Open Badging

min read

Key Takeaways

  • Mozilla's Open Badges help learners capture all their learning across multiple channels and connect it to paint a more complete picture of a learner's skills, competencies, interests, and passions.
  • Open Badges can also help those who need to evaluate a learner, like teachers, mentors, and employers, better understand learners, such as their skills, the interests and passions that drive them, and their experiences.
  • Mozilla has developed an open standard for badges that ensures that all badges are interoperable for the learner and carry and communicate their value across the web, as well as the technical "plumbing" to ensure that the badges work at an ecosystem level.

Erin Knight is learning director at Mozilla.

Meet Eduardo, a 16-year-old from Oakland, California, who loves movies and telling stories. He is part of a Northern California–based after-school organization called Bay Area Video Coalition, where he learns how to make films, from storyboarding to using a camera, putting together a script, etc. He's been part of the program for over a year now and has become close to his instructors, who have witnessed his growth. He has grown into a leader at the organization, and in addition to the classes he takes, he now mentors new students in the program.

All the while, Eduardo struggles in school and is seen as a below-average student. He doesn't realize that his learning in the after-school program and the mentoring he's providing to others is valuable. He has no idea that there are career opportunities based on the skills he's developing.

If Eduardo's after-school program issued Mozilla Open Badges, the badges would help Eduardo capture his learning path and intellectual growth. If those badges were recognized at his school, Eduardo could connect his learning through various vehicles and receive proper recognition for his skills and achievements. In addition, his teachers at school could obtain a more dimensional picture of Eduardo, understand his interests and passions, and provide a personalized learning experience in the classroom.

Eduardo's story is just one example of how Open Badges can benefit not just the learner but also those in a position to foster the learner's growth and development.

What Young People Say about Badges (3:40 minutes)

About Mozilla Open Badges

Mozilla Open Badges is a project within the Mozilla Foundation, in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC, as well as a community of thousands, that is exploring a new system of credentialing and accreditation for the digital age. The Open Badges project uses digital badges to capture and communicate skills, interests, and passions of learners, and those badges then can be shared with stakeholders like potential employers to tell a more complete story about what each learner knows and can do. Open Badges represent a movement, as well as a standard, or definition, of badges to ensure their interoperability at an ecosystem level. Mozilla provides the core technical infrastructure, which includes the standard as well as free and open-source software for collecting and sharing badges. Institutions and organizations design and issue their own badges aligned with the learning experiences they provide on top of the core infrastructure. In that respect, Open Badges are intentionally flexible and built into the institutional context of each issuing organization, which range from universities, community colleges, K–12 school districts, after-school programs, open learning providers, communities of practice, and more. This ensures that badges can represent real and robust learning.

"It was important for Providence After School Alliance to develop badges that were supported through the use of their quality tools and assessments so that students and external audiences knew right away that the badge meant something," explained Damian Ewens, who led the development of PASA's badge system and now runs Codery, a badge solutions company.

Open Badges help learners capture all their learning across multiple channels, across their lives. These badges often capture more, in that instead of just abstract credentials, badges can be issued at the skill or achievement level, ensuring that the entire learning path is recognized. Badges are collected across learning experiences in each learner's "Backpack"; that collection becomes a more complete picture of a learner's skills, competencies, interests, and passions. This can also help those who need to evaluate a learner — like teachers, mentors, and employers — better understand learners, such as their skills, the interests and passions that drive them, and their experiences. In addition, Open Badges can help those providing learning experiences and content to better engage their learners, understand what motivates them, and capture learning in creative and flexible ways.

The video "What Is a Badge?" explains the basics (2:45 minutes).

Innovative Badge Attributes

A badge provides a record of a skill, achievement, affiliation, or interest. Through scouting, diving, CPR, and the military, we have a rich history of badges used to reward and communicate rank, reputation, and access. A digital badge is an online record of achievements, tracking the recipient's communities of interaction that issued the badge and the work completed to get it.

Mozilla Open Badges uses digital, information-based badges to reimagine recognition and credentialing, which makes these badges powerful, networked, and credible. The Open Badges program allows learners to represent, verify, and communicate their skills, interests, and achievements via their earned badges, and because the system is based on an open standard, they can combine multiple badges from different issuers to tell the complete story of their achievements. They can display their badges wherever they want on the web, as well as share them for employment, education, or lifelong learning purposes. Said Gerry McCartney, Purdue's vice president for information technology, CIO, and Oesterle Professor of Information Technology:

"Students learn in many ways and in a variety of settings while attending a university such as Purdue. In addition to formal lectures and homework, there is also time spent in labs and doing field work; time spent in service projects or internships; and experiences they glean from student organizations. The Passport app will give interested faculty and advisers another way to recognize and validate those skills for students."

Badging relies on institutions, organizations, and other learning providers to build badges that capture and recognize the specific learning experiences they offer. This ensures that badges represent real learning and assessments. Mozilla has built the technical "plumbing" to connect badges across various issuers and to provide connections directly to employers and other evaluators for use in hiring and admissions decisions.

Mozilla Open Badges also includes free and open software to support the collection, management, and sharing of badges. The open, technical standard is the critical piece that ensures all badges work together and are interoperable, shifting siloed systems to a true learning ecosystem. This means that issuers of all kinds — from formal institutions to small, nonprofit learning providers — can award verified, open badges and connect their users to a broader learning ecosystem. Users have a way to collect and combine badges from across experiences and share them with key stakeholders. Employers and others have the information they need to understand and vet each badge: who issued it, how it was earned, and even the work that went into earning it.

Status of Open Badges

Mozilla recently launched Open Badges 1.0, which moves the product out of beta and into a production offering. Mozilla Open Badges consists of two things:

  1. a technical standard that anyone can follow to make their own evidence-based, interoperable open badges, and
  2. free, open-source software for issuers and users, including Backpacks for collecting badges across issuers, managing those badges, and sharing them with key stakeholders.

As of July 1, 2013, Mozilla already has over 1,000 unique issuers pushing over 100,000 badges into the ecosystem. It's still very early, but this adoption rate is a promising sign of the interest and potential for badges.

Version 1.5, now under development, will include new features like Endorsement, which makes it possible for third-party organizations to review badges and digitally sign the badges they want to endorse. This capability introduces the potential for an open, distributed system for badge validation.

Challenges and Resolutions

Two major challenges face the Mozilla Open Badges program: validating badges and setting the stage for their use worldwide.

Badge Validation

The Open Badges infrastructure provides a baseline validation by ensuring that the badge was in fact issued to a specified recipient by a specific issuer. Although this can help ensure that the recipient actually earned that badge, as we consider badges for job or other opportunity-relevant credentials, there is a need for ensuring that the learning that the badge represents is real. Said another way, we need a way to accredit the issuers and badges. One approach would be to replicate or use the existing accreditation system, but that would constrain the openness and flexibility of badges. Mozilla has proposed an open, distributed system for badge validation that leverages endorsement to build a trust layer into the badge ecosystem. Endorsement involves third parties "signing" badges to indicate their endorsement of the learning that badge represents. For more, see "RFC: An Open, Distributed System for Badge Validation (Working Paper)."

Preparing the World to Use Badges

A big requirement for badges' success relies on employers and other evaluators using badges in their evaluation decisions. Employers want new tools and credentials that tell them a more complete story about candidates and help them more confidently find matches for their specific needs. However, they still need to get used to the form factor of badges and understand their value. Mozilla is committed to streamlining this process for employers, as well as to supporting badge earners in sharing and displaying their badges across the web. This wide digital distribution will make badges a more obvious and natural indicator of learning for employers to consider.

Anticipated Impact

"Badges, as they mature beyond where they are currently, have the potential to disrupt formal education in a way that none of the technology innovations we've seen in the last couple of decades have."
– Scott Leslie, Edtechpost (February 20, 2013)

The current work around badges is much more than the technology or the badges themselves. It involves opening up learning and legitimizing lifelong learning of all kinds and connecting them to real results, like jobs. It is about reimagining credentials in a digital age — credentials that represent a more granular set of skills and achievements, can be easily combined and stacked to show what a learner knows and can do, and can be shared across the ecosystem and communicate their value.

Open Badges have already seen quick adoption from the first wave of early adopter issuers. There is interest across many sectors including after-school, K-12, workforce development, and higher education. Badges have the potential to be the connector within these sectors, as well as across them, and can be used to truly create a connected learning ecosystem.

Further, as we saw with the Eduardo story at the beginning, we do not have to wait for the ecosystem to be fully baked before individual learners can start seeing results. Just a few badges from existing learning experiences can start to open doors and change lives in meaningful ways.