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Partner: Turner Classic Movies

Category: Non-Traditional

Digital Badges Dramatically Increase MOOC Completion Rates and Learner Engagement

Each year, millions of learners enroll in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) to hone their skills, prepare for college, or learn something new. Since the early 2000s, the number of learners engaging in MOOCs has skyrocketed, and organizations like Coursera, EdX, and Udacity now reach a combined 100 million learners annually. Despite this rapid growth in the number of online learning opportunities, engagement is often a challenge for organizations. Turner Classic Movies and an innovative film professor have found a solution in digital badges.

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Dr. Richard L. Edwards offer a series of popular MOOC‘s based on an exploration of culturally significant films, including those of legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock. Dr. Edwards has spent his career creating innovative solutions to meet the needs of his learners in both online and blended settings.

Through his film courses, Dr. Edwards examines a fundamental thesis:

Can digital badging make online learning more retentive?

In his courses, Dr. Edwards also examines the utility of visual badge design to maximize learner engagement. By turning each course milestone of the program into a “beautiful object”, he was able to effectively represent necessary course activities as a collectible set of achievements that would extrinsically and intrinsically motivate his learners to engage with his content and complete the course.

Video: Digital Badging with Ball State and Turner Classic Movies

Dial M for Micro-credentials

Dr. Edwards has demonstrated that as learners seek personalized learning opportunities that help them meet their personal and professional goals, micro-credentials can be leveraged by instructors to increase engagement with online learning. On the Micro-credentialism podcast, Dr. Edwards goes into depth to explain how badging helps increase engagement in a MOOC setting:

“We were not capturing all of the learning outcomes. Our new agreement as a society of higher education experts is that we have to make a different value proposition. We have to start measuring the skills more than measuring the courses."

By aligning learning experiences with skills, instructors communicate the value of their coursework while providing learners with a simple way of signaling their achievements to networks that matter to them. Skills-aligned micro-credentials also empower learners and instructors by serving as a visual map to help them understand their progress. As learners complete coursework requirements, they unlock badges that give them and their instructors insight into each student’s unique learning journey. When implemented thoughtfully, digital badges serve as a powerful pedagogical and motivational resource for scaling engagement with online learning experiences.

Image: Dr. Edwards created digital badge images using a visually-aligned word cloud representing each of the Hitchcock films covered in his course.
Full set of Hitchcock digital badges for the TCM course

The Trouble with Motivation

Many organizations hope that MOOCs have the potential to offer educational services at an enormous scale. Yet, many organizations struggle to motivate learners to complete online coursework. According to the most recent data available, the average completion rate for MOOCs is approximately 15 percent and even under the best of circumstances, there are very few courses that achieve a 40% completion rate.

By using digital badges, Dr. Edwards was able to develop a pedagogical approach that significantly increased learner retentiveness and engagement. When digital badges were included as complementary elements of Dr. Edward’s coursework, approximately 64% (~10,500) of the initial 17,000 learners who enrolled in the TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock (#Hitchcock50) course completed each of the course modules, including the summative assessment.

Image: Each badge was issued through Badgr approximately 2,870 times and 64% of students who signed up Dr. Edwards' course participated in some activity during the final week of the course - the badges contributed to making the course highly retentive.
Graphic demonstrating increased MOOC completion rate and engagement

The combination of good content and digital badge-based gamification enabled Dr. Edwards to create a highly engaging user experience that kept his learners coming back for more. Learners enthusiastically shared awards on social media and were motivated through the final week of coursework, with more than half of the learners collecting the entire set of digital badges.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Dr. Edwards has identified a number of best practices for instructors and professional development providers that wish to incorporate digital badges into their coursework:

⭢ Consider what the badge represents for the learner as an achievement.

In the case of Dr. Edward’s film course, he leveraged the implicit enthusiasm for Hitchcock’s work. This consideration extrinsically motivated learners to collect each digital badge as a “collectible object” that were shared to networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

⭢ Think about how badges might tell a digital story for the learner.

Dr. Edwards told the story of Alfred Hitchcock’s career through scaffolded course milestones oriented along a learning pathway that aligned with the eras of Alfred Hitchcock’s film career. As learners experienced Hitchcock’s film journey, they earned digital badges that complemented their experience and empowered them to share the steps of their own learning journey.

⭢ Align badges with the curriculum and learning outcomes, creating a virtual breadcrumb trail, or a bookmark.

Providing differentiated instruction becomes increasingly difficult at scale. Digital badges that align with curricula and/or learning outcomes allowed Dr. Edwards to make informed decisions about how to provide personalized support to each of his students, based on the number of badges that they earned.

By using Badgr, Dr. Edwards was able to reach an unprecedented level of engagement in his online course and demonstrated that digital badges likely contribute to retention. In addition to Dr. Edward’s success, there is strong evidence to support the idea that digital badges can serve as a powerful tool to boost engagement in a variety of online settings. As new learning technologies continue to proliferate, it has never been more important to utilize innovative strategies to increase learner engagement and course completion in a way that learners find worth celebrating.