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 Qualifications


    Besides the application in formal learning settings, OBs have been appliedeven more

    widelyin 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 in

    dozens 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 programs

    showed that learners were almost equally split between those whose opinion was that

    badges had no effect on them and their learning (neither positive nor negative), and those

    who reported slight or very positive effect. Those in the latter group perceived the positive

    effect of badges on their motivation to learn, their overall experience of the learning

    program, their ability to direct their learning trajectory and the feedback loop between

    themselves and the instructors. Only a small number of learners reported that the badging

    system 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). Learners

    who opted not to participate in the Museums badging system were primarily those young

    people 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 not

    recognize real-world value of the badges in terms of something that would provide rec-

    ognition/credit outside the Museum.

    4 Significant Challenges

    Since the use of OBs as a means of motivating, scaffolding, recognizing and credentialing

    learning is in its early stages, there are numerous open questions and concerns related to

    their use in these roles. One of the major concerns is related to the validity or credibility of

    an 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 what

    it actually says about a learners skills. The importance of this concern is expected to

    increase as the adoption of OBs gains momentum and learners start obtaining many

    Open Badges


  • different kinds of badges from different issuersthe badges might be based on divergent

    understandings 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 that

    students 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 & FS

    program at UCD were careful to design their badging system in a way that incites students

    on learning rather than on earning badges (see the previous section). Likewise, there is a

    concern of motivation displacement (Deterding 2013)a situation when intrinsic moti-

    vation (doing an activity for the sake of enjoyment) is diminished by introducing an

    extrinsic motivator (in this case, a badge). Thoughtful design of requirements for earning

    individual 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 other

    weaknesses and limitations of the available badging technology. For instance, Mozillas

    BadgeKit is free and open to everyone, but not as an integrated, hosted badge development

    platform. At present, only selected partner organizations can use the private beta of the

    integrated hosted version. Others can download the current version from GitHub1 and host

    it locally, provided that they have the skills required to deal with the intricacies of the

    technology. On the other hand, everyone can use the full, integrated version of Passport

    hosted at Purdue University, but the pedagogical and learning design options available for

    developing challenges and criteria for earning Passport badges are limited. There is a bit

    more variety to this end when using BadgeOS, but it is still not complete in terms of what

    would be required for designing a pedagogically well-grounded badge system.

    Badge discovery should be better supported, as well. Badge discovery refers to the

    ability to find relevant badges to earn (i.e., competences and skills to acquire) from various

    issuers. Current development efforts in the scope of Mozillas OB Discovery2 project take

    this 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 by

    an OBs initiative at University of Michigan, USA (Umich 2013). The GRASS projects

    initial experiences with BadgeOS badges indicate the same. In other words, although the

    badge system technology is abundant, it is still not mature enough to allow for the plug-

    and-play use.

    5 Conclusions

    It is important to emphasize the misconception that the development and deployment of a

    well-functioning badge system is easy. The group who implemented an OB system for the

    SA & FS program at UCD confessed that they had to build their system twicedealing

    with many bugs, error messages, and most importantly with students and teachers

    reluctance 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 people

    intrigued, 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 are

    the achievements in a specific case, what to badge/reward, under what conditions, and,

    most importantly, how to chain and prioritize the achievements? Badge system developers


    J. Jovanovic, V. Devedzic


  • also have to consider legal issues related to the protection of privacy of students data

    (learning traces and evidences of learning achievements). These are complex challenges

    and it is always a good idea to clarify them before starting the badge system development

    by consulting some recommendations and design principles derived from the existing

    practices [see, e.g., (Hickey et al. 2014)]. In addition, the aforementioned and other

    challenges related to the design, development, deployment and adoption of OB systems are

    actively explored by an increasing number of researchers and practitioners who tend to

    eagerly share their knowledge and experiences through (online) working groups and

    communities. For instance, numerous and diverse working groups initiated by the Badge

    Alliance3 offer a lot of possibilities for learning more about specific aspects of OBs and

    engaging in the exploration and adoption of the OBs concept and the technology.

    In summary, inspite of the above mentioned challenges, OBs have been increasingly

    adopted by educational practitioners as well as education-oriented companies and non-

    profit organizations. This level of interest and adoption indicates, on one hand, the real

    necessity 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 leading

    the OBs concept to its full potential.


    American Museum of Natural History. (2013). Summer 2013 Badging System Report. Retrieved from

    Carey, K. (2012). A future full of badges. Retrieved April 15, 2014 from the Chronicle of Higher Educationwebsite:

    Deterding, S. (2013). Situated motivational affordances of game elements: A conceptual model. Proceed-ings of the CHI 2011 Gamification Workshop. Retrieved from

    Glover, I. (2013). Open badges: A visual method of recognising achievement and increasing learnermotivation. Student Engagement and Experience Journal, 2(1). doi:

    Hickey, 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:

    Ito, 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:

    JISC Regional Support Centre (RSC) Scotland. (2013). iTech Case Study: Open Badge Adventure at BordersCollege. Retrieved from

    Jovanovic, 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

    Rughinis, 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


    Open Badges


  • Staton, M. (2014, January 8). The Degree is Doomed. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

    Sullivan, 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:

    The Mozilla Foundation and Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU). (2012). Open Badges for Lifelong Learning.Retrieved from

    University of California, Davis. (2014) Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SA&FS). Open BadgesCase Study. Retrieved from

    University of Michigan. (2013). Open.Michigan Learning Corps. Retrieved July 17, 2014, from

    Williams, 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

    J. Jovanovic, V. Devedzic


    Open 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 Experiences

    Significant ChallengesConclusionsReferences