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Start Learning about Badges

If you're new to Open Badges, the amount of information available may seem overwhelming. However, although the technical aspects of badging can be complex, the concepts in a badging system are mostly intuitive. Use this page to navigate the available badging resources from your own perspective and don't worry - it'll all fall into place! If you haven't already read it, a great starting place is the About Badges page.

Roles in a Badging System

Badging involves a lot of technology, with a diverse range of organizations issuing badges and an even more diverse range of people earning them. It will help your initial understanding of Open Badges to think of the participants in a badging system as falling into three main roles: earner, issuer and displayer. Understanding these roles is key to understanding how the badging processes fit together.

The Earner

Anyone who wants to earn a badge is a potential earner. Badges are everywhere, particularly for young people - girl Scouts, students in sailing school and swimmers can earn badges in offline life. Earners use badges to demonstrate skills, knowledge and experiences. Open Badges apply this concept to a wider variety of achievements, letting people represent their full range of accomplishments earned in online and offline life, sharing and displaying their badges in digital contexts. Badges can represent anything from attending an event or being involved in a community organization to demonstrating a professional accreditation in a particular career field.

Earners can come into contact with Open Badges in various ways - the following is a typical scenario:

  • The earner sees a badge on a website and decides to apply for it.
  • The earner submits an application, which may include evidence.
  • The earner receives feedback from the badge issuer, detailing whether or not their application was successful.
    • If successful, the earner is offered the badge and decides whether or not to accept it.
  • The earner is offered the ability to push their new badge to their backpack.
    • The earner can manage, collect and display badges in the backpack.

See the earner onboarding page for more info from the earner's perspective.

The Issuer

Badge issuers create badges and make them available for earning. The process of defining and designing a badge involves deciding what skills, knowledge or experience the badge represents. The issuer also needs to decide how an earner can demonstrate that they meet the requirements for a badge, as well as how this will be assessed. In some cases the assessment may involve processing an application, but in others the procedure will be much more lightweight, for example where a badge represents attending an event. Many issuers are organizations such as educators and community groups. The issuer role involves using technologies to represent badges and to facilitate various parts of the badge lifecycle, from making badges available to handling applications for them and ultimately awarding them to earners. The issuing process needs to be rigorous for a badge to hold value.

Like earning, the issuing process can vary, but the following scenario is typical:

  • The issuer (often involving multiple personnel) decides to create a particular badge.
    • Issuer designs the badge and defines the badge metadata.
  • The issuer makes the badge available to earners via a website.
    • The badge listing includes a link/ instructions to apply for it, sometimes requiring evidence.
  • The issuer receives and assesses badge applications.
    • The issuer returns feedback to applicants, informing them whether or not the badge is being awarded.
  • The issuer offers the badge to the earner, who can choose whether to accept it.

Note on assessment: There are many ways to assess peoples' abilities and knowledge. Figuring out effective ways to assess is the responsibility of the issuer. Existing assessment methods used for the badges available to our youth are proven and have considerable rigor. For example, the assessment of the skills and knowledge to get a scouting badge is carried out with well-articulated criteria and assessment forms within a master-apprentice model. Once the badge earner has proven their skills and knowledge against the criteria as assessed by the master, they are issued a badge. It should be noted that there are many approaches to assessment and what is described here is only one approach. The important thing is that the issuer needs to figure out how to assess if the earner is deserving of the badge.

See the issuer onboarding page for more info from the issuing perspective.

Mozilla announced BadgeKit in March 2014 - a set of tools to help issuers implement badging systems. BadgeKit provides much of the back-end processing in an issuing application, with APIs to connect to the issuer's own site. Read more about BadgeKit

The Displayer

The displayer provides the ability to display badges. The display context could be a social media site like Facebook/ Twitter or it could, for example, be a personal WordPress blog. The displayer can retrieve badges from an earner's backpack and display them for all to see. The groupings and permissions affecting the display of badges is determined by the settings in the backpack, so the earner has control over how their badges are displayed.

See the displayer onboarding page for more info from the displaying perspective.

Badge Consumers

Although not active participants in a badging system, it's worth remembering another group of relevant people - consumers. Consumers are people who may view earned badges. Examples of consumers could be prospective employers, college admin and peers. Much of badging is designed with these people in mind, from designing and defining to displaying and sharing.

The Technology

So, how is all of this implemented? Well, Mozilla is providing a range of software and programming tools such as APIs to help people adopt badging systems. See the diagram below for a visual overview of how the badging processes fit together:

Open Badges -- Tech-diagram-v3 updated.png

From a technology/ infrastructure perspective the issuer is the provider of badges, the backpack stores the badges earned and the displayer shows them to the world.

The boxes, lines, images, and text in the diagram each represent a piece of the technology that makes up the Open Badges Infrastructure. As you learn more about the badges technology you will become familiar with all the elements in the diagram. Take time to review the diagram, reflecting upon the earner, issuer and displayer roles and on how they could interact.

One important question for anyone involved in badging is: "How do you determine if a badge is genuine?" The OBI is built with verification in mind, as you can see in this Verification overview.

Further Resources