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

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ON LI NE LEARN INGOpen Badges: Novel Means to Motivate, Scaffoldand Recognize LearningJelena Jovanovic Vladan Devedzic Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014Abstract 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 asopenness and learners agency, participatory learning and peer-learning communities. Thisreport points to the distinctive features of OBs and how they have positioned OBs assuitable candidates for addressing some of the pressing challenges in the context of lifelonglearning, including (but not limited to) (1) recognition of learning in multiple and diverseenvironments that go beyond traditional classrooms; (2) recognition of diverse kinds ofskills and knowledge, including soft and general skills; (3) support for alternative forms ofassessment; (4) the need for transparent and easily verifiable digital credentials. The reportalso offers an overview of the major issues and challenges that might delay or even preventwidespread adoption of this emerging technology.Keywords Digital badges Open badges Alternative assessment Recognition Digital credentials1 Introduction and Description of the Emerging TechnologyAn important and relatively new technology that facilitates recognition and credentialingof different skills and learning achievements and can further increase learning motivationis that of digital badges, and more specifically Open Badges (OBs). A digital badge is avalidated indicator of accomplishment, skill, competency, quality or interest that can beearned in various learning environments (Carey Carey 2012). It is an online record ofachievements, tracking the recipients communities of interaction that issued the badge andthe 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: jeljov@gmail.com123Tech Know LearnDOI 10.1007/s10758-014-9232-6OBs take the concept of digital badges one step further. They allow learners to verifytheir skills, interests and achievements through credible organizations. The informationabout the badge issuing organization, the criteria for issuing the badge, the date when thebadge was issued, and the evidence of the accomplishment are attached to the badge imagefile, hard-coding the metadata for future access and review.OBs are based on an open technical specification, called Open Badge Infrastructure, orOBI (Mozilla Open Badges 2012). OBI defines the badge issuer as a learning provider oran employer awarding an OB for completing a certain task (tasks) and/or attaining a certaingoal (goals). The issuer creates the criteria that the badge earner needs to fulfill in order towin the badge. Badge earners can combine multiple OBs from different issuers, displaythem on the Web, and share them for employment, and/or further education. OBI comeswith a set of open application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow developers tointegrate OB services with existing applications, Websites, and social networks.OBs support a new approach to knowledge assessment and recognition by givingprospective employers, professional groups, community groups, schools, instructors andlearners a more complete picture of badge earners knowledge, skills and abilities (BadgeAlliance 2014). They enable gathering and keeping in one (digital) space badges thatoriginate 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 andvalue the achievement/status they refer to, and since that information is encoded in astandard (OBI-compliant) machine-processable format, OBs significantly ease the transferof 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 issueOBs. In addition, through the exposed APIs, it can be easily connected with the usersWebsite and services/tools that display digital badges such as Mozillas Backpack ( 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, andearn 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 thosechallenges, and assisting instructors in following each students progressBadge Platform Options for Schools ( and Platforms for Issuing OBs ( offer a comprehensive overview of the available platforms for development andhosting of OB solutions.2 Relevance for Learning, Instruction, and AssessmentThe available academic literature, project reports, numerous case studies, and personalexperiences reported by educational researchers and practitioners indicate the following asthe main roles that OBs might have in the educational domain (Jovanovic and Devedzic2014):J. Jovanovic, V. Devedzic123 as a motivational mechanism: in this role, OBs act as rewards for learnersengagement and/or achievements. In addition, they have the potential to motivate learningby supporting novel learning practices, those based on participatory learning approachesand peer-based learning communities (Williams et al. 2011). Even though important, thisrole 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 tomotivate 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 thedominant approach to knowledge assessment. This is especially emphasized when it comesto 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 thepeer-assessment process where learners do not just receive badges but are requested tocomment 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: as a means of recognizing and credentialing learning: OBs enable the recognitionof diverse kinds of learning accomplishments achieved in different parts of decentralizedlearning environments, i.e., Networked Learning Ecosystems (Ito et al. 2013) such asGlobal Kids ( Moreover, OBs neatly meet the ever-increasingworkplace demands for ever-evolving and tailored skills and competences, thus beatingformal degrees from higher education institutions that are slower in adapting to the marketneeds (Sullivan 2013). The growing open education movement, including massive openonline courseware (MOOC), is also contributing to the demand for alternative certificationand recognition mechanisms such as OBs. For instance, Udacity (, awell-known MOOC provider, has recently announced the introduction of nanodegrees, aform of micro-credentials very similar to OBs (Shen 2014).OBs as a means of charting learning routes: through the associated badge-earningcriteria and entitlements (i.e., privileges and responsibilities opened up by earning abadge), OBs enable teachers to scaffold their students in the exploration of the learningspace. In other words, by acting as signposts through a curriculum, OBs offer learnerssome 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 tocontinuously track what they have learned, and by offering them insights into what the nextsteps 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, highlydesirable for life-long learners.3 Emerging Technology in Practice3.1 Projects and InitiativesA number of projects and initiatives have adopted OBs as a core enabling technology formotivating, recognizing and credentialing learning achievements: Badge the UK project ( is making use of theDigitalMe OB platform ( to raise the value of authenticOpen Badges123, skills and talents of young people in the context of their education, jobs andpersonal fulfilment. Makewaves ( is a community of thousands of schools(junior/primary and high schools/college) and a social learning environment whereyoung people learn together and share learning resources. Learning is made moreexciting with learning missions where learners achievements are recognised andawarded with OBs. GRASS ( is a recently started EU project that investigates theuse of OBs as a means of supporting the development, assessment and grading oflearners 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 notonly for the recognition of students successful completion of learning modules, butalso as a way of mapping students pathways and learning trajectories. Pathways for Lifelong Learning ( is an initiative launched by the Providence After School Allianceand 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 A Closer Look at Current Practices and ExperiencesDue 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 withnumerous questions related to the actual design and deployment of OBs in their curricula.These questions are sometimes accompanied by hesitancy and concerns, as some teachersmight (mistakenly) perceive the introduction of OBs as a disruption of their teachingpractices. Therefore, it is important to emphasize that the use of OBs in a curriculumshould not be seen as a replacement for traditional forms of grading and certification; OBsare rather an additional means of tracking individuals achievements and progress overtime; they go beyond the traditional grading and recognition mechanisms built into acourse structure. Furthermore, the design and deployment of an OBs system are tightlyconnected to the curriculum objectives and the teachers chosen pedagogical approach;they can be seen as a technical affordance that facilitates the implementation of the chosenpedagogy.The two above stated points are well illustrated in the OBs system developed for theSustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Major (SA & FS) at University of California atDavis, USA (UCD 2014).This OBs system has recently been initiated as a complement tothe existing portfolio system, in order to provide additional support for experientiallearningthe pedagogy of choice at SA & FS for over a decade. Their initial experiencewith the deployed badge system shows that an important precursor to launching a badgesystem is to have a well-defined instructional design (e.g., to determine the right mix ofself, peer and expert assessment for any given badge). In addition, OBs should be alignedwith the programs learning objectives and requirements. An important part of the SA &FSpedagogical approach was to motivate students to reflect over their learning objectives andJ. Jovanovic, V. Devedzic123 experiences. Accordingly, the students were also given a chance to design badgesand in doing so to think about all the steps and requirements for earning a badge, thusfocusing on the process of earning the badge, rather than on the pure act of winning thebadge.Only in rare cases OBs are used as an alternative grading and certification mechanismfor a part of regular course requirements. An example of this way of building OBs into thecurriculum comes from Borders College, Scotland (JISC RSC 2013). They have initiatedSupporter2Reporter (S2R), a project-based learning program, with the focus on skills andconfidence development through sports reporting. Through S2R, Borders College studentsstudying sport and exercise have been given an opportunity to participate in SportsJournalism as an alternative to attending the Communication Units. The latter used to be arequirement for course completion, but has received low attendance and completion ratesfor 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 implementingsuch OBs initiatives can occur if a careful mapping between the badging program and thecourse units (in this case, the Communication Units) is not developed on time and is notapproved by the corresponding authority (in this case, the Scottish QualificationsAuthority).Besides the application in formal learning settings, OBs have been appliedeven morewidelyin informal and semi-formal learning programs. For instance, in summer 2013,the American Museum of Natural History ran a prototype of a digital badging system indozens of programs offered to youth aged from elementary through college (AMNH 2013).The survey conducted with the learners who participated in one of the Museums programsshowed that learners were almost equally split between those whose opinion was thatbadges had no effect on them and their learning (neither positive nor negative), and thosewho reported slight or very positive effect. Those in the latter group perceived the positiveeffect of badges on their motivation to learn, their overall experience of the learningprogram, their ability to direct their learning trajectory and the feedback loop betweenthemselves and the instructors. Only a small number of learners reported that the badgingsystem motivated them through its peer effect (social competition or social capital) or real-world effect (advances in the education or career within our outside the Museum). Learnerswho opted not to participate in the Museums badging system were primarily those youngpeople who: (1) were highly intrinsically motivated and perceived OBs almost as a nui-sance and/or as something that might diminish their enthusiasm for learning; (2) did notrecognize real-world value of the badges in terms of something that would provide rec-ognition/credit outside the Museum.4 Significant ChallengesSince the use of OBs as a means of motivating, scaffolding, recognizing and credentialinglearning is in its early stages, there are numerous open questions and concerns related totheir use in these roles. One of the major concerns is related to the validity or credibility ofan OB. This leads to the question of who should be able to issue and award badges (e.g.,should it be open to any institution, or should the entities conferring badges be certified?).A related concern is about the interpretation of the meaning of a badge, i.e., inferring whatit actually says about a learners skills. The importance of this concern is expected toincrease as the adoption of OBs gains momentum and learners start obtaining manyOpen Badges123different kinds of badges from different issuersthe badges might be based on divergentunderstandings of what the corresponding skills mean and how they should be measured.From the perspective of their motivational role, the use of OBs raises concern thatstudents might focus solely on the accumulation of badges rather than on learning activ-ities/materials associated with badges; this is why, for instance, the creators of the SA & FSprogram at UCD were careful to design their badging system in a way that incites studentson learning rather than on earning badges (see the previous section). Likewise, there is aconcern of motivation displacement (Deterding 2013)a situation when intrinsic moti-vation (doing an activity for the sake of enjoyment) is diminished by introducing anextrinsic motivator (in this case, a badge). Thoughtful design of requirements for earningindividual badges as well as chaining of badges in learning trajectories have been sug-gested as a means of addressing both concerns (Rughinis 2013).Venturing in practical development of badges and badge systems often reveals otherweaknesses and limitations of the available badging technology. For instance, MozillasBadgeKit is free and open to everyone, but not as an integrated, hosted badge developmentplatform. At present, only selected partner organizations can use the private beta of theintegrated hosted version. Others can download the current version from GitHub1 and hostit locally, provided that they have the skills required to deal with the intricacies of thetechnology. On the other hand, everyone can use the full, integrated version of Passporthosted at Purdue University, but the pedagogical and learning design options available fordeveloping challenges and criteria for earning Passport badges are limited. There is a bitmore variety to this end when using BadgeOS, but it is still not complete in terms of whatwould be required for designing a pedagogically well-grounded badge system.Badge discovery should be better supported, as well. Badge discovery refers to theability to find relevant badges to earn (i.e., competences and skills to acquire) from variousissuers. Current development efforts in the scope of Mozillas OB Discovery2 project takethis issue very seriously. Furthermore, sharing of the earned badges via Mozillas Back-pack is not always that straightforward and frictionless, as reported in a study conducted byan OBs initiative at University of Michigan, USA (Umich 2013). The GRASS projectsinitial experiences with BadgeOS badges indicate the same. In other words, although thebadge system technology is abundant, it is still not mature enough to allow for the plug-and-play use.5 ConclusionsIt is important to emphasize the misconception that the development and deployment of awell-functioning badge system is easy. The group who implemented an OB system for theSA & FS program at UCD confessed that they had to build their system twicedealingwith many bugs, error messages, and most importantly with students and teachersreluctance and skepticism was anything but easy (UCD 2014). OBs are still a new tech-nology in many communities, and it is a very long way from skepticism, to getting peopleintrigued, and finally to getting support. Also, anyone who ventures in building a non-trivial badge system will probably face a huge badge conceptualization problem: what arethe achievements in a specific case, what to badge/reward, under what conditions, and,most importantly, how to chain and prioritize the achievements? Badge system developers1 Jovanovic, V. Devedzic123 have to consider legal issues related to the protection of privacy of students data(learning traces and evidences of learning achievements). These are complex challengesand it is always a good idea to clarify them before starting the badge system developmentby consulting some recommendations and design principles derived from the existingpractices [see, e.g., (Hickey et al. 2014)]. In addition, the aforementioned and otherchallenges related to the design, development, deployment and adoption of OB systems areactively explored by an increasing number of researchers and practitioners who tend toeagerly share their knowledge and experiences through (online) working groups andcommunities. For instance, numerous and diverse working groups initiated by the BadgeAlliance3 offer a lot of possibilities for learning more about specific aspects of OBs andengaging in the exploration and adoption of the OBs concept and the technology.In summary, inspite of the above mentioned challenges, OBs have been increasinglyadopted by educational practitioners as well as education-oriented companies and non-profit organizations. This level of interest and adoption indicates, on one hand, the realnecessity for a novel, less formal and more flexible recognition and credentialing system(Staton 2014), and on the other hand, that many highly qualified individuals and organi-zations are putting their efforts in resolving the above stated challenges, and thus leadingthe OBs concept to its full potential.ReferencesAmerican Museum of Natural History. (2013). Summer 2013 Badging System Report. Retrieved from, K. (2012). A future full of badges. Retrieved April 15, 2014 from the Chronicle of Higher Educationwebsite:, S. (2013). Situated motivational affordances of game elements: A conceptual model. Proceed-ings of the CHI 2011 Gamification Workshop. Retrieved from, I. (2013). Open badges: A visual method of recognising achievement and increasing learnermotivation. Student Engagement and Experience Journal, 2(1). doi:, D. T., Itow, R., Schenke, K., Tran, C., Otto, N., & Chow, C. (2014). Badges Design PrinciplesDocumentation Project. January Interim Report. Retrieved from Indiana University, the BadgesDesign Principles Documentation Project website:, M., Gutierrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J. et al. (2013). Connected Learning: A researchsynthesis report of the Connected Learning Research Network. Retrieved from the DML research hubwebsite: Regional Support Centre (RSC) Scotland. (2013). iTech Case Study: Open Badge Adventure at BordersCollege. Retrieved from, J. and Devedzic, V. (2014). Open Badges: Challenges and Opportunities. Proceedings of the 13thInternational Conference on Web-based Learning, ICWL 2014, Estonia. (to appear).Mozilla Open Badges. (2012). Badges/onboarding-issuer. Retrieved January 27, 2014, from, R. (2013). Talkative objects in need of interpretation. Re-thinking digital badges in education.Proceedings of the CHI13 Conference. Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems(pp. 20992108). New York, USA: ACM.Shen, C. (2014, June 16). Announcing nanodegrees: a new type of credential for a modern workforce. [Weblog post]. Retrieved from Badges123, M. (2014, January 8). The Degree is Doomed. [Web log post]. Retrieved from, F.M. (2013). New and Alternative Assessments, Digital Badges, and Civics: An Overview ofEmerging Themes and Promising Directions (CIRCLE Working Paper No. 77). Retrieved from theCenter for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) website: Mozilla Foundation and Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU). (2012). Open Badges for Lifelong Learning.Retrieved from of California, Davis. (2014) Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SA&FS). Open BadgesCase Study. Retrieved from of Michigan. (2013). Open.Michigan Learning Corps. Retrieved July 17, 2014, from, R., Karousou, R., Mackness, J. (2011). Emergent learning and learning ecologies in Web 2.0. TheInternational Review of Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), 4059. Retrieved from Jovanovic, V. Devedzic123 Badges: Novel Means to Motivate, Scaffold and Recognize LearningAbstractIntroduction and Description of the Emerging TechnologyRelevance for Learning, Instruction, and AssessmentEmerging Technology in PracticeProjects and InitiativesA Closer Look at Current Practices and ExperiencesSignificant ChallengesConclusionsReferences