In this post you will:

  • Learn about Open Badges
  • Think about why and how to use Open Badges
  • Question the future of Open Badges

How is getting a coffee and getting an education similar? What are the similarities and differences between these two?

Let’s talk about your local coffee shop’s loyalty card that helped you to get a free drink (or discount) after collecting all the points on the card. It’s an evidence-centered approach, which proves that someone bought a coffee from that coffee shop by using that loyalty card. Does it really mean that you are a coffee drinker? Does it show who bought it? Does it tell you that you bought it for yourself?


Like a lot of the other things, coffee shops’ loyalty card concept has also become a part of the digital world. In order to keep people engaged and motivated, some websites and mobile applications started to use them (e.g. Foursquare, a location-based check-in app that evolved into search and discovery app used badges for a while). Like in video games, users complete a task and then get their reward automatically, a badge. You collect more badges to access locked items like pages, discounts, and even more special badges!

“Badges are among the most visible elements of gamification, the use of game-thinking and game mechanics to engage media audiences. A badge is one of many tools in an engagement design arsenal that also includes point systems, leaderboards, challenges, rewards, team play and achievement, among others.” – 2011 [Read more]

Your local coffee shop’s loyalty card is probably only valid at that store. Now imagine a coffee chain, one that you can find all around the world. Their loyalty card would be valid in any location of that chain, it would be “universal”. This would be a great way to keep people “engaged” with the same coffee chain, but you know what would be even better? Having a standardized card between all the coffee shops that they all use to reward you when you get your coffee. So you feel “an accomplishment” every time you get a coffee. A similar idea exists in the education field and it’s called Open Badges. It’s a creative and possibly helpful approach to learning but much depends on how you use it.

As Sheryl L. Grant of Mozilla Foundation, one of the biggest actors in the Open Badges field, puts it: “How, in a sea of information and relative anonymity, can we demonstrate to others what we know and who we are? How can we demonstrate our learning is credible and that our knowledge, our reputations and even our identities can be trusted?” [Read more]

In 2011 Mozilla Foundation, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, started Open Badges project and since then it’s been a hot topic. It’s building up on the concept of digital badges and other achievement recognition systems. The promise: Open Badges provide us a standardized way to recognize learning online so that it can become a universal.

“A digital badge is an online representation of a skill you’ve earned. Open Badges take that concept one step further, and allow you to verify your skills, interests and achievements through credible organizations and attaches that information to the badge image file, hard-coding the metadata for future access and review. Because the system is based on an open standard, earners can combine multiple badges from different issuers to tell the complete story of their achievements—both online and off. Badges can be displayed wherever earners want them on the web, and share them for employment, education or lifelong learning.” [Read more]

Jump into the pool!

Wait, before jumping into the pool of Open Badges, you should first think about how and why to use Open Badges. As one Turkish saying goes, you do not need to re-discover a continent, instead take a look at the past and learn from it.

How do you assess and recognize learning?

Technology and the internet have made it possible for us to learn anywhere, anytime, on any device. Take a look at this infographic about the history of distance and online learning. Today there are a countless Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), most of them linked with universities around the world.

Since claiming that you completed an online course on a topic was not enough evidence for employers and others, e-certificates were born. The certificates helped boost up the learner’s motivation. They completed an online course and got their unique certificate for that specific course. This trend grew up to a point where business and employment-oriented social networking website LinkedIn bought Lynda, an online education company. The increase in the use of e-certificates brought up new questions, How valid is the evidence from Online Open courses? What is the credibility of online learning courses?

These are a very important questions, especially considering that open learning courses are generally based on “watch a video, take a quiz” method. Even though many studies support the validity of such online learning by saying that “students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction”, other studies raise a concerning point: people cheat in MOOCs.

This is also a question about how we assess and recognize learning in the digital age, especially if we are assessing and recognizing non-formal education that helps people to gain the necessary skills in the 21st century to become global citizens. What is more important at the end of their learning journey? Evidence of completing the journey or learning something during that journey?

To go back to our coffee metaphor, in AFS we do not want to stamp the card because people buy coffee, we want to stamp the card when we see that they are actually drinking it, sharing it, that coffee is not going to the waste.

Our goal is to support our participants (students, volunteers, host families, staff members) within their journey to improve their skills. That’s why we pursue learning-based approach and have our learning program and curricula.

Why use Open Badges? They will help us to recognize our participants achievements and learnings during the journey, show the guidelines, and will provide extra motivation.

Open Badges Keep Evolving

Movements that take place online evolve faster than usual with the involvement of different people all around the world–Open Badges is one of such movements too. When Open Badges were launched usability became a discussion topic. Recognizing learning was the primary function of Open Badges, their secondary function was assessing learning. But what about motivation? Gamification is an effective motivation factor. Remember the stamp on your loyalty card, collecting digital badges?

Let’s take a look at an old school example of collecting badges:

Motivation is another reason using Open Badges, even though it is not their main purpose. Using Open Badges to motivate learners was a very practical idea and also a slippery slope for Open Badges. This idea finally evolved into Open Pathways; an extension of having multi-level badges and collaborative learning pathways. That means you can issue badges that are dependant to other ones or have badges with different levels that will complete each other. [Read more] You can also have cross-institutional pathways with Open Pathways.

The question of the recognition of badges (since anyone can easily create them) is being addressed by Open Endorsement Alliance, as they are trying to create policies and technology for open endorsements and recognitions. And keep in mind that your badges are as powerful as your brand and your credibility depends on your brand too.

As mentioned above, using Open Badges for motivating students or gamifying your educational process is not the main purpose of this initiative. Open Badges are for learning recognition, providing a standard that is more powerful than just motivation.

How can we take advantage of Open Badges?

Issuing Open Badges is a great way to recognize non-formal educational activities, like the ones offered by AFS. Here are key reasons why non-formal education organizations should explore using Open Badges:

  • Open Badges provide all the necessary information about the learning within the badge (meaning of the badge, criteria to earn the badge, issuer of the badge, endorsements, etc… – metadata).
Visual by Class Hack
  • Open Badges can be personalized, you can issue badges individually when you see the learning evidence that we are looking for.
  • Open Badges help individuals and organizations level up their online presence.
  • Open Badges are transferrable, supporting the lifelong learning idea.
  • Open Badges can be earned in different learning opportunities, and still be compatible, enabling you to show that you keep improving your skills.
  • Open Badges will create new opportunities for collaboration with multiple individuals and organizations (Open Endorsement and Open Recognition).
  • They can help you to evaluate the progress of learning.
  • Open Badges provide an opportunity for motivating the learners.
  • Open Badge system will visualize the learning journey and that will help learners to easily understand the learning journey, goals, and the importance of it.
Visual by @bryanMMathers is licensed under CC-BY-ND

Cultural Superpower: Fortune Telling

It is customary in Turkey to read someone’s past and future from their Turkish coffee cups. Drinking Turkish coffee leaves coffee grounds in the cup with different shapes, and those shapes represent your past and future. [Read more about it here] So, let me try to use my cultural superpower and predict the future of Open Badges based on the past movements that started online and have become part of our daily lives.

Example number 1: Have you ever heard a movement called Project Gutenberg? Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to encourage the creation and distribution of electronic texts (including eBooks) free of charge since 1971. eBooks are a part of our daily lives now, especially after the launch of Kindle, a very popular ebook reader designed and marketed by Amazon, an e-commerce company.

Or, to use a different example, do you realize how getting information has changed? When newspapers were turning into websites and news portals, it was a mess which was solved by an internet standard called RSS (Rich Site Summary) that enabled the social web. Now most of us check social networking websites to read the news or get push notifications to our smartphones (both uses the same approach and standard as RSS).

Now it’s time for my cultural superpower… How open badges evolve is not very different than those two cases mentioned above. Providing badges for learning recognition is not a new idea, the same applies for digital badges. Open Badges bring an online standard and this is a new approach in the education field.

Open Badges keep evolving and opens up new doors to us (like Open Pathways, Open Endorsement, Open Recognition) and probably will be around for a long time. So, maybe now is the right time for you to jump in, explore the possibilities, and work on your strategy?

If you decide to use this standard, don’t forget that you are not designing nice images your learners can share online. You are working on your digital strategy and designing an educational journey/experience that needs to align with your existing standards.