Education Technology

What is a Badge?

Digital badges are a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in various learning environments.

Traditional physical badges have been used for many years by various organizations such as the Russian Army to give members a physical emblem to display the accomplishment of various achievements. Digital badges are quickly becoming an appropriate, easy and efficient way for educators, community groups and other professional organizations to exhibit and reward participants for skills obtained in professional development or formal and informal learning.

Just as badges in the physical world serve many functions, digital badges are employed in a variety of ways. Badges can serve different functions depending on the activities with which they are associated. Commonly, badges are thought of as rewards but have been found to be most effective when they also contribute to goal setting, reputation, status affirmation, instruction and group identification. Badges also promote lifelong learning that extends beyond the classroom and brings to light accomplishments that otherwise might have been hidden.  

A History of Digital Badges

Digital badges weren’t really on anyone’s radar until around 2011 when Peer 2 Peer University and The Mozilla Foundation co-authored a paper titled “An Open Badge System Framework”. In this paper, a badge was defined as “a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, quality or interest”. According to the report, badges “have been successfully used to set goals, motivate behaviors, represent achievements and communicate success in many contexts…. [B]adges can have a significant impact, and can be used to motivate learning, signify community and signal achievement”.

The paper does highlight one very important fact about badges - context is more important than design: “[T]he information linked to or ‘behind’ each badge serves as justification and even validation of the badge.”

The badge includes information on who earned the badge, what the badge represents, how it was earned, when they earned it, who issued it, and whenever possible, evidence examples of the work that went into earning the badge.

The Open Badge Standard

The Mozilla Foundation would go on to develop an open technical standard called Open Badges in 2011, which served as a common system for issuing, collecting, and displaying digital badges across various websites and non-profit organizations. Contextual information like “what the badge represents, how it was earned, when they earned it, who issued it” is critical to the definition of a badge in this standard. Open Badges 1.0 was launched in 2012, and by 2013 over 1,450 organizations were issuing badges.

The Anatomy Of A Digital Badge

Badges have meta-data to communicate details of the badge to anyone wishing to verify it, or learn more about the context of the achievement it signifies. Together these data should provide all the information needed to understand what the badge signifies: Who received the badge? Who issued the badge? What was the criteria for issuing the badge? Does it expire?

Some or all of this information will be displayed in a visual format wherever the badge is displayed, but it is also stored within the digital badge’s meta-data so it can be verified any time - even if you only have the image!

Other information like tags, expiration date, whether or not the credential was revoked are optional fields that may or may not be displayed with the badge image, but will always be included in the meta-data if they are relevant to the badge.

In order for a digital badge to be Open Badge Compliant, it needs to have certain required meta-data:

  • Badge Name
  • Badge Criteria (Often written in the description section)
  • Badge URL
  • Issue Date
  • Issuer (an account or record associated with the organization issuing the badge - at least their name)
  • Recipient (an email or user account associated with the badge owner)

Benefits associated with digital badges include the ability to capture the complete learning path, so it "travels" with the user wherever they decide to display the badge. The digital badge carries with it information about assessment, evidence and other metadata required by the badge. Digital badges can signal achievement to potential employers, motivate engagement and collaboration, improve retention and levelling up in learning, support innovation and flexibility in the skills that matter, and build and formalize identity and reputation within learning communities.