Reflections on Gamification, Badging and Scaffolding

Gamification and Scaffolding

At work, we want to start using BadgeOS with LearnDash in WordPress to gamify modules in a co-curricular career development course. The idea is to allow students get earn and collect badges once modules are complete.

The reasoning and research behind this is that gamification “provides visible milestones of the student’s mastery of content in real time” (Kapp 2014). Visible signs of mastery of a specific content can help students see broadly what they’ve accomplished or which content they have already gone through and completed. Gamification can also provide continual, instant feedback to learners on their progress. It serves to “orient the learner to where they are in the instructional process, where they are going, and how much further they have to go until the end” (ibid.)

So students need to “see” their progress, and they need to progress through a series of increasingly more challenging or difficult levels. So the badges that display whenever they pass a specific module add up to display a certain level of competency a student has achieved.

Kapp’s article, “Show the Learner Visible Signs of Their Learning” goes on to talk about scaffolding, the process of “controlling the task elements that initially are beyond the learner’s capacity, so that the student can concentrate on and complete elements within his or her immediate capability” (Kapp 2014). Scaffolding relates to gamification in that the movement a student makes from one level to another with increasing difficulty, requiring them to apply more skill to master that new level is very much like the approach to scaffolding (ibid.).

Putting it in context

The students: First to fourth year undergraduate students at a major university

The program: A career development co-curricular program

The learning technology platform:  WordPress using LearDash and BadgeOS plugins

Duration: 4 years to complete the co-curricular program 

Levels of Mastery: 4 levels, Basic, Intermediate, Advanced, Masters, each level with 5-9 modules per level.

Gamification could be applied in this context to giving students badges in the different levels and modules. Specifically we would give students one badge per module. We would distinguish the badges visually from each other using logos related to the subjects of each module. Users would have a profile panel in which to see their progress in the course and the badges they have accumulated.

Reflections on applying Gamification to this program

It seems that for the career development program, there is definitely a series of steps students need to accomplish to achieve greater mastery of specific skills. In that way gamification could be applied to provide those visible milestones of student progress over progressively harder material. Scaffolding is used in the sense that the beginning levels are much simpler and basic than the higher levels and so students should be able to accomplish most of level 1 on their own initiative.

What this article (Kapp 2014) has brought up for me is the concept of Zone of Proximal development, which is “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Kapp 2014 quoting Vygotsky, 1978). It would be an interesting exercise to see which activities students can do independently and which activities would need, in this case, career development professionals to monitor and guide the student in a more hands on way.


Kapp, Karl. (2014). Show the Learner Visible Signs of Their Learning. Available at:

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Incentivising Student Progress via Badging

In José A. Bowen‘s Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning (2012), he talks about Higher Ed institutions investing in gamification tools to increase student engagement and intrinsic motivation. He references the Sweet Water Foundation’s Aquapons project that incentivises STEAM based apprenticeship style learning with an online badging system. The project was funded by Digital Media and Learning Competition which encourages the “development of badge systems and their supporting technological and learning infrastructure to improve academic achievement, economic opportunity, civic engagement, and opportunities for lifelong learning” (

The Aquapons project had as it’s initial goal to create a “robust badging ecosystem where traditional and 21st century skills and achievements are inspired, recognized, translated across contexts, and displayed and managed across the web” using Mozilla’s Open Badge Infrastructure (Bowen 2012, p. 258). Here is a short video explaining the Open Badges project by Mozilla:

What interests me about this badging project is how well they seem to be engaging students in hands-on learning while at the same time integrating assessment, mentorship and the idea of progress through a series of levels and achievements. They do this by using an online open resources such as Open Badges. From a student perspective, I can imagine myself have a clear view of the extent of progress I need to make in any given field of study, which would be outlined visually by a series of digital badges I need to earn. Then I could also imagine that it would be quite a proud moment to be able to display on my website, LinkedIn profile or share via social media the badge I would earn.