Learning Technology

The Whats and Whys of Open Badges

August 22nd, 2012 at 09:08

What is an Open Badge?

‘Open Badges’ are currently permeating the educational consciousness in the UK. Over the last year conference sessions at ALT-C and Mahara UK, as well as a series of Open Badge Masterclasses from Mozilla and Totara at EPIC 2012, have helped to clarify the technical and pedagogical concepts behind an open badge infrastructure, and the potential impact for providing a means to recognise and endorse informal and self-directed learning.

Badges are everywhere, on and off the web. Badges for 25m swimming, cycling proficiency, eBay Powerseller, gaming achievements, Investors in People and so on. These provide a visual representation of an achievement or an endorsement from a particular community and therefore have currency within these communities. A badge arguably contributes to an increase in motivation and the desire to reach the next stage and gain further community recognition for a skill or achievement.

The Mozilla Open Badges project (funded by the Macarthur Foundation) is implementing an open source framework which anyone can use to create, issue and display badges across the web. The initiative has developed from an informal learning perspective, encouraging peer-assessment which would sit alongside more formal learning. However, as an open source initiative, how it is used and implemented is flexible.

Learning today happens everywhere, not just in the classroom. But it’s often difficult to get recognition for skills and achievements that happen outside of school. Mozilla’s Open Badges project is working to solve that problem, making it easy for anyone to issue, earn and display badges across the web — through a shared infrastructure that’s free and open to all. The result: helping people of all ages learn and display 21st century skills, unlock career and educational opportunities, and find new life pathways.” (Mozilla’s Open Badges Project:-MozillaWiki  https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges)

The technology behind the Open Badge is embedded metadata within an image which could contain links to evidence, endorser details, and dates via a set of specified data standards. An Open Badge recipient would be able to display their badges together in a collection or on their own, as artefacts for comment in their ePortfolios, on their website, digital Resumé, LinkedIn and so on.  Anyone can develop and endorse a badge (or set of badges) whether a professional body, employer, mentor or peer, and define the competences or tasks behind them.

Will Badges be currency?

Whether or not badges are accepted as a trustworthy and legitimate pieces of evidence is not guaranteed. Either the badge is sponsored by a well-known name (or person), or the badge currency builds trust over time. The trust and meaning of a badge would largely come from the endorser and a trust and status economy may emerge, much in the way an ‘Amazon reputation’ is trusted as users of the system register their confidence. Whether or not employers would welcome online badges, it is probably too early to say, nevertheless, ‘employers’ come in all shapes and sizes, as does ‘work’ – whether salaried or freelance.

Lifelong learning and demonstrating skills

Employability and transferable skills: Desired by employers, crucial for growth, lacking in school leavers and “the most important factor taken into account when businesses recruit graduates” (p. 45 CBI/Pearson Learning to Grow 2012).

 Within the HE sector, the HEAR (Higher Education Achievement Record) and various student award programmes provide a way to demonstrate formalised and endorsed extra-curricular skills and learning to employers whilst at University. However, what about informal employability skills? Could Badges be used to recognise skills gained through less formal activities? Examples could include a History student who is a proficient web programmer and volunteers at a school, or a Computer Science student managing a band and gaining excellent entrepreneurship skills, or students involved with volunteering or mentoring within the University.

A badge system could potentially enable recipients to define, articulate and evaluate skills and learning more readily, having something tangible and visible to present to employers. Within the current employment climate, demonstrating difference is increasingly important and visual resumés are on the rise. Changing working patterns (less continuity, more change) requires a constant updating of skills and aggregation of learning, something our graduates need to be prepared for. Collecting and presenting evidence through an e-Portfolio and maintaining a personal repository of Badges (or a visible representation of endorsed informal competence) may help bridge the gap between skills and employment.

“Sally’s journey” illustrates how University education sits alongside a range of other learning and skills development. A personal Badge collection may provide a framework in which individuals can make sense of their own educational development over time.

Open Badges
University of Hull 2012 – based on JISC’S ‘Susie’s Journey’

Open Badges, Moodle and Mahara –  “Moodle as Issuer, Mahara as Displayer”

Totara, a New Zealand based company, are currently working with Mozilla to develop an integration for Moodle and Mahara which will be available in 2013 as an Open Source Moodle plugin. Working closely with Moodle HQ, Catalyst and Mozilla, Totara will develop Moodle’s Activity and Course completion functionality, updating the certification module to deliver badges. A web service will enable badge recipients to provide an authentication path back to the verified badge and a Moodle block will push badges to the users’ Mahara e-portfolio. To quote Doug Belshaw of Mozilla “Open Badges + E-portfolios = Awesome” (EPIC 2012).

What does the future hold?

While this is all still fairly new, Mozilla’s Open Source infrastructure nevertheless offers a framework in which new learning activities could be designed with input from students and employers.  ’Gamification’ (often associated with reward-based methods of motivation – see “7 things you should know about gamification” from Educause) is currently ascending the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ on the Gartner Hype Cycle for Education 2012 and may, combined with a Badge system, provide alternative methods of assessment and recognition for students, or indeed, the wider community and demographic outside of the University. Open Badges may also enter a more formal environment, being adopted by professional bodies or certain sectors of employment that have their own distinct set of skills. Projects are starting to spring up, implementing Open Badges in various contexts, for instance the Sports Reporter and School of Webcraft projects, and offers of wider endorsement and support from the Digital Media and Learning competitions. So, it’s a case of ‘watch this space’ to see how developments unfold.

This is a guest post from

Kirstie Coolin, CIePD, Research and Learning Resources
August 2012

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