Open Badges

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= general concept and specific project by the Mozilla Foundation



Cathy Davidson:

"What are badges? First, a badge is a recognized visual (physical or virtual) device or ornament or (heaven forbid!) piece of jewelry that typically designates in its design the symbol, insignia, colors, or name of the organization conferring it. That's important. That is, the very design of the badge acknolwedges the issuing body or community that has, collectively, agreed upon what counts as the minimum requirement for the badge.

Second, there is some equally visual symbolic representation of the knowledge, skill, goal, or feat for which the badge denotes mastery, accomplishment, service, or authority (such as when taking an oath to become a fire fighter).

Third, the badge has to be accepted by a larger community as a legitimization of that which it represents. It stands in as the end result of a longer, hidden institutional process. A badge is a means of identification with the issuing organization, a conferal of some kind of status (as having met the requirements of that organization or of being employed by them). Badges can be used as advertisement or for branding too, but that is a bit different than what the Girl Scouts give out. We know "legitimization" is one implicit part of badging because, of course, the system is susceptible to parody or misappropriation (in researching girl scout badges I wandered into the whole world of porn badges . . . big surprise, that!) Or, for a hilarious treat: "WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN BADGES":

Fourth, the badge has to not just credentialize or certify learning but should also motivate it. By organizing a set of skills and interests (such as Tim's multimedia talents) into an actual, definable, measurable skill capable of assessment and judgment, badges inspire students to greater mastery. A hobby becomes definable as an intellectual, creative asset, something to be tended, improved, honed, perfected, advanced, and innovated. As with a game challenge, attainment becomes the floor not the end point, it becomes a step on a way towards even greater mastery. The badge inspires a certain form of learning by naming it and honoring it." (


Erin Knight:

"Specifically, badges support:

Capturing and translating the learning across contexts:

  • Capturing of the Learning Path

With degrees or cumulative grades, much of the learning path is abstracted and lost. Badges could capture and explicitly represent a more specified set of skills and qualities as they occur along the learning path, and could also track a broader, and perhaps more granular, set of skills. So when you encounter that good web developer or writer, you can look at their set of badges (and issue dates!) to determine the skills an aspiring web developer or writer should learn, and even perhaps in what order s/he should learn them.

  • Achievement Signaling

Badges can represent skills or achievements and thus signal peers or outside stakeholders, such as potential employers or institutions. For example, recruiters could look for people with badges that align with certain job requirements or needs. In this way, badges start to function somewhat like degrees or certifications, but with room for much more granular or diverse skill representation.

Encouraging and motivating participation and learning outcomes:

  • Motivation

Badges can provide intrinsic feedback or serve as milestones or rewards throughout a course or learning experience to encourage continued engagement and retention. Badges could make learners aware of skills or topics and encourage them to go down new paths or to spend more time trying to develop those skills. Further, badges could serve as entry points to become aware of and attain new levels of privileges.

Formalizing and enhancing existing social aspects of informal and interest-driven learning:

  • Identity/Reputation Building

Badges can serve as mechanisms to encourage and promote identity within the learning community, as well as reputation among peers. Much of this identity and reputation development may be already occurring within each community and badges can help make them more explicit and portable, as well as aggregate identities from across communities.

  • Community Building/Kinship

Badges can signal community or sub-community membership and can help people find peers with similar interests or mentors to help teach them skills they lack. Further, badges can serve as a means of social capital, and community-oriented or -defined badges could formalize camaraderie, team synthesis or communities of practice." (


by Audrey Watters:

"The Mozilla Foundation and Peer-to-Peer University (P2PU), among others, are working to create an alternative — and recognized — form of certification that combines merit-earned badges with an open framework. The Open Badges Project will allow skills and competencies to be tracked, assessed, and showcased.

In the interview below, I talk with the project director, Mozilla's Erin Knight (@eknight), about the genesis and goals of the Open Badges initiative.

How did the Open Badges project come about?

Erin Knight: At the core, it's really just a general acknowledgement that learning looks very different today than traditionally imagined. Legitimate and interest-driven learning is occurring through a multitude of channels outside of formal education, and yet much of that learning does not "count" in today's world. There is no real way to demonstrate that learning and transfer it across contexts or use it for real results.

We feel this is where badges can come in — they can provide evidence of learning, regardless of where it occurs or what it involves, and give learners tangible recognition for their skills, achievements, interests and affiliations that they can carry with them and share with key stakeholders, such as potential employers, formal institutions or peer communities.

This problem space is particularly interesting and important to Mozilla for a couple of reasons:

1. It is our mission to promote the open web, get more people involved in making it and help people capitalize on the benefits and affordances of it. There is so much learning that is occurring, or could occur, through the web — through open education opportunities like P2PU, information hubs like Wikipedia, and even social media. We want to help people capitalize on these opportunities and make this learning count and get them real results.

2. We also care about supporting and encouraging more people to become open web developers, and much of this learning is typically based on social, informal and personal experiences and work. For example, you may look at someone else's code on github to figure out how to solve a specific problem or tinker on your own to develop a deeper mastery. None of this is taught through a formal curriculum, and in fact, the space moves so quickly that formal curricula are often outdated by the time they can put a syllabus together. We want a way to acknowledge the work and skills of web developers at all stages of their careers, both to motivate them to learn new skills and become better as well as to connect them with jobs and opportunities.

Tell me about the technology infrastructure behind the Open Badges system. How do you validate a badge?

Erin Knight: One piece of the Open Badges initiative is the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI). This came out of early conversations. We spent a lot of time talking about core aspects of an individual badge system: What are the badges? What does assessment look like? How do we ensure validity? We realized quite quickly that to truly solve the problems we are trying to solve and to support learners wherever they are learning, we were not just talking about a badge system, but a badge ecosystem.

In this ecosystem, there would be many badge issuers offering different types of badges for different learning experiences, and each learner could earn badges across issuers and experiences. This requires that badge systems work together and are interoperable for the learner.

The big missing piece was a core infrastructure that could support a multitude of issuers, allow a learner to collect badges into a single collection tied to his or her identity, and then connect to many display sites or consumers to extend the value of the badges. This middle "plumbing" needs to be open and decentralized because if this is as successful as we all think it can be, we are talking about critical identity information here. It's important that the user remain in complete control.

We're building this to be as open and decentralized as possible. All elements, including the Hub, or main badge manifest repository, and the Backpack(s) — the user interface on the Hub (users will have their own Backpacks showing them all of their badges and allowing them to manage, control and share out badges) — are being built open source and extensible so that anyone can create their own instance. Mozilla will build and host the reference implementations, but we want to support decentralization as much as possible.

We're also working with a large advisory group with representation that spans informal education providers, academia, federal agencies, and development communities to make sure that all of our assumptions and approaches are fully vetted and thought through from multiple perspectives and interests. And finally, we're building this to be as lightweight as possible, especially at this point so early in the game, and pushing the innovation to the edge. This means that issuers completely control and decide what their badges are, how they are earned, and so forth. And on the other end, displayers control how badges are displayed, such as with filters or visualizations, etc. We want the OBI to support innovation, not constrain it in any way.

How do badges benefit learners and badge issuers?

Erin Knight: The OBI supports an open and decentralized badge ecosystem where the value of learning experiences can be extended to very real results very easily. It gives the learners the ability to earn lots of different badges across lots of different experiences and not only combine them into one big collection, but remix them into subgroups to share with specific audiences. This allows learners to tell complete stories about themselves, backed by the badges and the evidence they are linked to.

For the issuers, the platform allows them to support the learners further, extend the value of the opportunities they provide, and promote themselves through the badges. For the displayers, they can pull more information backed by evidence into profiles, job opportunities, etc., as well as discover people based on badges.


Where does the Open Badges project go from here?

Erin Knight: We're working on developing a number of badge systems for Mozilla projects, including the School of Webcraft; a partnership with P2PU offering free, open opportunities for web developer training; and Hackasaurus, a program to get youth involved in hacking and building the open web.

On the Open Badge Infrastructure front, the goal is for this to be completely open and accessible to anyone who wants to be an issuer (push badges in) or a displayer/consumer (pull badges out). We are developing and releasing a set of APIs and a badge metadata spec, and we're launching the beta version of the OBI by mid September. It will be a critical feature-complete infrastructure with a number of initial issuers.

Anyone interested in participating in that beta can contact me via Twitter @eknight. We plan to publicly release the OBI, the metadata spec and APIs in early January 2012. At that point, all the documentation and code samples will be there so anyone can plug in. For more information, people can check out MozillaWiki and "An Open Badge System Framework." (


Why Do We Need Badges?

Erin Knight:

"As we saw in the learner scenarios, in today's world learning can look very different than traditionally imagined. Learning is not just ‘seat time’ within schools, but extends across multiple contexts, experiences and interactions. It is no longer just an isolated or individual concept, but is inclusive, social, informal, participatory, creative and lifelong. And it is not sufficient to think of learning simply as consumption, but instead learners are active participants and producers in an interest-driven learning process. The concept of a 'learning environment' no longer means just a single classroom or online space, but instead encompasses many spaces in broader, networked, distributed and extensible environments that span time and space. And across these learning environments, learners are offered multiple pathways to gain competencies and refine skills through open, remixable and transparent tools, resources and processes. In this connected learning[1] ecology, the boundaries are broken and the walls are down, now we just need to help it reach its full potential.

Much of this shift is due to the fact that our world is very different than the one when the current education system was developed and standardized. With the Web and its core principles of openness, universality and transparency, the ways that knowledge is made, shared and valued have been transformed and the opportunities for deeper and relevant learning have been vastly expanded. The open Web has enabled increasing access to information and each other, as well as provided the platform for many new ways to learn and new skills to achieve. We no longer must rely on the expert authority or professionally-produced artifact to provide us with the information or experience we seek, instead we can find it from peers or make it ourselves online. Courses are no longer simply confined to classrooms or expensive universities, but instead open education initiatives such as MIT OpenCourseWare, Peer-2-Peer University (P2PU) and OERCommons, which Sara and Antonio have utilized, capitalize on the openness of the Web and the peer network it supports. These projects provide paths to learning that are unbundled from the financial, social, geographical and cultural barriers of formal education. Similarly, efforts like the Chicago and New York Learning Networks, which Kareem participates in, as well as the Digital Youth Network, create informal learning environments that enable youth to connect to resources, experiences and each other. And of course, there are seemingly endless ways for us to connect, participate and learn online through social media.

In addition to alternative paths for learning similar to that which occurs within formal education, there are also opportunities to develop a new set of skills or digital literacies that have emerged with the Web. Jenkins[2] outlines a number of these new literacies - including appropriation of information, judgment of information quality, multitasking and networking - that are relevant for almost any career path and are critical to success in today's information culture. However, these skills are not typically taught in schools and certainly will not show up on a transcript. Instead, they are being developed and built upon through open, social or informal experiences across the Web, including those through P2PU, the Learning Networks or social media.

And yet, in the current formal education and accreditation systems, much of this learning is ignored or missed entirely. Institutions still decide what types of learning 'count', with little room for innovation, as well as who gets to have access to that learning. Their end products, the grade or degree, are the only way that learning is currently communicated and recognized within the system, as well as the larger society. We know that learning from someone lecturing at us, by reading a textbook on our own or by taking a multiple-choice exam represents a very small fraction of what and how we learn across our lifetimes, and yet these are the types of learning that are formally recognized and heavily required for advancement. Without a way to capture, promote and transfer all of the learning that can occur within a broader connected learning ecology, we are limiting that ecology by discouraging self-driven engaged learning, isolating or ignoring quality efforts and interactions and ultimately, holding learners back from reaching their potential.

Thus, badges can play a critical role in the connected learning ecology by acting as a bridge between contexts and making these alternative learning channels and types of learning more viable, portable and impactful. Badges can be awarded for a potentially limitless set of individual skills regardless of where each skill is developed, and the collection of badges can serve as a virtual resume of competencies and qualities for key stakeholders such as peers, schools or potential employers." (

Mozilla's Open Badges Project


"project recognizes that learning today happens everywhere and seeks to implement a system that acknowledges this reality. In the Open Badge system, a “Badge Issuer” such as an after-school program, free online course or vocational institute can award a badge to a learner, which they can then display across a range of sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Wordpress and Tumblr." [1] (

More Information

  1. Open Accreditation and Alternative Credentialing Providers
  2. Open Badge System Framework,
  3. Badges in Social Media, paper