Individuals’ learning in the new societal environment: what role for Open Badges?

Carla Casilli's in the education ecosystem

The world is experiencing a major shift in the learning system. The previous forms of recognition of learning are becoming obsolete, and so are the referencing definitions and taxonomies related to education and training. Learners develop their skills and competences in a variety of learning environments, and not only in the context of formal education (for examples schools and universities). Economists of innovation recognise knowledge, and therefore learning, as the most important resource in today’s society. However, the formal education system seems unable to cope with these rapid societal changes. Companies and institutions struggle to find the appropriate skills for their job vacancies, and at the same time individual learners lack tools for certifying the whole set of capacities and experiences that they own, very often gained outside the formal education and training system.

The Open Badge system tries to address these issues by providing a flexible and adaptive technology of recognition and certification of competences, which could be potentially applied to all learning environments.

However, in order to become widely recognised as a credible certification method, Open Badges must solve some critical issues, which still represent a source of debate among experts. These issues are related to the reliability, validity and quality of the credentialing with Open Badges. In the Discussion Paper on Open Badges for Individuals, recently published by ARTES within the framework of the European Erasmus+ project Open Badge Network, has addressed these issues. It comprehensively illustrates, without preconceptions, the major theses which defend the unique beneficial role of Open Badges from the individuals’ point of view, but also investigates the “risks” implied by this instrument.

The paper targets all educational sectors, formal, informal and non-formal as well as the employment and social sectors and presents an overview on the current opinions and points of view related to the hottest issues around Open Badges, with the hope to provide less experienced users with a useful introductory tool and to stimulate further discussions within the community of Open Badge practitioners.

Specifically, the discussion paper focuses on the following key questions:

  • What are the major challenges the learning and training system is facing?
  • How can Open Badges address these challenges?
  • How would the individuals benefit from the introduction of a valid system based on Open Badges?
  • What are the risks involved in the introduction of a certification system based on Open Badges?
  • What is the role of individuals in the process of legitimation of the Open Badge standard? Can individuals contribute, and in which way?
  • How are Open Badges applied around the world? In what fields?

People interested to deepen the topic and contribute to the discussion are invited to register to the Open Badge Network portal and add their voices in the forum.

Abstract of the Discussion Paper on Open Badges for Individuals

Individual users may benefit from earning Open Badges in various ways, in their education, in their work life and in their leisure activities. The recognition of soft skills, prior learning and abilities developed in informal and non-formal environments may increase employability and acknowledgement of skills by the employers, while also facilitating introduction into new working places and positions. Students may add this set of credentials to their resumes at the end of a degree and be recognised for their extra-curricular activities. Open Badges may also help transform talents and passions into actual competences and therefore open new job opportunities.

Individuals can gain control over their education pathway and easily compose and display their digital resume on the web, collecting Open Badges they earned from different sources (schools, online courses, external organisation).

In the paper, we briefly present the dispute regarding the effect of gamification of the learning process, acknowledging the point of view according to which “external motivators”, such as Open Badges, may have a detrimental effect on learning. However, we support the idea that rigorously designed Open Badges may improve learning performance and motivation during class and training.

Open Badges may find useful applications also in the context of promotion of citizenship and social integration, for example in the case of recognition of skills of migrant workers or academics. Citizens may be rewarded with Open Badges for the activities within their community, which would in return increase the group cohesion and their sense of belonging.

However, individuals will play an important role in the future of Open Badges also as designers and issuers. The Open Badges technology is free and relatively easy to access, which gives a chance to independent communities of learners to develop and award their own set of Open Badges, using their own criteria and competency frameworks. However, an opposite view argues that this could carry some risks.

Individual issuers can use Open Badges to provide organisations and institutions with suggestions and benchmark their needs. Innovative and responsive organisations will build systems of Open Badges that consider contributions from a grassroots level.

In general, the response of the final consumers of Open Badges is fundamental to reach the critical mass for the technology to be widely recognised. Beside this, in the paper, we discuss how the “value” of a single Open Badge is closely related to the users’ perspective and to the establishment of networks of trust among Open Badge issuers, earners, companies, institutions and education providers. We discuss also how the “endorsement” feature contributes in achieving this result by enabling Open Badges to be peer-reviewed.

The future of Open Badge will depend on the engagement of the whole community, including individual users, in the construction of value and trust.

In the paper we support the idea that the education system could play a major role in this regard, by helping education providers and the community of learners to familiarise themselves with this tool and by providing the right indication for rigorous application of competency frameworks and evaluation methodologies. Institutions and organisations should facilitate the encounter between the expectation of the users and the intents of the issuers, while ensuring absolute freedom and the cost-free basis for everybody to design, issue and obtain an Open Badge, without imposing a common standard. They should provide Open Badge designers and issuers with appropriate guidelines and frameworks, to nurture the building of trust networks among issuers, earners and viewers and support individuals in the recognition of the right methodology to assess the quality and reliability of Open Badges.


* Image by: Casilli, C. (2016). Badges + credentials, another visual take. Retrieved May 9, 2016, from