Date of Award

Fall 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


STEM Education & Professional Studies

Committee Director

Jill Stefaniak

Committee Member

John Baaki

Committee Member

Angela Eckhoff


Digital badges are electronic icons used to recognize learning or participation in activities. Open digital badges offer the additional affordance of embedded metadata that can link to the criteria for earning the badge, evidence of the skill, and other information including issuer details. Badge systems have prompted instructional designers to consider teaching and learning in new ways. Open digital badges offer an alternative and innovative approach to pedagogy and assessment (Grant, 2016).

This qualitative multi-case study examined digital badge programs being used at three higher education institutions, at the course level, the department level, and the university level. The study sought to explore the adoption of badges in higher education using Rogers’ (2003) innovation diffusion theory to identify factors associated with the adoption process in order to provide contextual insight into factors that impede and facilitate successful implementation of badge systems. Rogers established that there are five specific characteristics of innovations (relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability) which are attributed to varying rates of adoption (2003).

Rogers (2003) indicated that the innovation attributes of relative advantage, compatibility, observability, and trialability positively impacted innovation adoption. In the current study, through data collected from interviews, questionnaires, and extensive archival document analysis, the main factors found to facilitate diffusion and adoption of badges were compatibility of the badge program with the institution’s values and needs, observability of the value of badges both internally and externally, and relative advantage of badges grounded by a clear purpose that is communicated to stakeholders. Trialability was not shown to play a significant part in the successful adoption of the badge programs in this study.

Rogers (2003) found that the innovation attribute, complexity, negatively impacted innovation adoption. The results of the current study also attributed factors related to complexity as barriers to successful adoption of badges in each of the three cases. Specifically, the current study found that usability issues, increased faculty workload, and a lack of understanding of the badges’ purpose and value were the main factors which negatively impacted badge adoption. The goal of this study was to provide insight on best practices to those interested in implementing badge programs in order to optimize success of badge program implementation.