Built Intelligence

Open Badges - What are they?

Open Badges - What are they?

After several years in research a new learning standard from the MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla has been agreed. The Open Badges Infrastructure provides a uniform method for attaining and displaying recognisable digital levels of capability and skills.

What can badges do?

The 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.


What do Open Badges Indicate?

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 organisations 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.These universally recognisable logos are designed as a quick indicator that the holder has achieved a skill level, or competence, through an assessed learning process. In addition to the fact that they can signify a variety of attainment grades they will also illustrate the learning pathway a used to earn a particular level of learning/skill. 

Are they only available for complete courses of study?
The badges have a breakdown capacity to reward modular achievement within a course and as gateway feature between elements on a designated path of study. They can also identify significant key individual achievements on a learning pathway. This structure offers a method for the introduction of game based learning into the design of a course.

Benefits for a wider range of skills

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 formalise 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.
  • Recognise new skills and literacies that are critical to success in today’s digital world, such as appropriating information, judging its quality, prioritising, and networking.


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.

A move from internal structure
This marking system is not new. College learning platforms and online communities have actually been using them for many years. The Open Badge Infrastructure has simply formalised some features which allows them to be transferred from the internal college or community platforms and out onto a site where they can be accessed by employers. 

What additional features to they contain?

The metadata contained within a badge provides a valuable range of information about the learner. In addition to base data like the name, date and issuing body, they contain information about award criteria and the evidence submitted. These features have been hailed as a big improvement to the previous system which simply identified a course by name with no real indication of the skills acquired.

Who is approved to issue Open Badges?

These can be distributed through a college, university, or distance learning provider. They can also be acquired from an employer or through an accredited conference provider. The profile of the badge can gain weight depending on where it was achieved. Those that have been earned through high profile organisations will have a much higher level of credibility and can provide improved employment prospects.

Display format
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 artefacts, 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.

The publication of the badges incorporates a wide array of areas including social network forums and blogs. They are already used as plugins on many Learning Management Systems like Blackboard and Moodle. The MacArthur Foundation have granted financial backing to a range of projects to help implement the new system and a wide network of support is expected to develop in the near future.

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