Dan Hickey's recent post Research Design Principles for Studying Learning with Badges prompted me to reflect on the distinction between reputation systems and credentialing / badge systems. Why does this distinction matter? In part because the research on recommender and reputation systems that underpin the "anywhere, anytime" learning of the Web have much to teach us about how people participate online, how they establish trust, and how they find, define, and measure quality.
Likewise, the information science literature has much to learn from education and learning science disciplines. We need both bodies of research (and many others) if we are to design effective badge systems that genuinely make learning better for the maximum number of learners.
The most important reason for this distinction, though, is because there are asymmetric power-law distributions in online reputation systems and by paying attention to what is already known about technology-mediated social participation, we can consider how we might inadvertently replicate inequity through badge system design. Maybe that's a topic for another post. But there is an implied argument among advocates of reputation-based or peer learning that crowdsourcing credentials is better than the traditional system of credentialing.