Don't worry if you're unsure what this badging thing is all about - see the questions below for an overview of what badges are and why you might be interested in them!
What is a badge?
- A badge is a digital representation of a skill, learning achievement or experience.
- Badges can represent competencies and involvements recognized in online or offline life.
- Each badge is associated with an image and some metadata. The metadata provides information about what the badge represents and the evidence used to support it.
- Earners can display their badges online and can share badge information through social networks.
- Badges are used to set goals, motivate behaviors and communicate success.
- They can support learning that happens in new ways, in new spaces beyond the traditional classroom, from online courses to after-school programs to work and life experience.
- This motivates learning and signals achievement across communities and institutions. It also provides a more complete picture of learners' skills, achievements and qualities, which can then be communicated to potential employers, educational organizations and communities.
What do badges do?
- Badges can capture a wide set of skills and achievements.
- They provide concrete evidence and proof of your skills, achievements and qualities.
- Badges create a more complete representation of an individual's learning and experience.
- Earners can group badges into collections for sharing through particular channels.
- Badges unlock new career and learning opportunities, potentially allowing employers and other stakeholders to better match individuals to jobs, courses and projects.
Why do we need badges?
In today's world, learning happens anywhere and everywhere. Despite increased opportunities for learning, there’s still an essential piece missing - we need formal recognition for these newly earned and hard-won competencies and skills. One solution is an open badge ecosystem that can help bridge this gap.
What are the benefits of badges?
- Signal achievement - badges signal skills and achievements to peers, potential employers, educational institutions and others.
- Recognize informal learning - earners can get credit and recognition for learning that happens outside of school, for example in after-school programs, work experience or online.
- Transfer learning across spaces and contexts - make skills more portable across jobs, learning environments and places.
- Capture more specific skills than traditional degrees - badges allow a more granular recognition of specific skills than a traditional degree, which is typically a generic representation of a diverse set of learning experiences.
- Support greater specialization and innovation - move faster to support and recognize new skills than traditional degree or certificate programs.
- Allow greater diversity - with specific recognition for "soft skills," social habits, ability to collaborate and so on, badges can measure and recognize skills that are valuable in many contexts but that traditional educational models do not even attempt to quantify.
- Motivate participation and learning outcomes - badges provide feedback, milestones and rewards throughout a course or learning experience, encouraging engagement and retention, as well as reinforcing a sense of achievement.
- Allow multiple pathways to learning - being open and inherently flexible, badges encourage earners to take new paths or spend more time developing specific skills.
- Open doors - Communities of Practice, Professional Associations or Specialized Groups could require obtaining a set of badges to gain access. The verification of these badges could then be automated using the OBI. For this reason badges are used to implement CPD (Continuing Professional Development) in certain industries.
- Unlock privileges - for example, students at a school computer lab might be required to earn a "Digital Safety" badge before being allowed to surf the web.
- Enhance identity and reputation - badges raise the earner's profile with the learning community and peers, giving the individual control over their online identity. The portable nature of badges also allows the earner to aggregate identities across communities.
- Build community and social capital - badges can help earners to find peers or mentors with similar interests. Community badges help formalize camaraderie, team synthesis and communities of practice. The Discovery project promises to enhance the potential of badges to open up learning and career pathways.
- Capture the learning path and history - with degrees or cumulative grades, much of the learning path (the set of steps and milestones that led to the degree) is lost or hard to see. Badges can capture a more specific set of skills and qualities, dated as they occur along the way using issue dates. This means we can track the set of steps the most successful learners take to gain their skills - and replicate that experience for others. With Discovery, earners will be able to carve out their own pathways, learning more about their own skill-sets along the way.
- Recognize new skills and literacies - a host of new literacies are critical to success in today's digital world (e.g. appropriating information, judging its quality, multitasking and networking) - these are not typically taught in schools and don't show up on a transcript. Badges can recognize these new skills and literacies.
- Provide a more complete picture of the learner - badges give a more detailed, granular skills and learning history, creating a more representative overview for potential employers, schools, peer groups and others.
- Provide branding opportunities for institutions, organizations and learning communities - badges can be displayed in many locations throughout the Web. Increasing awareness of your institution, organization and learning community, as well as linking relevant curriculum, skills and knowledge.
- Work within various different types of system - badges are open and interoperable, which means stakeholders in a badging system can use whatever technologies they want or need, implementing badging within existing systems and choosing freely to utilize badging in whatever way suits their own community of badge earners.
What kinds of skills and accomplishments can badges represent?
The diversity of skills and experiences Open Badges can represent is a key aspect of their usefulness. Badges can represent skills, competencies, qualities, achievements and interests, including:
- "Hard skills" - e.g. completing a course, mastering a specific programming language or math concept.
- "Soft skills" - e.g. critical thinking, communication or collaboration.
- Community aspects - including reputation and status
- New skills - such as digital literacies.
- Specific, granular accomplishments or activities - for example, leaving helpful comments for other learners, logging into an online learning web site for 10 consecutive days, and so on.
- Anything else - badges are open, so their potential to represent varied skills and experiences is unlimited.
How different are badges from the information we provide in our résumés and CVs?
In general, résumés and CVs are static in that they need to be updated and re-published. Badges can be more dynamic - new skills, competencies and knowledge are automatically published, and updated, after the badge is issued. In other words, badges can represent the same skills and experiences a CV represents, plus a lot more, as well as generally providing a richer level of detail. Badges are also discoverable in a variety of online contexts, so earners can share them in different ways.
What 21st century skills may be better represented by badges than other formats?
What skill types are better suited to badges really remains to be seen! Badges could be better at announcing digital literacy and peer-developed skills.
Notable uses of badges include digital literacy skills are demonstrated, for example with Mozilla webmaker, where badges are automatically issued - see also P2PU, a peer assessment system also involving automatic issuing.
What form do badges take? Do I stick it on a Web page or sew it on my shirt?
- A badge is more than just a static image - its value comes from the information or "metadata" attached to it.
- This supporting data contained within the badge reduces the risk of abusing the system (e.g., illegitimately copying badges and putting them on your site) and builds in an implicit validation system.
- The metadata may vary based on the particular skill, assessment and issuer.
A badging system involves a number of key participants:
- Issuing can involve a number of additional roles, including assessors, mentors, learning designers and so on.
- The consumer is anyone viewing a badge, for example an employer or college admin.
Who can issue badges?
Badges can be created, defined and issued by a number of sources, including:
- Traditional educational institutions (e.g. Cornell University, The University of California or Colby College)
- Professional bodies (e.g. doctors, engineers, accountants)
- International credential assessment agencies
- Non formal, community learning organizations (e.g. Adult Basic Education, Literacy, Employability)
- Other community organizers (e.g. voluntary groups, event organizers)
- Communities of practice (e.g. open education projects, peer learners, or the individual learners themselves)
- After-school programs and learning networks
- Online courses and open courseware initiatives
- Government agencies and other public sector bodies (e.g. NASA, libraries, museums)
Can I issue a badge to a group?
Not to the group as a whole - however, you can issue the same badge to each member of a group. A badge is issued to an individual and the assignment is based upon their email address. When you create a badge and make it available, you can decide whether it should be unique or whether it can be issued to multiple earners.
What are the different types and levels of badges?
Badge levels and types can be configure by issuers to suit the needs of their own communities. In general:
- "Smaller" badges can be used for motivation and feedback, tied to smaller behaviors or achievements. (Like those you may have seen on online forums).
- "Larger" badges can be used for certification purposes. Endorsed by specific organizations or other authorities, with more rigorous or defined assessments. These types of badges are used in CPD (Continuing Professional Development) situations.
- Basic or foundational badges can provide the core or entry-level framework for acquiring skills.
- Intermediate and expert level badges can provide the pathways and milestones to guide learners through to mastery.
- Lower level badges may be required as pre-requisites to unlock higher level badges, much as we have seen in various gaming environments.
- These requirements can be made explicit through documented pathways and instructions, providing learners with a roadmap toward mastery. The upcoming Discovery project will facilitate this process to a greater degree.
- "Stealth assessment" approach can involve particular actions or accomplishments suddenly unlocking higher levels, making learners more aware of their progress and motivating engagement.
- Multiple badges can be aggregated into higher-level "meta badges" that represent more complex literacies or competencies.
- These meta-badges can be created and issued by organizations to target specific sets of skills and to signal general mastery.
- For issuers using BadgeKit, badges can be arranged to culminate in Milestone badges to represent collective achievements.
- Life-long learner badges that show a continuous growth and mastery within a subject domain where new levels are added via length of commitment, increasing competency or life-time achievement.
What kind of badge system designs exist? Where do we start when designing badge systems?
Badge systems have already been designed and implemented by a host of organizations as you can see from the list of participating issuers. To find out more about implementing badging systems, get involved with the Open Badges Community.
In March 2014 Mozilla announced BadgeKit, a suite of tools for implementing badging, including a Web app for creating badges and managing applications for them, plus an API to use when creating an interface for your earners. BadgeKit can dramatically simplify the process of creating a badging system to work with an existing site or application.
What are the key components of a successful badge system?
The key elements of an Open Badge system for connected learning are:
- images and metadata assertions
- the ability for reviewers to assess badge applications and make issuing decisions
- Collecting and Sharing tools
- Criteria & Evidence
- links to these can be built into the metadata for a badge.
Who are the competitors to the open badges infrastructure?
Open Badges does not see other badge issuing sites as competitors but as potential partners. The goal is an Open Badges specification that all badge issuers can share.
Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI)
The Open Badge Infrastructure is key element in the adoption and success of badging systems. Read on to see why.
What is the Open Badge Infrastructure?
The Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure is the core underlying technical scaffolding for the badge ecosystem. The OBI supports a multitude of issuers conferring badges into the ecosystem, as well as many displayers and earners using badges to share their competencies and achievements. Anyone can earn badges across many issuers, collect them in one place tied to their identity, then share them with various websites and audiences (including career sites, social networks or personal portfolios). Mozilla is building this infrastructure including the core repositories and management interfaces, as well as specifications required to push badges in (issuing) or pull them out (displaying).
What does the Open Badge Infrastructure do?
The badge infrastructure:
- supports the issuing, collection, and display of badges
- allows learners to tie badges to their identity, and carry their badges with them wherever they go
- displays badges to the audiences the earner cares about (peers, employers, other institutions)
- allows learners to group, sort and manage their badges, as well as setting privacy controls.
- is open and decentralized, to support issuing and displaying across multiple sites and sources.
Why is the Open Badge Infrastructure a necessary part of this work?
The success of badges as an alternative path to accreditation and credentialing for learners relies on a significant “ecosystem” of badge issuers, badge seekers, and badge displayers. The Mozilla Foundation, with support from the MacArthur Foundation, is building an Open Badge Infrastructure to enable the interoperability and collection of badges. The infrastructure will support badges from any issuer across the Internet. It will allow learners to collect, carry, and display their badges across websites and experiences and from youth through adulthood.
Each digital badge, or collection of badges, can inspire learning and translate “anytime, anyplace, any age” learning into a powerful tool for getting jobs, finding communities of interest, and demonstrating skills, competencies and achievements. For more on the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure, please see OpenBadges.org.
I am non-technical - how do I use Open Badges with other systems?
There is a growing community of projects that are implementing the OBI against these open source projects. Due to our community engagement activities we have a growing list of these projects on the Open Badges GitHub repo.
What are the minimum requirements for issuing a badge?
To issue a badge, at a minimum you need to create a JSON message and pass it to the OBI Issuer API. See the following resources:
Organizations can also benefit from BadgeKit to automate and many various aspects of the badge issuing process.
I'd like to use the OBI in a non-educational environment such as gaming. How do I code against the OBI?
The Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) has been built to work against any system wanting to issue badges. This includes non-educational environments like gaming. To work with the OBI check out the technical documentation and sample code available within the Open Badges GitHub repos.
What is the Badge Backpack?
The Badge Backpack is Mozilla's core repository for storing digital badge data. Each earner can have his/her own Badge Backpack, accessible only to him/her, where s/he can view badges, set privacy controls, create groups and share them. Throughout 2014, Mozilla will be developing and announcing additional tools for collecting badges, including federated backpacks.
What is the difference between a displayer site and my backpack?
A displayer site pulls a JSON message from the badge earner's backpack to display their badges via the Displayer API. This JSON can represent one or more badges from within the backpack. The permissions and controls the backpack owner has set against their badges will determine the badges that will be available for display.
Will there be costs associated with earning badges?
There are no costs associated with collecting badges within the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) or sharing them through the API (Application Programming Interface) and communication channels. That said, the OBI is the infrastructure in the middle – issuers and displayers are free to innovate and design experiences on their own, independent of the infrastructure. So some issuers may charge for certain assessments or badges, and on the other end, some displayers may have a fee for pulling badges into a particular network or profile.
How is the value of the badges authenticated?
In this system, a digital badge is more than just an image – it is essentially a collection of metadata that fully explains the badge and includes information such as the issuer, issue date, criteria for earning the badge, expiration, evidence and so on. The badge acts as a gateway or conversation starter, but the bulk of the information is in the metadata and it can act as an informal validation system itself.
Further, the Open Badge Infrastructure includes an authentication channel so that whenever someone tries to use or share a badge, the displayer can call back to the issuer and confirm that the issuer in fact issued this badge to this user (and that it is still valid). If the issuer responds positively, the badge is authenticated/validated, otherwise the badge is non-validated and therefore will most likely not be accepted or used.
Will badges expire? Or will that depend on the individual badge?
It will depend on the individual badge. Issuers can set expiration dates with each badge that they issue and that information will be carried with the badge. Issuers might choose to do so for skills that need to be refreshed or are quickly outdated. Through the Open Badge Infrastructure, when someone tries to use or share a badge that has expired, the OBI will convey that the badge is expired.
Where do I access the OBI?
The goal is to support lifelong learning through lifelong access to badges. Mozilla hosts the reference implementations of the Badge Backpacks, but develops the infrastructure in a way to support complete decentralization and openness so it will be easy for users, or even organizations, to host and manage their own Badge Backpacks and still work within the infrastructure/ wider ecosystem.
How can learners manage their badges for different uses and audiences?
- Badge value increases as learners gain control over how badges are displayed for different audiences and contexts.
- Learners can create groups of badges through the Backpack and control which collections are available to different audiences. For example, you may want to display one set of badges for your peers, but another set for a specific potential employer.
- Learners can also add badges to any external website or environment that supports badge display. These include personal websites, blogs, and social networking environments such as Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.
Can I see the tech behind all of this?
What tools and resources are there to help me work with badges?
Mozilla has developed a number of tools and resources for working with Open Badges. See the Resource List for an overview. BadgeKit also promises to simplify badge issuing and assessment for organizations.
Working Badge Systems
A number of badging systems have been working for some time, see the following questions for an insight into what we have learned/ are learning from them.
How does assessment work?
When an earner sees a badge they wish to acquire, they can typically apply for it through the issuers website. Depending on the badge, the earner may be required to submit evidence together with their application. Issuer admin staff can then review the badge application against criteria defined for the badge, deciding whether to award (issue) the badge or not. The reviewer can optionally forward feedback to the earner regarding their application.
- For badges to hold real value and carry the weight of more traditional grades or degrees, assessment and quality is critical.
- Badges can contain multiple levels of assessment, depending on the use case, community or intended audience.
- some require distinct pre-defined assessment exercises and success criteria
- others may be loosely defined and require earner reflection or peer recommendations.
- Hard skills can require standard or more rigid rubrics to compare learner work against.
- Softer skills can be more fluid and require more open and social assessments like peer reviews or endorsements.
- For certification badges, intended for audiences like hiring managers, admission boards, more rigorous assessments can be required.
- For badges intended to simply build community or reward behaviors, simple assessments may be sufficient.
- Badges can also encourage innovations around assessment. Just as digital badges are an innovation for credentialing, this could trigger innovations around assessment approaches.
Issuers using BadgeKit can facilitate assessment through the Web app, with a simple interface aiding the process of managing assessments, reviewing evidence and issuing badges.
How can badges provide greater flexibility and innovation in assessment?
Badges can help:
- drive innovation around new types of assessments
- provide more personalized assessments for learners
- move beyond out of date or irrelevant testing practices.
- Asynchronous assessment - instead of being required to take an exam at a pre-determined time, for example, learners can seek out the assessment on their own time.
- "Stealth assessment" - assessment and awarding badges can happen automatically and provide immediate feedback. This can create reinforcement of learning in less formal environments.
- Portfolio assessment - work samples, projects and other artifacts the learner has produced or been involved in can demonstrate skills and competencies.
- Multiple assessors or group assessment - in traditional classrooms, an individual instructor generally does most of the assessing. An open badge system can support assessment from multiple contexts, including course organizers, peers, or learners themselves. This flexible and networked nature can mean that there are multiple paths or assessment options for earning a badge, making the system more flexible, ensuring that the needs of each earner are met and limiting the learning path constraints.
How do earners receive badges?
Earners can receive badges in various ways. For example, badges can be issued directly or through claim codes. When an issuer creates a badge they can define claim codes for one or more earner to use in order to receive the badge. If a badge requires an application submitted along with evidence, the issuer personnel (e.g. reviewers) assess the application, then takes action to issue the badge if the application is a success. Once a badge issuing decision is made, the issuer can contact the earner and the earner can choose whether or not to accept the badge.
What happens if I no longer want to issue a particular badge?
In BadgeKit, you can manage badges you no longer wish to issue by archiving them. This allows the issuer to retain data related to the badge, for example to reuse it in future, and lets existing earners continue to share and display the badge.
How are badges designed and created?
This is really a matter for the issuer system. Issuers may involve various administration and other individuals in the process of designing and defining the data for a badge. When using BadgeKit, issuers can design badges within the app or upload designs prepared elsewhere, and can configure all data items within a badge in conjunction with various admin personnel if necessary.
The metadata/ assertion specification seems too complex for my needs - are all of the data items necessary?
No! The data items are there to fulfil the needs of a wide range of issuers and earners. Some of the items are required and some are optional.
How do earners find out about badges?
Badge issuers can create custom directory listings of available badges presented in ways that suit their own community of earners. In 2014 Mozilla will also be announcing new ways earners can find badges and create badge pathways through the Discovery project.
What happens if an earner does not supply sufficient evidence to receive a badge?
The badge issuer can provide feedback to earners when an application is not successful and the earner can choose to re-apply.
Can a badge be issued to a potentially infinite number of earners?
This is something the badge issuer can decide when creating a badge. You can opt to set a maximum number of times a particular badge can be issued, or can leave it open.
Can issuers re-use parts of badge data?
Issuers using BadgeKit can create badge templates, which allow you to re-use and remix badge data elements. This is something we learned working with real-world badging systems, as often the same data items will apply to multiple different badges.
Ongoing questions under consideration
The following questions are relevant for anyone getting involved in the badging ecosystem, both in terms of creating individual badges and as ongoing considerations.
The right badges
- What skills should be assessed? Who decides?
- Are some skills better left unassessed?
- What do we want to encourage? How do we avoid encouraging the "wrong" behavior?
- How much influence should outside stakeholders, such as employers, have on badges?
- Should they be able to design assessments and badges that are relevant to them?
- How do we allow them to have a say without creating imbalances in the system, or constraining learning?
- What's the right level of granularity for individual badges?
- Should badges aggregate into larger or higher level badges?
Badge lifetime and evolution
- Should badges expire?
- What's the best way to deal with skills that need to be refreshed or renewed?
- How can the badge system grow with learners?
- How does introducing badges affect learners' motivations?
- If learners were already intrinsically motivated, how do we avoid "crowding out" those motivations with an extrinsic badge system?
Gaming and Validity
- For any system with value, some people will inevitably try to cheat or "game" the system.
- How will people game the system? How much will they do so?
- How do we discourage gaming and recognize when it happens?
- How do badges translate to more traditional learning environments?
- What's required to make traditional schools and institutions value and recognize badges?
- Can we meet those requirements without requiring more fundamental changes?
- For an overview of badging terms and concepts, see the Glossary.
- For more information about issuing badges, also see the BadgeKit FAQs.
- Join the Open Badges community group.
- Join the Open Badges dev group.
- Connect with the Open Badges team on IRC in the #badges channel.
- Follow Open Badges on Twitter @OpenBadges.