Open Badges: Novel Means to Motivate, Scaffold and Recognize Learning

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    Open Badges: Novel Means to Motivate, Scaffoldand Recognize Learning

    Jelena Jovanovic Vladan Devedzic

    Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

    Abstract This report is centered on the emerging concept and technology of OpenBadges (OBs) that are offering novel means and practices of motivating, scaffolding,

    recognizing, and credentialing learning. OBs are closely associated with values such as

    openness and learners agency, participatory learning and peer-learning communities. This

    report points to the distinctive features of OBs and how they have positioned OBs as

    suitable candidates for addressing some of the pressing challenges in the context of lifelong

    learning, including (but not limited to) (1) recognition of learning in multiple and diverse

    environments that go beyond traditional classrooms; (2) recognition of diverse kinds of

    skills and knowledge, including soft and general skills; (3) support for alternative forms of

    assessment; (4) the need for transparent and easily verifiable digital credentials. The report

    also offers an overview of the major issues and challenges that might delay or even prevent

    widespread adoption of this emerging technology.

    Keywords Digital badges Open badges Alternative assessment Recognition Digital credentials

    1 Introduction and Description of the Emerging Technology

    An important and relatively new technology that facilitates recognition and credentialing

    of different skills and learning achievements and can further increase learning motivation

    is that of digital badges, and more specifically Open Badges (OBs). A digital badge is a

    validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, competency, quality or interest that can be

    earned in various learning environments (Carey Carey 2012). It is an online record of

    achievements, tracking the recipients communities of interaction that issued the badge and

    the work completed to get it. (The Mozilla Foundation and P2PU 2012).

    J. Jovanovic (&) V. DevedzicFaculty of Organizational Sciences, University of Belgrade, Jove Ilica 154, Belgrade, Serbiae-mail:


    Tech Know LearnDOI 10.1007/s10758-014-9232-6

  • OBs take the concept of digital badges one step further. They allow learners to verify

    their skills, interests and achievements through credible organizations. The information

    about the badge issuing organization, the criteria for issuing the badge, the date when the

    badge was issued, and the evidence of the accomplishment are attached to the badge image

    file, hard-coding the metadata for future access and review.

    OBs are based on an open technical specification, called Open Badge Infrastructure, or

    OBI (Mozilla Open Badges 2012). OBI defines the badge issuer as a learning provider or

    an employer awarding an OB for completing a certain task (tasks) and/or attaining a certain

    goal (goals). The issuer creates the criteria that the badge earner needs to fulfill in order to

    win the badge. Badge earners can combine multiple OBs from different issuers, display

    them on the Web, and share them for employment, and/or further education. OBI comes

    with a set of open application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow developers to

    integrate OB services with existing applications, Websites, and social networks.

    OBs support a new approach to knowledge assessment and recognition by giving

    prospective employers, professional groups, community groups, schools, instructors and

    learners a more complete picture of badge earners knowledge, skills and abilities (Badge

    Alliance 2014). They enable gathering and keeping in one (digital) space badges that

    originate from different sources, as well as combining selected badges into custom profiles

    (Glover 2013). Since they carry all the information one would need to understand and

    value the achievement/status they refer to, and since that information is encoded in a

    standard (OBI-compliant) machine-processable format, OBs significantly ease the transfer

    of credentials across different contexts and institutional boundaries.

    Technology for developing OB systems is already available, and much of it is open-

    source and free. BadgeKit (,a badging platform designed and devel-

    oped by Mozilla Foundation, helps individuals and organizations to create, assess and issue

    OBs. In addition, through the exposed APIs, it can be easily connected with the users

    Website and services/tools that display digital badges such as Mozillas Backpack (http:// OB display tool.

    Among other currently popular badging platforms are also:

    BadgeOSTM (, a free plugin for WordPress that allows users of aWordPress-powered Website to complete learning tasks, demonstrate achievement, and

    earn badges

    Passport (, a Purdue University hosted platform thatallows for designing OBs, connecting badges with course objectives, setting challenges

    (i.e., learning tasks) for badge earners, assisting students while working on those

    challenges, and assisting instructors in following each students progress

    Badge Platform Options for Schools (

    for-schools-what-are-the-options/) and Platforms for Issuing OBs (

    chart) offer a comprehensive overview of the available platforms for development and

    hosting of OB solutions.

    2 Relevance for Learning, Instruction, and Assessment

    The available academic literature, project reports, numerous case studies, and personal

    experiences reported by educational researchers and practitioners indicate the following as

    the main roles that OBs might have in the educational domain (Jovanovic and Devedzic


    J. Jovanovic, V. Devedzic


  • OBs as a motivational mechanism: in this role, OBs act as rewards for learners

    engagement and/or achievements. In addition, they have the potential to motivate learning

    by supporting novel learning practices, those based on participatory learning approaches

    and peer-based learning communities (Williams et al. 2011). Even though important, this

    role of OBs should not be overemphasized and OBs should not be equated with a ga-

    mification instrument. The reason is that apart from leveraging game mechanics to

    motivate learners engagement, OBs are often adopted for other affordances they provide

    (as explained below).

    OBs as a means of supporting alternative forms of assessment: OBs promise to be a

    (part of the) solution for the rising dissatisfaction with standardized tests as presently the

    dominant approach to knowledge assessment. This is especially emphasized when it comes

    to appropriate assessment and recognition of not only subject-specific skills and compe-

    tences, but also of generic competences and soft skills. For instance, they can support the

    peer-assessment process where learners do not just receive badges but are requested to

    comment on them, share evidence around them, recommend their peers for accreditation,

    and even become accreditors themselves (as an example of this practice, see, for instance,

    Peer2Peer University:

    OBs as a means of recognizing and credentialing learning: OBs enable the recognition

    of diverse kinds of learning accomplishments achieved in different parts of decentralized

    learning environments, i.e., Networked Learning Ecosystems (Ito et al. 2013) such as

    Global Kids ( Moreover, OBs neatly meet the ever-increasing

    workplace demands for ever-evolving and tailored skills and competences, thus beating

    formal degrees from higher education institutions that are slower in adapting to the market

    needs (Sullivan 2013). The growing open education movement, including massive open

    online courseware (MOOC), is also contributing to the demand for alternative certification

    and recognition mechanisms such as OBs. For instance, Udacity (, a

    well-known MOOC provider, has recently announced the introduction of nanodegrees, a

    form of micro-credentials very similar to OBs (Shen 2014).

    OBs as a means of charting learning routes: through the associated badge-earning

    criteria and entitlements (i.e., privileges and responsibilities opened up by earning a

    badge), OBs enable teachers to scaffold their students in the exploration of the learning

    space. In other words, by acting as signposts through a curriculum, OBs offer learners

    some guidance, but at the same time sufficient freedom in choosing their own path.

    OBs as a means of supporting self-reflection and planning: by enabling learners to

    continuously track what they have learned, and by offering them insights into what the next

    steps might be, OBs support the tasks of self-reflection and planning of learning activities.

    These meta-cognitive activities are key to the development of self-regulation skills, highly

    desirable for life-long learners.

    3 Emerging Technology in Practice

    3.1 Projects and Initiatives

    A number of projects and initiatives have adopted OBs as a core enabling technology for

    motivating, recognizing and credentialing learning achievements:

    Badge the UK project ( is making use of theDigitalMe OB platform ( to raise the value of authentic

    Open Badges


  • learning, skills and talents of young people in the context of their education, jobs and

    personal fulfilment.

    Makewaves ( is a community of thousands of schools(junior/primary and high schools/college) and a social learning environment where

    young people learn together and share learning resources. Learning is made more

    exciting with learning missions where learners achievements are recognised and

    awarded with OBs.

    GRASS ( is a recently started EU project that investigates theuse of OBs as a means of supporting the development, assessment and grading of

    learners soft skills (such as problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, com-

    munication and the like).

    MOUSE Squad (, a US national educational program aimed atimproving students digital media and technology knowledge and skills, uses OBs not

    only for the recognition of students successful completion of learning modules, but

    also as a way of mapping students pathways and learning trajectories.

    Pathways for Lifelong Learning ( is an initiative launched by the Providence After School Alliance

    and the Mozilla Foundation, aimed at enabling high school students to receive aca-

    demic creditin the form of OBsapproved by the local school system, for after-

    school learning experiences and achievements that took place outside the classroom

    (e.g., participation in the city debate club, or an art course at a local museum).

    For a more comprehensive review of other related projects, see

    3.2 A Closer Look at Current Practices and Experiences

    Due to their recency, OBs are still unknown to many teachers and educational practitio-

    ners, while those who have learned about this new technology are often faced with

    numerous questions related to the actual design and deployment of OBs in their curricula.

    These questions are sometimes accompanied by hesitancy and concerns, as some teachers

    might (mistakenly) perceive the introduction of OBs as a disruption of their teaching

    practices. Therefore, it is important to emphasize that the use of OBs in a curriculum

    should not be seen as a replacement for traditional forms of grading and certification; OBs

    are rather an additional means of tracking individuals achievements and progress over

    time; they go beyond the traditional grading and recognition mechanisms built into a

    course structure. Furthermore, the design and deployment of an OBs system are tightly

    connected to the curriculum objectives and the teachers chosen pedagogical approach;

    they can be seen as a technical affordance that facilitates the implementation of the chosen


    The two above stated points are well illustrated in the OBs system developed for the

    Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Major (SA & FS) at University of California at

    Davis, USA (UCD 2014).This OBs system has recently been initiated as a complement to

    the existing portfolio system, in order to provide additional support for experiential

    learningthe pedagogy of choice at SA & FS for over a decade. Their initial experience

    with the deployed badge system shows that an important precursor to launching a badge

    system is to have a well-defined instructional design (e.g., to determine the right mix of

    self, peer and expert assessment for any given badge). In addition, OBs should be aligned

    with the programs learning objectives and requirements. An important part of the SA &FS

    pedagogical approach was to motivate students to reflect over their learning objectives and

    J. Jovanovic, V. Devedzic


  • learning experiences. Accordingly, the students were also given a chance to design badges

    and in doing so to think about all the steps and requirements for earning a badge, thus

    focusing on the process of earning the badge, rather than on the pure act of winning the


    Only in rare cases OBs are used as an alternative grading and certification mechanism

    for a part of regular course requirements. An example of this way of building OBs into the

    curriculum comes from Borders College, Scotland (JISC RSC 2013). They have initiated

    Supporter2Reporter (S2R), a project-based learning program, with the focus on skills and

    confidence development through sports reporting. Through S2R, Borders College students

    studying sport and exercise have been given an opportunity to participate in Sports

    Journalism as an alternative to attending the Communication Units. The latter used to be a

    requirement for course completion, but has received low attendance and completion rates

    for years, since sports students often struggled to see its relevance to their specific disci-

    pline. An important lesson learned from the S2R project is that delays in implementing

    such OBs initiatives can occur if a careful mapping between the badging program and the

    course units (in this case, the Communication Units) is not developed on time and is not

    approved by the corresponding authority (in this case, the Scottish Qualificati...


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