Open badges for open accreditation of learning

Open Badges for open accreditation of learning ?
I joined a recent Open Badges #LTHEchat TweetChat (hosted by Phil Vincent and Roisin Cassidy, 29th April 2015) with some trepidation, having had only minimal exposure to them in MOOCs and other open learning activities. Open Badges offer great potential for redefining the award of skills, achievements and competence, beyond conventional academic measures. This potentially allows anybody with internet access new opportunities to receive valuable recognition and reward, and perhaps incentivise further effort towards informal or formal certification. I was therefore interested to learn more, but particularly keen to identify how ePortfolios could support their aggregation, with evidence and contextualisation, for presentation to others. 
In a very lively 1 hour discussion it was clear that several talking points recurred surrounding personal motivators, accreditation and wider credibility to employers and courses. These talking points may be summarised as: 


– Purpose, or “will this be useful for my own personal development ?” 
– Credibility, or “will this be useful to my course or employer?”
– Consistency, or “will this be valued by future courses or employers?” 


As in any walk of life, positive feedback can reinforce personal attitudes towards learning. A gold star at primary school, a fun-run certificate, or the monthly leader in a FitBit group, might all indicate a personal achievement. Similarly, Open Badges, created and offered by a teacher, running club or friend network, fulfil the same purpose. As such, they have little direct value towards one’s own education or employment, but may mean something more personal and aspirational to the individual. 


The discussion in the group centred around two scenarios: a) if these Open Badges held no currency would learners be motivated to collect them? and b) if Open Badges were accredited would this change a learner’s approach towards formative learning and become yet another measure of assessment? Respondents commented that they could be valuable as a formative learning tool, they could motivate learning in groups (healthy competition!), and could be good for recording CPD and extra-curricula activities. Conversely, as extrinsic motivators they may inhibit intrinsic engagement of learning, and may not be valued by staff or students if created ‘off-course’ as Reusable Learning Object (RLO) experience as suggested.  


There are emerging approaches to embedding OpenBadges into educational courses and the workplace. For example, York St John are mapping Open Badges to existing frameworks (such as the UKPSF, SEDA Values, or Vitae Framework), to improve the transferability & recognition of the awards across HE; whilst Mark Dransfield (@dranners) cited experience of designing, issuing and getting badges endorsed by industry professionals for an undergraduate HE module.  Another excellent example of this is at New Milford High School in New Jersey, where teachers are being encouraged to develop new digital skills through a badging scheme.


Issues remain in a number of areas, particularly concerning a general lack of awareness beyond techies, consistent weaknesses in platforms/integrations, and a fear of dumbing down education and skills. For many though, it was felt that a demand by employers and public bodies for evidence of co- and extra-curricula skills (societies, professional groups, sports, charities) through Open Badges could drive greater adoption in teaching establishments and the workplace.


Mapping of OpenBadges to professional frameworks would not only give badges greater credibility amongst HEIs and employers, it would allow for evidenced and transferable skills to emerge. For example, CPD training in one workplace or occupation could be recognised in another location. This would provide the ‘micro-credentialling’ being sought by a global learner community. For example, the Association of Learning Technologists certified member scheme is currently exploring how the CMALT accreditation could be ‘badged’ and mapped to other bodies, such as the UKPSF.


OpenBadges and ePortoflios
OpenBadges offer tremendous potential for evidencing learning achievements, as: credentials; validation; skills; association; assessment; and recognition. Sound similar to typical ePortfolios capabilities ? Well, Kathryn Colman ( believes that the ePortfolio can serve as a powerful platform for collating and repurposing OpenBadges, alongside other forms of personal achievement, as an ‘Application Portfolio’.


Other sites, such as Mozilla Backpack, already exist for this purpose, but presentation from some ePortfolio systems, such as PebblePad, would allow richer contextualisation, reuse for different audiences, and addition of further information and digital artefacts. To an employer, the OpenBadges would display examples of co- or extra-curricula activities and skills alongside academic achievements, testimonies, and commentaries.


Closing comments
This proved to be an extremely enlightening TweetChat, opening my eyes to the potential of badges and the remaining challenges to introduce them effectively amongst learners. Numerous resources were referenced in the session, and I have identified several others since. Happy reading!