In previous articles, we have discussed the importance of recognition in the form of credentials. In this article, we will discuss the only common digital way so far to represent those credentials.

History of Open Badges

The idea behind Open Badges was born in 2011 in the Mozilla Foundation (the same that publishes tools for the open web, like Firefox and Thunderbird to name a few), with the purposes of breaking down education monopolies and fueling individual motivation. In 2012, Mozilla launched Open Badges 1.0 standard and found several partners to launch pilots using it.

They also developed the Mozilla Backpack, a central place implementing one of the aspects of the standard: a common place where any person could collect their badges received from different places. This central place was converted, passed hands and is now Badgr.com.

Stewardship of the Open Badges standard was then delegated to IMS Global, a non-profit organization that also manages e-learning common standards like IMS/LTI, IMS/QTI and Common Cartridge.

What Open Badges contain

Version 1.0 (and later 1.1) of Open Badges included several important elements:

  • a description of what (skill or achievement) the badge was for
  • the possibility to define a criteria for obtaining the badge
  • who emitted the badge
  • who had received the badge
  • a date of emission
  • the possibility to include the full badge as metadata inside a PNG image (so if you download the image, you can extract badge information from it)

But version 1.0 of Open Badges also lacked a few important elements, which were added in version 2.0, published in 2017:

  • endorsements: making it possible for people or organizations to endorse a specific badge from another person or organization, to increase reliability and trust in a specific badge
  • embedded criteria: before 2.0, criteria would only appear on the page of the emitting organization. The badge itself now contains the criteria as well
  • proof: the badge can now incorporate a list and detailed description of the proofs that show that the individual satisfies to the badge obtention criteria
  • internationalization: the same badge can now be “translated” to other languages
  • version control: badges can be updated and differences between versions can be analyzed
  • varied identification: you can now “assign” a badge to something else than an e-mail address. For example, you could assign it to a profile on a social network

However, even version 2.0 still misses something very important: interdependencies, or pathways between badges.

Open Badge Pathways

Open Badge Pathways is an evolving concept that can be defined as digital solutions that enable individuals to use digital badges to move towards a goal or opportunity, or that can be used as an ‘infographic’ to document an individual’s pathway towards a certain goal, with badges.

In effect, collecting badges has *one* major disadvantage: badges can be emitted for very small achievements, and in order to get a broader sense of what someone is capable of, defining groups of badges that, in their combination, are worthy of another, higher-level badge, can be extremely useful when parsing through a large amount of information.

For example, when learning a language, writing, reading and speaking proficiencies are measured in several levels, and an organization could consider that they are only interested in people having acquired a proficiency level sufficient to fluently handle a conversation with a client, which is not limited to oral conversation. This would require checking 3 different badges for a certain level of proficiency, while a pathway could define a new, unique, badge that represents the proper combination of those skills, together with a badge “customer relationship mastery”.

This concept could thus replace a diploma: a combination of skills, certified by trusted authorities, with a description of what was achieved.

This also opens new paths for the individual to learn those skills: if all required skills are equivalently provided by different providers, he/she can choose where to study, democratizing training.

Conclusion

Open Badges is an excellent standard to represent skills and achievements by one person. It is portable, can be automatically processed, and its precise structure makes it ideal for machine processing.

Open Badges Pathways is a work in process, but opens the door to a more elaborate and readily-usable certificate/diploma replacement. It also makes training more openly available: as Pathways develop and include more “equivalent badges”, the learner will have access to a wider training offer, elevating the level of training through productive competition (of which the results are reviewed by the recruiting organizations in the end).

There are possibilities our project, SILKC Path, will make use of the Open Badges Pathways concept in the future. If so, we’ll be sure to let you know.