If you have been aware of Mozilla’s Open Badges initiative since it was launched in September 2011 you may be wondering, as I am, how it is going. Who could argue that “a new online standard to recognize and verify learning” that is both free and an open standard is not welcome. So, what impact has the Open Badges initiative had? Is it taking off or has it hit some barriers?
Anyone not familiar with Open Badges will find more information at http://openbadges.org/. Open Badges can be earned when people learn and are issued with badges by an accrediting organisation. The earned badges can then be displayed digitally, for example on social networks, web pages or portfolios. The three key components of the system are – Earn; Issue; Display.
Open Badges have a number of positives and negatives:
|On the plus side||On the minus side|
|Open Badges makes it possible to gain recognition for learning outside the formal accredited assessment that is typical of school/college/university.||Open Badges can be offered by any organisation. It is difficult to judge the degree of authority behind a Badge.|
|Open Badges can be very granular, making it possible to reward learners for small achievements. This type of award is common in gamification and is viewed by many as a powerful motivational force.||It has been argued (for example by Mitchel Resnick) that the motivation is not to learn but to accumulate badges.|
|Open Badges is an open, free, technical standard so is not proprietary.||Implementing Open Badges based on the technical API is quite a barrier as it requires significant technical skills. This may begin to be overcome as common software supports Open Badges – for example Moodle provides Open Badge support from version 2.5 (May 2013).|
|Open Badges can be displayed to show all the skills that a person has earned – in a CV, Resume, Portfolio, etc.||For many years accredited qualifications have led the way in providing instantly recognisable and trusted “certificates”. How long will it take to change the currency of qualifications?|
There are currently (Aug 2013) no clear indications that Open Badges are either about to take off or to disappear through lack of interest.
Perhaps it is too early to tell. Some innovations take time to settle in and be widely adopted. HASTAC and the MacArthur Foundation were involved in starting the whole initiative with Mozilla and through their Badges for Lifelong Learning movement and they have produced a wealth of research and detailed reports of lessons learned by 30 projects implementing Open Badges.
So, how will we know when Open Badges are making a difference? Criteria that might indicate significant uptake of Open Badges could include:
- An Open Badges search engine: to allow people wanting to learn a new skill/competence to identify Badges that exist so that they can choose to learn in a way that will allow them to gain the badge.
- Adoption by issuing organisations who have previously offered only traditional accredited courses. Will a Badge replace, or even supplement, a degree?
- Adoption by a major employer or professional body to use Badges as the standard method of defining professional competence.
- Widespread inclusion of Open Badge support in educational software (LMSs, assessment systems, e-portfolios, etc).
So it seems the jury’s still out, or is it?