What is a badge?

A badge is a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, competency, or interest. Badges can be used to represent achievements, communicate successes, and set goals. They can support learning that happens beyond traditional classrooms. A wide range of organizations and individuals design and issue badges for learners of all ages. By providing a more complete picture of what learners are capable of and passionate about, badges act as signals to potential employers, collaborators, fellow students, and social groups.

What can badges do?

Badges can:

  • Illustrate wide sets of skills and achievements;
  • Provide concrete evidence and proof of skills, achievements, and interests;
  • Help unlock new career and learning opportunities.

Why do we need badges?

Learning today happens anywhere and everywhere. Opportunities for personal growth have expanded to include social, informal, participatory, and creative contexts. Even with these increased opportunities for learning, there’s still an essential piece missing. We need formal recognition for these newly earned and hard-won competencies and skills. One solution is a badge ecosystem that can help bridge this gap. It provides occasions for learners to demonstrate their learnings and proficiencies with earned personal badge collections.

What are the benefits of badges?

Badges can:

  • Signal achievement to peers, potential employers, collaborators, educational institutions, and others.
  • Recognize informal learning and provide recognition and credit for learning that happens outside the classroom.
  • Transfer learning across spaces and contexts to increase portability across jobs and learning environments.
  • Capture more specific skills than traditional degrees by allowing for more granular recognition.
  • Provide a more complete picture of the learner.
  • Support greater specialization and innovation across specialized and emerging fields.
  • Allow greater diversity by acknowledging the importance of soft skills, social habits, and motivation.
  • Motivate participation and improved learning outcomes by offering feedback, milestones, and rewards throughout a course or learning experience.
  • Allow multiple pathways to learning and encourage focus on the development of specific skills.
  • Unlock privileges such as requiring students at a school computer lab to earn a “Digital Safety” badge before being allowed to surf the Web.
  • Enhance identity and reputation, raising profiles within learning communities and among peers by aggregating identities across other communities.
  • Build community and social capital by helping learners find peers and mentors with similar interests. Community badges help formalize camaraderie, team synthesis, and communities of practice.
  • Capture the learning path and history in ways that are more reflective of knowledge gained than degrees or cumulative grades.
  • Recognize new skills and literacies that are critical to success in today’s digital world, such as appropriating information, judging its quality, prioritizing, and networking.

What forms do badges take? Do I stick these on a web page? Or sew them on my shirt?

The badge itself is more than a static image or button. Its value comes from the information or metadata attached to it.

The information behind each badge provides justification and validation, including:

  • The issuer of the badge;
  • How the badge was earned and when;
  • Links back to artifacts, documents, or testimonials demonstrating the work that lead to earning the badge;
  • Authentication back to the issuer and relevant standards bodies.

This supporting data reduces the risk of “gaming” the system and builds in an implicit validation system. The metadata may vary based on the particular skill, assessment, and issuer. You can learn more about the metadata specification here.

Who can issue badges?

Badges can be created, defined by, and issued by a broad range of sources, including:

  • Formal and informal educational institutions;
  • Multinational companies;
  • Professional bodies such as medical and engineering boards;
  • Individuals with information to teach;
  • International credential assessment agencies;
  • Communities of practice including open education projects and peer learners;
  • After-school programs and learning networks;
  • Online courses and open courseware initiatives;
  • Groups focused on professional development.

Badge Systems

What are different types and granularities of badges?

  • “Smaller” badges can be used for motivation and feedback and tied to less time-intensive behaviors or achievements.
  • “Larger” badges can be used for certification purposes. These are endorsed by specific organizations or authorities with more rigorous or defined assessments.
  • Basic or foundational badges can provide the core or entry-level framework for acquiring necessary skills.
  • Intermediate and expert level badges can provide pathways and milestones to guide learners through to mastery.
  • Lower level badges may be required as prerequisites to unlock higher level badges, as we’ve seen in various gaming environments. These requirements can be made explicit through documented pathways and instructions, providing learners with roadmaps.
  • A “stealth assessment” approach can involve particular actions or accomplishments suddenly unlocking higher levels, making learners more aware of their learning to help motivate engagement.
  • Multiple badges can be aggregated into higher-level “meta badges” that represent more complex literacies or competencies. These meta badges can be created and issued by organizations to target specific sets of skills and to signal general mastery.

What are the components of a successful badge system?

The key elements of an open badges system for connected learning are:

  • Badges;
  • Assessments and identification of participation or learning; and
  • An open infrastructure for issuing, managing, and sharing badges.

Open Badges Infrastructure

What is the Open Badges Infrastructure?

The Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) provides the technical “plumbing” to support an Open Badges ecosystem. It includes a metadata specification (the standard which makes badges interoperable), the initial framework for badge repositories, the Mozilla Backpack, and a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) enabling portability and verification of badges. The OBI is designed to be an open standards framework that allows badge systems to break out of their siloed environments and work together to benefit learners.

Mozilla Open Badges is not proprietary — it’s free software and an open technical standard. That means any organization can create, issue and verify digital badges. Any learner and badge earner can earn badges across many issuers, manage them in one place that is tied with their e-mail address (which we call the Mozilla Backpack), and then share them across career sites, social networks, and personal portfolios.

Mozilla has built this infrastructure including the core repositories and management interfaces, as well as specifications required to send badges in and share them out.

What does the Open Badges Infrastructure do?

The OBI:

  • Enables badge interoperability through the definition and promotion of a badge standard: the metadata specification;
  • Supports the issuing, management, and display of badges;
  • Allows earners to tie badges to their identity and carry them wherever they go online;
  • Makes it possible for earners to display their badges to audiences they care about;
  • Allows earners to create personally meaningful collections of badges and set privacy controls;
  • Is open and decentralized to support badges from multiple sources.

What is the Open Badges backpack?

The Backpack is the core management tool for storing badge data and setting share controls.Earners’ personal Backpacks are accessible only to them, though they can share collections of badges as they see fit. You can create your own Mozilla Backpack here.

The Mozilla Backpack is the reference implementation of a Backpack and serves as a framework for badge repositories. We have created this to support a federation of badge backpacks that will be hosted by various organizations soon.

Will there be costs associated with earning Open Badges?

There are no costs associated with earning badges within the OBI-supported ecosystem or sharing them through the Displayer API.

It’s important to note that the OBI is the infrastructure in the middle; it’s the technical vehicle that makes interoperability possible among different badge systems. Participating issuers and displayers are free to innovate and design experiences of their own that are independent of the infrastructure. Some issuers may charge for certain assessments that result in the earning of badges. Also, some displayers may charge fees for sharing badges with particular networks or profiles.

How will the value of the badges be authenticated?

In this system, Open Badges are more than just images. They are collections of metadata that fully explain each badge and include important information. The visual badge acts as a gateway or conversation starter, yet the bulk of the information lies in the badge’s metadata (which acts as an informal validation system itself).

The OBI includes a verification channel that makes it possible for the displayer to call to the badge issuer to confirm that the issuer did, in fact, issue the badge to the earner while also confirming that the badge is still valid. If the issuer responds positively, the badge is verified. If not, the badge is unverified and therefore will most likely not be accepted or used.

Will badges expire? 

This depends on the individual badge. Issuers can set expiration dates for each badge they issue, and that information will be carried with the badge. Issuers might choose to limit the timespan for skills that need to be refreshed or quickly become outdated. When someone tries to use or share a badge that has expired, the OBI will convey that the badge has expired.

Where will the Open Badges Infrastructure be hosted after it’s built? Will this hosting be “lifelong” to match the goal of students engaging in lifelong learning?

Our goal is to support lifelong learning through ongoing access to badges. Mozilla is building the reference implementation to support a federation of badge backpacks that will be hosted by various organizations. We are building the infrastructure in a way to support complete decentralization and openness. This is intended to make it easy for organizations, or even individuals, to manage their own backpacks and still work within the wider ecosystem.

How can learners manage their badges for different uses and audiences?

The value of badges increases as earners control how they’re displayed for different audiences and contexts. Earners can create collections of badges through the Mozilla Backpack and control which badges they share. Earners can also add badges to any external website or environment that supports badge display.

Can I see the technology behind all of this?


Digtal Media & Learning Competition

What is the relationship between the DML Competition and Mozilla Open Badges?

The success of badges as an alternative path to accreditation and credentialing for learners relies on a significant “ecosystem” of badge issuers, badge seekers, and badge displayers. The 4th DML Competition it intended to spur the development of that ecosystem through the creation of high quality, valuable individual badges and sets of badges. The Mozilla Foundation, with support from the MacArthur Foundation, has built the Open Badges Infrastructure to enable the interoperability and management of badges.

The OBI supports badges from any issuer that aligns with the Open Badges standard, the metadata specification. It allows learners to earn, manage, and display their badges across websites and experiences and from youth through adulthood. All badges and sets of badges developed through the DML Competitions are designed to plug into the OBI, which will contribute to the development of the larger badges ecosystem. Each badge or collection of badges can inspire learning and translate “anytime, anywhere, any age” learning into a powerful tool for getting jobs, finding communities of interest, and demonstrating skills, competencies, and achievements.