City Life

Virtual achievements: Digital Badges

Digital Badges is one of thirty-five social innovations that has made the 2015 M List

Kathleen Radionoff was intrigued by technology used in game design and started thinking about how the concept of digital badges could be used to verify a student's educational credentials. The standard measure for noncredit education is not a letter grade, but rather how many total hours a student sits in a classroom to complete a course. Radionoff, dean of continuing education at Madison College, adapted gamification principles of "levels of achievement" to create a virtual record of the skills taught to a student who completes a noncredit course. She believes Madison College is the first technical college to use digital badges in this manner.

"Noncredit education has been really an informal way for adults to further their skill sets or keep current with topics. I immediately saw that we could use badges as a way to provide an assessment and then a verification," Radionoff says.

The badges validate the learning experiences through a digital image that is embedded with metadata, including secure details about the student's work. The student also can let potential employers and others see his or her digital badges by posting on LinkedIn and other social media networks.

Radionoff said certificates are becoming passé to younger adults, and that tech-savvy individuals have taken to the use of badges. "To give a Millennial a paper certificate is like, ‘Really?'" 

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What is social innovation? 

According to Stanford University's Social Innovation Review, social innovation is a "novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than existing solutions" and benefits primarily society as a whole rather than private individuals.

It includes these elements:

  • Increasing employment, productivity and economic growth
  • Justice, fairness, environmental preservation, improved health, arts and culture and better education

A social innovation:

  • Can be a product, production process or technology (much like innovation in general), but it can also be a principle, an idea, a piece of legislation, a social movement, an intervention or some combination of them.
  • Recognizes the fundamental role of cross-sector dynamics: exchanging ideas and values, shifting roles and relationships and blending public, philanthropic and private resources. Innovation blossoms where the sectors converge.
  • Can't be understood, let alone solved, without involving the nonprofit, public and private sectors.


The M List
Madison Magazine's M List is a who's who of organizations and individuals who are having an impact on our local culture and economy. In its third year, the M List recognizes those making strides in the area of social innovation. Last year's list of innovators were in the food industry. The original M List, in 2013, honored the technology sector. The 2014 M List honored "Foodtastic" entrepreneurs and innovators.


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