Medical Education: Having a Digital Badge of Honour

Dr Kunal Patel 07 Feb 2020

When you did well in class, you’d often get a compliment but on occasion a marker to highlight your achievements. This could range from a paper-based commendation to a star on the wall depending on the geography and school you are in.

With the world of digital health education constantly changing and the recent trend to focus on competency-based training, how can you recognise the milestones a student meets? A simple, oh, well done, now move onto the next part of your training may be enough, but the utilization of giving ‘digital stars’ or more could provide that extra bounce a student needs. 

Digital badges as they are referred to, are not only necessary for the student. They could potentially aid the transition from traditional training to competency training by providing markers for trainers, while also credentialing strategy to convey elements such as achievement and knowledge. The term has been popularized since Mozilla started talking about open badges back in 2010, but what evidence or research is currently being conducted around these virtual markers of achievement?

Dr Julie Noyes from the college of Veterinary Medicine at, Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, TN and other across the US, looked at this via systematic review. Their study was driven by questions such as a) What type of research has been conducted to evaluate digital badges? and b) What types of outcomes have been evaluated for digital badges? amongst others.

Their efforts resulted in a pool of 1050 potential articles. When going through the usual process of quality control and relevance, this was whittled down to 30 papers for synthesis and thematic extraction. A number of findings were revealed, with the majority of studies actually coming from nurse training programs, followed by veterinary and medical programs. Only a third used established frameworks for instructional design. When broken down further it was found the majority of papers used digital badges as an instructional strategy, thus influencing motivation, learning, preparedness, and participation. A small number of papers focused on badges being used for assessment strategy, indicating achievement and/or a specific level of skill. Other themes, including strategies to help address challenges to instruction with badges were found.

Overall, the authors found an increased use of digital badges that varied from credentialing strategy to instruction itself. This in-depth work has even revealed factors such as gender playing a role, with male students expressing more interest in digital games than female students with the potential of affecting their motivation to earn digital badges.

The emergence of digital badges is growing in terms of conversation in medical education literature. This review has identified themes and implications that are highly relevant to anyone designing online elements in medical education that require badges. Importantly the authors kindly remind us that we “ensure that the performance criteria, assessment strategies, and evidence associated with digital badges in healthcare programs is rigorous.”