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Open Badges: what’s it all about?

This post was written by Mark Arberdour and first appeared on the Epic Blog on 12th July 2013.

open badgesEarlier this year, Open Badges – a  major new learning standard – was agreed after several years of specification and discussion. Led by Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation, the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) sets out to provide a standard means of issuing and displaying digital badges.

What are Open Badges?

The idea behind digital badges is that they provide visual representations of learning outcomes, such as achievements of skills or competence. As well as being used to signal high level achievements, they can also be used to capture the learning path taken towards that achievement. For example, each module in a course could have its own badge. In addition to signalling achievements, open badges can also be used within a course for reward and motivation, for example as gateways between levels or modules on a course or to signify key achievements on the user’s learning path. As such, open badges are a way of introducing an element of games-based learning into your course design.

Open badges are also useful for capturing non-traditional skills. This is where Mozilla come in to play – they have developed a set of web literacy standards that deal with skills not traditionally taught in formal education yet are important in today’s online world. Students or prospective employees who may not have academic qualifications but have achieved such skills through online learning or community involvement now have a way of being recognised for their achievements.

How are Open Badges issued?

Badges themselves have been in use for many years within online communities and college learning platforms, but the OBI has defined some common plumbing that allows them to be moved off the community or college platform and displayed in a central site where they can be viewed by prospective employers. What makes Open Badges more useful is the metadata within them. A badge has a namedescription and criteria for award of the badge; details of the issuer; the evidence the learner had to submit to gain the badge and the date issued. This is clearly a lot more useful than just putting the name of a course on a CV, which provides no indication of what the learner had to do to complete the course or whether they really learn the relevant skills.

The issuer could be an employer, college, university, distance provider or conference provider. High profile organisations as issuers will lend serious weight and credibility to an open badge and many high profile organisations are already behind the initiative.

How are Open Badges displayed?

The displayer could include social networks, blogging tools and Learning Management Systems (LMSs).  Many LMS products already have open badge plugins, and many universities have implemented open badges on their own. Moodle and Blackboard are the first major off-the-shelf LMSs to introduce Open Badges. The Moodle work was made possible through a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, who have also funded a range of other Open Badge implementation projects. Expect the rest to quickly follow.

Displayer systems are required to be able to export badges to an external system, such as the Mozilla Backpack. Expect more of these ‘backpack’ tools to emerge, which will allow users to collate badges from multiple systems and make certain sets of badges available for specific purposes, such as for prospective employers.

The future of Open Badges

The killer app for Open Badges would be in using LinkedIn as a displayer. However LinkedIn are apparently working on their own badging system, although one would hope that with the widespread backing that the open standard is getting, they will think again and adopt Open Badges instead. The standard has already achieved impressive traction and is certainly sparking the imaginations of L&D professionals if our conversations with customers and Epic’s presentation at the Learning Technologies Summer Forum is anything to go by.

If you’d like to talk about how your organisation could use Open Badges or would like to upgrade your Moodle to take advantage of this important new feature, Epic would love to help.

More information at http://openbadges.org/.