An “Open Badge,” as defined by the Mozilla Foundation, is an icon with a short description that provides individuals with a way to present what they know and have learned. Basically, badges are image files that enable anyone to display experiences, achievements, skills and all sorts of other information about one’s interests and abilities in a creative and easy to understand way.
Badge holders may store any number of these images in what is called a “backpack” – basically an online portfolio where others can view an individual’s badges, understand the issuing criteria, and verify the achievements. The owner of the backpack can group, organize and categorize the badges in any way he or she likes. One could, for example, create a group that is public for potential employers, but keep a hobby-related group of badges private. Social and professional networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn will soon support digital badges to let their users show what they know.
Badges make learning visible. There is a saying that learning happens anywhere, anytime. Whether it is in the formal setting of a classroom or the more loosely structure setting of an after school program or an online webinar, students have the ability to learn an amazing number of things in myriad locations. Badges make it possible to make the learning visible to not only the learner, but also those around the learner, whether it be a teacher, a parent, a colleague, or an employer.
Badges prepare learners for a changing world. The world is in a constant state of change. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the skills required of workers entering into the 21st century workforce. Given the rapid pace of change, it is clear we need workers who are capable of adapting to changes in the workplace, workers with the capacity to adapt to new opportunities and challenges, and workers who have can demonstrate that they have the skills and knowledge to address the specific challenges and needs of employers. Badges can help workers prepare for these changes by both obtaining and, subsequently, showcasing granular skills and knowledge.
Badges showcase a learner’s identity. Badges help provide a way for learners to show to others the the interests they want to pursue. In a world where education supports those with the desire and the capacity to demonstrate a commitment to learning and to embracing learning as a lifestyle, badges provide a very clear picture of the topics and knowledge that an individual is gaining.
Badges create learning pathways. How do we discover what we’re interested in? Research suggests that we develop interests as a result of personal experiences and characteristics, but also as a result of what we discover in social contexts through referral and recommendation. When we can see what others are interested in, we are more likely to explore and discover new interests. Since badges make it remarkably easy for someone to showcase interests and learning, it is now possible for people to find new learning pathways and to become exposed to new ideas, activities, academic subjects or even discreet technical skills they may never have been able to develop on their own.