Badges for Retention: Why not?

Let’s face it.  This is the generation that grew up on world of Warcraft and Simcity.  We gave them the pokemons, the Nintendo DSs, the Halos and the laptops. So no big surprise that our digital millenials have short attention spans and hyperactive fingers.

Nowhere is the problem more acute than in online courses.  While bricks and mortar ivies can boast of near perfect 4 year retention (>90%), consider by stark contrast retention in online programs and courses.  In a recent study, it appears that retention of 30-40% across the board would be considered good(Cite).  And this is when students have paid for the courses.  It is hardly surprising that retention in free and open courseware, where learners are accessing the content, without having paid anything, with no fear of exams or grades or other pressures to keep them motivated and in the course, retention is more like 1-2%.


There are many reason we would want to increase the retention numbers for free and open courseware: it is easy to access, completely affordable, and offers a dazzling range of extremely high quality content.  Open courses can compensate for example for  weak school systems, ill trained teachers, limited course offerings, and rural schools. Can offering badges then provide a solution to the retention problem?

Kids like badges. The concept of badges is intricately woven into the philosophy of gamefication: levels, medals, achievements, finding and hoarding “stuff” as a reward when you attain a level and more.  In a learning game framework, a badge that stands for an accomplishment, one that is not easy to attain till a certain level of competency is demonstrated could be very desireable.  If the badge can be displayed on the owner’s social networking sites to their friends, it will have even greater value.

Would badges then be the key to keeping our young learners working through MIT OCW 6.00 Intro to Python programming?  After all we trained them on World of Warcraft and Pokemon, why not take the next logical step and let them collect badges in their quest for knowledge?  Want to hear more about OpenStudy’s take on badges, I’ll be talking with P2Pu and OER U on a panel moderated by Alastair Creelman(@alacre)at the EFQUEL conference tonight.  There is a webinar at an unearthly hour for me, but it promises to be very interesting. Check it out.

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About Preetha Ram

I am an educator (Dean for PreHealth and Science Education at Emory), social entrepreneur (Cofounder of OpenStudy, a global study group to connect learners) and visionary (let's build a classroom for the world to study together). A chemist by training (Yale), I like to solve problems by building bridges at the edges and interstices of disciplinary boundaries.

Posted on September 15, 2011, in E-learning, open social learning and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The whole idea of retention has to be rethought in an era where student demographics are in such flux. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to use five and six year completion rates when students enroll intending to (1) transfer soon or (2) acquire specialized training that require only a course or two.

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