programs.

During the 2019-20 academic year, a Task Force on Micro Credentials was established to begin to explore the potential for these types of micro learning opportunities.  Following that task force, a MicroCredentials@Touro initiative was piloted.  This pilot resulted in a formal program that, if you are interested in finding out more information, please contact  However, there are many ways to get started with badging that do not involve this formal program.

In an informal sense, badges can be used by faculty to create a level of engagement in their courses through gamification.  Gamification is an pedagogical strategy to motivate students by incorporating elements of gaming into the learning environment, which can be used as motivational tools to encourage student engagement and achievement..  In fact, many Touro faculty have already earned a badge. 

online education badges

Over the past two years more than 1,500 faculty and staff have earned bronze, silver, and gold badges from the Office of Online Education as you have completed some of the modules in their “Faculty Development Tools for Zoom/YuJa & Canvas” course.

There are a number of reasons why you might want to consider gamifying your course.

  1. Engagement – If you’ve ever played or watched someone play a good game, you’ll know that nothing engages people like games do. Even people who are normally unfocused, unmotivated, or undisciplined become highly focused, motivated, and disciplined when playing games. Gamification can help bring those attitudes to class.
  2. Intrinsic motivation – Not only will people invest significant amounts of time playing games, but they do so voluntarily, with no hope of earning extrinsic rewards. Gamification is all about guiding people to achieve things that perfectly challenge them, and typically the only incentive to do so is the sense of accomplishment they feel when they succeed.
  3. Extension of learning – It’s tough to design a course that challenges each student to the level they need. Games, however, somehow manage to capture the full attention of multitudes of people at a myriad of skill levels simultaneously. Gamification can help deliver challenges at the right level for all students in the course.
  4. You’re already doing it – Education is inherently game-like. Students earn points for completing challenges, and are eventually rewarded with badges in the form of grades. Gamification only improves the current system by employing game elements proven to be extraordinarily effective. (Nielsen, 2012)

The University of Chicago has an interesting introduction to gamification that provides low-tech to high-tech examples that might be of interest to faculty.  If this is something that you want to explore, please contact


Nielsen, L. (2012, November 22). 5 reasons to gamify your course. Tech & Learning.

Rossiter, D., & Tyan, B., (2019). Designing and Implementing Micro-Credentials: A Guide for Practitioners. Commonwealth of Learning.