Tag: Open Badges (page 2 of 10)

3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web [DML Central]

3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web

My latest post for DML Central has now been published. Entitled 3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web, it’s an attempt to unpack a phrase I use often. It features a couple of great images from Bryan Mathers — one inspired by a Tim Berners-Lee quotation at the start of the post, and the other a visualisation of the ‘four freedoms’ of Free Software.

Read the post here

Note: I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to add your thoughts on the original post.

Some thoughts and recommendations on the future of the Open Badges backpack and community

Recommendation Theater


Back in January of this year, Mozilla announced a ‘continued commitment’ to, but smaller role in, the Open Badges ecosystem. That was as expected: a couple of years ago Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation had already spun out a non-profit in the form of the Badge Alliance.

That Mozilla post included this paragraph:

We will also reconsider the role of the Badge Backpack. Mozilla will continue to host user data in the Backpack, and ensure that data is appropriately protected. But the Backpack was never intended to be the central hub for Open Badges — it was a prototype, and the hope has forever been a more federated and user-controlled model. Getting there will take time: the Backpack houses user data, and privacy and security are paramount to Mozilla. We need to get the next iteration of Backpack just right. We are seeking a capable person to help facilitate this effort and participate in the badges technical community. Of course, we welcome code contributions to the Backpack; a great example is the work done by DigitalMe.

Last month, digitalme subsequently announced they have a contract with Mozilla to work on both the Open Badges backpack and wider technical infrastructure. As Kerri Lemoie pointed out late last year, there’s no-one at Mozilla working on Open Badges right now. However, that’s a feature rather than a bug; the ecosystem in the hands of the community, where it belongs.

Tim Riches, CEO of digitalme, states that their first priority will be to jettison the no-longer-supported Mozilla Persona authentication system used for the Open Badges backpack:To improve user experience across web and mobile devices our first action will be to replace Persona with Passport.js. This will also provide us with the flexibility to enable user to login with other identity providers in the future such as Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook. We will also be improving stability and updating the code base.

In addition, digitalme are looking at how the backpack can be improved from a user point of view:

“We will be reviewing additional requirements for the backpack and technical infrastructure gathered from user research at MozFest supported by The Nominet Trust in the UK, to create a roadmap for further development, working closely with colleagues from Badge Alliance.

Some of the technical work was outlined at the beginning of the year by Nate Otto, Director of the Badge Alliance. On that roadmap is “Federated Backpack Protocol: Near and Long-term Solutions”. As the paragraph from the Mozilla post notes, federation is something that’s been promised for so long — at least the last four years.

Federation is technically complex. In fact, even explaining it is difficult. The example I usually give is around the way email works. When you send an email, you don’t have to think about which provider the recipient uses (e.g. Outlook365, GMail, Fastmail, etc.) as it all just works. Data is moved around the internet leading to the intended person receiving a message from you.

The email analogy breaks down a bit if you push it too hard, but in the Open Badges landscape, the notion of federation is crucial. It allows badge recipients to store their badges wherever they choose. At the moment, we’ve effectively got interoperable silos; there’s no easy way for users to move their badges between platforms elsewhere.

As Nate mentions in another post, building a distributed system is hard not just because of technical considerations, but because it involves co-ordinating multiple people and organisations.

It is much harder to build a distributed ecosystem than a centralized one, but it is in this distributed ecosystem, with foundational players like Mozilla playing a part, that we will build a sustainable and powerful ecosystem of learning recognition that reflects the values of the Web.


Tech suggestions

I’m delighted that there’s some very smart and committed people working on the technical side of the Open Badges ecosystem. For example, yesterday’s community call (which unfortunately I couldn’t make) resurrected the ‘tech panel’. One thing that’s really important is to ensure that the *user experience* across the Open Badges ecosystem is unambiguous; people who have earned badges need to know where they’re putting them and why. At the moment, we’ve got three services wrapped up together in badge issuing platforms such as Open Badge Academy:

OBA venn diagram

One step towards federation would be to unpick these three aspects on the ecosystem level. For example, providing an ‘evidence store‘ could be something that all badge platforms buy into. This would help avoid problems around evidence disappearing if a badge provider goes out of business (as Achievery did last year).

A second step towards federation would be for the default (Mozilla/Badge Alliance) badge backpack to act as a conduit to move badges between systems. Every badge issuing platform could/should have a ‘store in backpack’ feature. If we re-interpret the ‘badge backpack’ metaphor as being a place where you securely store (but don’t necessarily display) your badges this would encourage providers to compete on badge display.

The third step towards federation is badge discoverability. Numbers are hard to come by within the Open Badges ecosystem as the specification was explicitly developed to put learners in control. Coupled with Mozilla’s (valid) concerns around security and privacy, it’s difficult both to get statistics around Open Badges and discover relevant badges. Although Credmos is having a go at the latter, more could be done on the ecosystem level. Hopefully this should be solved with the move to Linked Data in version 2.0 of the specification.

Community suggestions

While I’m limited on the technical contributions I can make to the Badge Alliance, something I’m committed to is helping the community move forward in new and interesting ways. Although Nate wrote a community plan back in March, I still think we can do better in helping those new to the ecosystem. Funnelling people into a Slack channel leads to tumbleweeds, by and large. As I mentioned on a recent community call, I’d like to see an instance of Discourse which would build knowledge base and place for the community to interact in more more targeted ways that the blunt instrument that is the Open Badges Google Group.

Something which is, to my mind, greatly missed in the Open Badges ecosystem, is the role that Jade Forester played in curating links and updates for the community via the (now defunct) Open Badges blog. Since she moved on from Mozilla and the Badge Alliance, that weekly pulse has been sorely lacking. I’d like to see some of the advice in the Community Building Guide being followed. In fact, Telescope (the free and Open Source tool it’s written about) might be a good crowdsourced solution.

Finally, I’d like to see a return of working groups. While I know that technically anyone can set one up any time and receive the blessing of the Badge Alliance, we should find ways to either resurrect or create new ones. Open Badges is a little bit too biased towards (U.S.) formal education at the moment.


The Badge Alliance community needs to be more strategic and mindful about how we interact going forwards. The ways that we’ve done things up until now have worked to get us here, but they’re not necessarily what we need to ‘cross the chasm’ and take Open Badges (even more) mainstream.

I’m pleased that Tim Cook is now providing some strategic direction for the Badge Alliance beyond the technical side of things. I’m confident that we can continue to keep up the momentum we’ve generated over the last few years, as well as continue to evolve to meet the needs of users at every point of the technology adoption curve.

Image CC BY-NC Thomas Hawk

Beyond ‘low-hanging fruit’: why I’m no longer an Open Badges evangelist

TL;DR: Open Badges have hit a tipping point and no longer need my ‘evangelism’. This is to be celebrated. What’s needed now is the dynamic and differentiated use of the technology to effect real change. This is why I’m continuing my work with organisations as an Open Badges strategist and change-maker.

Low-hanging fruit

Almost exactly five years ago, I stumbled across a pilot being carried out as a collaboration between the nascent Mozilla Learning team and P2PU around Open Badges. It’s fair to say that this discovery, made while I was doing some research in my role for Jisc, altered the course of my professional life.

As an educator, I realised immediately the immense power that a web-native, decentralised, alternative accreditation system could have. I carried out more research, talking about Open Badges with anyone who would listen. This led to me being invited to judge the DML Competition that seed-funded the badges ecosystem and, ultimately, to being asked to work for Mozilla.

I’m not going to turn this post into a blow-by-blow account of the last few years. This is a time for looking forward. That’s why I’m happy to say that, as of today, I no longer consider myself merely an Open Badges evangelist, but an Open Badges strategist. I’m interested in working with people and organisations who are looking to implement Open Badges in new and interesting ways.

What do I mean by that? Well, here’s a few examples:

  • Building badge-based ‘playlists’ for learning (with an emphasis on diversity and co-creation)
  • Developing new extensions and ways of using the standard in informal learning contexts
  • Scaffolding participation and activism through badges that ‘nudge’ positive behaviours in individuals and groups

One way of looking at this is to use Ruben Puentadura’s SAMR model, which I cite in my book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies:

SAMR model

There’s some interesting preliminary work I do with clients around ‘Augmentation’ but, as quickly as I’m able, I try to get them to think about the top two tiers of the pyramid.

If you’re an organisation looking for mere ‘Substitution’, then Open Badges ecosystem is now developed enough for you to do this by yourself. It’s never been easier to use one of the many badge issuing platforms to simply digitise your existing credentials. There’s documentation around how to get started all over the web, including the Open Badges 101 course that Bryan Mathers and I have curated during our time working with City & Guilds.

I’d challenge organisations and, in particular, universities, to go beyond what they’ve been able to do for the last few hundred years, and think about how to do true 21st-century credentialing. This is a situation where forward-thinking businesses, charities, non-profits, and institutions are in a strong position to drive not only organisational change, but societal change. The nature of hiring and onboarding, for example, can be entirely changed and revolutionised through a fresh look at how we demonstrate knowledge, skills, and behaviours to others.

Over the next few months, I’m looking to build on my doctoral thesis and the work I’ve done over the last few years, to help clients identify, develop, and credential digital skills. If you think I may be able to help you, then please do get in touch: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Image CC BY Ian Carroll

Notes and comments on ‘Digital Badges in Education’: Part I: Trends and Issues

Digital Badges in EducationLast month, a new book came out entitled Digital Badges in Education: Trends, Issues, and Cases. At over £30, it’s the most expensive book I’ve purchased for a while, but thought it would provide some useful insights. And no, there’s no chapter from me in it: I seem to remember a call for contributions going out last year but I don’t work for free / less than my minimum day rate.

Over my discours.es blog I’ve been making notes on each chapter as I read it. So far I’ve completed Part I: Trends and Issues. As you’d expect from an edited collection, it ranges from the average to the excellent. One curious omission is an introduction from the editors.

The links below reference the titles of each chapter in Part I of the book. However, when you click through, you’ll notice that I’ve given my blog posts a different name. These, of course, are my own notes, highlights, and (in some cases) criticisms of the authors’ work.

Part I: Trends and Issues

  1. History and Context of Open Digital Badges by Sheryl L. Grant
  2. Badges and Competencies: New Currency for Professional Credentials by Anne Derryberry, Deborah Everhart, and Erin Knight
  3. The Case for Rigor in Open Badges by Richard E. West and Daniel L. Randall
  4. Competency-Based Education and the Relationship to Digital Badges by Rhonda D. Blackburn, Stella C.S. Porto, and Jacklyn J. Thompson
  5. Good Badges, Evil Badges? The Impact of Badge Design on Learning from Games by Melissa L. Biles and Jan L. Plass
  6. The Impact of Badges on Motivation to Learn by Samuel Abramovich and Peter S. Wardrip
  7. What Video Games Can Teach Us About Badges and Pathways by Lucas Blair
  8. Instructional Design Considerations for Digital Badges by Chris Gamrat, Brett Bixler and Victoria Raish
  9. Badging as Micro-Credentialing in Formal Education and Informal Education by Kyle Peck, Kyle Bowen, Emily Rimland and Jamie Oberdick
  10. Digital Badges, Learning at Scale, and Big Data by Barton K. Pursel, Chris Stubbs, Gi Woong Choi, and Phil Tietjen
  11. In the Eye of the Beholder: The Value of Digital Badges by Zane L. Berge and Lin Y. Muilenburg

I hope you find this useful! I’ll work on Part II next week.

What is a ‘credential’ anyway?

Carla Casilli, badge system design expert extraordinaire, former colleague, and one of the authors of the report I shared my notes on yesterday, has recently been writing about the nature of badges and credentials. In her most recent post she asks the community:

Are all badges credentials, regardless of conceptual size, depth of assessment, or amount of criteria?

Last year I wrote for DML Central entitled Taking Another Look At The Digital Credentials Landscape. In it, I created a visual representation of how I, and others I’d consulted through my work with City & Guilds, saw the current digital credentialing landscape. As you can see from the image below, we situated everything within a meta-level circle of ‘credentials’.

Digital credentials landscape

What I (spectacularly) failed to do in that post was to define what I meant by ‘credential’. I assumed that everyone was using the term in the same way as I (and I assume most Europeans do). The Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials report from the American Council on Education uses the Lumina Foundation’s definition of a credential as:

A documented award by a responsible and authorized body that has determined that an individual has achieved specific learning outcomes relative to a given standard. Credential in this context is
an umbrella term that includes degrees, diplomas, licenses, certificates, badges, and professional/industry certifications.

While this is not a bad definition, it is rather limiting; I think it’s overly-focused on traditional education. The word ‘credential’ comes from the Latin ‘credentia’ via the English word ‘credence’. To give credence to something is to ascribe validity, often via a recommendation; it is a state of belief in something as being true. Credential letters in the Middle Ages were handed from a person unknown to the recipient from someone known to the recipient (if only by reputation). As a result, the recipient would be more likely to see the person in front of them as ‘credible’. It was credibility by association.

The meanings and definitions of words change over time, of course, but I think that the second half of the Lumina Foundation’s definition, the part that talks of ‘credential’ as an ‘umbrella term’ is key. I’d just reject the first half where it talks about ‘responsible and authorised’ bodies and a ‘given standard’.

This ‘umbrella term’ approach to defining ‘credentials’ also meshes with the definitions from sources that I find reasonably convincing:

  • “A qualification, achievement, quality, or aspect of a person’s background, especially when used to indicate their suitability for something” (Oxford English Dictionary)
  • “A credential is an attestation of qualification, competence, or authority issued to an individual by a third party with a relevant or de facto authority or assumed competence to do so.” (Wikipedia)
  • “The ​abilities and ​experience that make someone ​suitable for a ​particular ​job or ​activity, or ​proof of someone’s ​abilities and ​experience.” (Cambridge Dictionaries)
  • “Personal qualities, achievements, or experiences that make someone suitable for something.” (Macmillan Dictionary)
  • “Warranting credit or confidence — used chiefly in the phrase credential letters.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

I think Carla and I are arguing for the same position from two different vantage points. For example, after sharing a diagram showing two circles overlapping (but not completely) she states:

Badges, as they were envisioned originally, were created to capture learning whenever and wherever that learning occurs: formal, informal, public, private, group, individual. The overlap on the Venn diagram is sometimes referred to as microcredentials, and actually gives that term greater meaning and sense.

I definitely agree with that original vision for badges. I just can’t see a situation where a badge wouldn’t also count as a credential — even if that wasn’t the original intention .

As both the image from my DML Central post, and the image in Carla’s subsequent post demonstrates, it’s nearly impossible to do justice to the complexity of the credentials landscape in just two dimensions. Carla says:

An open badge can be designed to represent a small thing, such as a fundamental principle or a single competency (micro level) — and an open badge can also be designed to represent a large thing, like a competency set, or a license, or a degree (macro level). This visual illustrates that badges can be used to represent any credential currently being issued. This may seem like a minor thing to visualize, but given what badges can represent, it’s one that is definitely worth understanding.

I agree: if represented in three dimensions, badges would be orthoganal to the current credentialing system. They’re certainly acting at some kind of different ‘layer’. But, I would argue, if we’re forced to represent them in two dimensions, they appear to be wholly contained with the circle we currently call ‘credentials’.

What badges don’t have to be, even if they’re wholly contained within the ‘credential’ circle, is traditional. They can recognise all kinds of knowledge, skills, and behaviours — as well as all kinds of things we haven’t even thought of yet!

Image CC BY-SA Andrew Moore

I hope this was useful for those experienced in the world of Open Badges, and those who are new to the ecosystem. If you’re one of the latter, you may find the Open Badges 101 course helpful.

Notes on ACE’s ‘Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials’

I’m not in the habit of doing this, and I’m not one of the authors, but this is an important, useful report related to Open Badges which many people may never get around to reading. The report can be downloaded for free from the Lumina Foundation’s website, and I’ve also included a link to a backup at the Internet Archive in case that site is ever down:

downloading-updates-32  Download: Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials (backup)


The first thing to say is that this report speaks into a specific context: Higher Education in the USA. Despite this, I think there’s much to glean for international audiences, and those outside of the university system. There are some areas in which I disagree with the authors (e.g. the definition of a ‘credential’, around the role of endorsement, and the need to prop up the existing system) but I’ll save that for another time. Overall, the report is excellent.

What follows is lengthy quotations from the paper, divided into the sections the authors themselves use. I’ve tried to avoid any sections specifically tied to the American education system. I’ve added my own where necessary by means of introduction and connection to help you understand the flow of the paper.


The authors identify problems around the granularisation of credentials, as well as the disintermediation of educational institutions:

[T]he diversity of credentials is not always meeting the needs of students, educational institutions, and employers, and unfortunately the proliferation of credentials is causing confusion. There is a lack of shared understanding about what makes credentials valuable, how that value varies across different types of credentials for different stakeholders, what constitutes quality, and how credentials are connected to each other and to opportunities for the people who have earned them.

It’s worth noting that the work leading to the paper was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

It provides context for higher education decision makers by describing the problems caused by fractured credentialing systems, articulating quality dimensions that help to address these problems, and visualizing how institutions can improve their credentials to increase their value while meeting the
needs of diverse stakeholders.

Competency-based education is all the rage in the US at the moment, although not everyone agrees with the approach:

This paper is closely related to another resource from the ACE Center for Education Attainment and Innovation, Communicating the Value of Competencies (Everhart, Bushway, and Schejbal 2016), which focuses on how to improve communication of the value of competencies among educational institutions, students, and employers. These papers are related because connected credentials are premised on two foundational concepts: that the competencies a credential represents should be clearly defined, and that these competencies can carry independent value, including the possibility of individual competencies
having currency value as very granular credentials. The competencies paper dovetails with this paper in that understanding and improving the value of connected credentials is directly applicable to communicating the value of competencies (and vice versa). Therefore, improving the value of competencies
is a targeted set of approaches in the broader context of improving the value of credentials. Definitions, concepts, and the dimensions of quality are shared across these two papers, with different focuses.

There are frustrations in the current landscape shared by earners, issuers, and consumers of credentials:

Today, stakeholders experience numerous critical problems:

  • Students do not always have reliable ways to compare credentials with regard to what they include, their market value, their transferability, their relationship to other credentials, and other important factors.
  • Educational institutions need well-defined information about the value of their credentials for employment, career advancement, civic engagement, and other desired outcomes in order to attract students
    and guide them to successful credential attainment.
  • Employers have difficulty understanding the competencies potential employees may or may not have mastered through the credentials they have earned.

There are, however, ways to deal with these issues:

Many organizations are already contributing to initiatives to support connected
credentials—for example:

  • Defining common language to profile the types and levels of knowledge and skills credentials represent, enabling explicit description of the relationship between one credential and other credentials
  • Using clearly defined descriptors to characterize credentials with regard to market value, transfer value, assessment rigor, third-party approval status, and more, empowering institutions to publicize the
    characteristics of their credentials
  • Providing students with clear milestones based on modular components of credentials and relationships among credentials, helping them to understand and document their progress over time along career pathways

The best way to connect credentials is not in some top-down ways, but through more grassroots approaches:

A top-down or “authoritative requirements” approach is not desirable, and in fact, probably would not work, given the diversity of credentialing. Approaches to quality connected credentials more
appropriately emerge from within communities of practice. The framing premise of this paper is that higher education leaders and decision makers are well-positioned to contribute to national initiatives already underway and improve their own credentials in ways that are appropriate for their institutions and communities

What Are Credentials?

The authors use the following definition of a ‘credential’:

“A documented award by a responsible and authorized body that has determined that an individual has achieved specific learning outcomes relative to a given standard. Credential in this context is an umbrella term that includes degrees, diplomas, licenses, certificates, badges, and professional/industry certifications” (Lumina Foundation 2015a, 11).

They also supply a (long) definition what they mean by ‘badges’:

Badges use digital technologies to represent learning achievements; however, not all digital badges are open badges, in that not all badges use open standards that support interoperability and connections among systems and contexts. In this paper, “badge” refers to “open badges” and therefore includes technical and conceptual frameworks for openness, transparency, and interoperability (for more context on open badges, see Derryberry, Everhart, and Knight 2016). “Badges signify accomplishments such as completion of a project, mastery of a skill, or marks of experience” (Casilli and Knight 2012, 1) and can be created and awarded by institutions, organizations, groups, or individuals. Badges are flexible with regard to how issuers create them, define their use, and develop their criteria (which are publicly
viewable, embedded in the badge, and verifiable). Therefore badges can be used in numerous ways to meet a community’s needs, to represent granular competencies as well as deeply linked, rich experiences and complex learning. Badges are being used in conjunction with and/or as modular components of traditional credentials such as degrees. In some cases, especially when badges link to evidence, they are being used as representations of credentials. Badges can expire or be revoked, making them useful for credentials that are not continuously valid. Given their flexibility, badges bridge traditional, accredited credentials, professional and industry-recognized credentials, and nontraditional, experimental credentials.

Importantly, the authors explain that their approach is separate from the (controversial) approach of ‘competency based education’:

Note that a focus on the value of competencies is not the same as “competency-based education,” that is, the restructuring of academic programs to focus on mastery of competencies rather than focusing on time. References to competencies in this paper are relevant for knowledge and skills in all types of credentials and academic programs.

The authors also give a definition of ‘connected credentials’ which seems to be a Lumina Foundation shorthand for an emergent taxonomy of badges:

In the context of this paper, “connected credentials” refers broadly to multiple aspects of connectedness, including connections and relationships among credentials, connections to purpose and value in multiple contexts, and connections to opportunities for credential earners.

Collective Impact for Connecting Credentials

There are many different types of credentials, serving different purposes, and issued by different kinds of organisations. This is confusing for people:

In the face of… many variations, stakeholders struggle to make sense of how credentials are related to each other. This is a particularly poignant struggle for those who seek to earn credentials, since they have few guides or coordinated information to help them make decisions and appropriate investments.

The authors outline the particular problems in the US, which I think are more widely applicable:

The Connecting Credentials Initiative’s Making the Case paper provides a clear overview of the situation, outlining the contextual factors that put pressure on our credentialing ecosystem (Lumina Foundation 2015b, 1–4):

  • The diverse range of students pursuing postsecondary education, including approximately 85 percent post-traditional students (Soares 2013, 6)
  • The mismatch between what employers need and job seekers’ capabilities
  • Lack of clear credential pathways to help students understand and reach their goals
  • The proliferation of education and training providers, with most people using multiple providers
  • Lack of transparency and consistency in quality assurance for credentials

The report goes on to reference many different aspects of the Connecting Credentials initiative, including their Beta Credentials Framework, which “uses competencies as common reference points to help users understand and compare the levels of knowledge and skills that underlie all credentials” — although this is, of course, focused on the American system.

Key Stakeholders

The authors introduce some useful nomenclature for describing the differing roles of stakeholders in the ecosystem:

For the purposes of these descriptions, the complexity of participants in credentialing ecosystems has been simplified to focus on four types of stakeholders:

  • Credential earners
  • Credential issuers
  • Credential consumers
  • Credential endorsers

Earners are “the people who attain credentials”. They have a number of problems around comparing credentials, signaling their competencies, credentials expiring, a lack of modularity and ‘stackability’ in credentials, ‘dead ends’, a lack of on-ramps, socio-economic issues, issues around transparency, and a lack of employer/industry understanding of the credentials they have earned.

Issuers are “organizations that award credentials to earners”. Their problems are around the ‘market value’ of their credentials, how credentials stack together, collaboration with other issuers, and the lack of common descriptors for popular credentials.

Consumers are “those who use credentials to make judgments and decisions about the qualifications and competencies of earners for specific purposes”. Their problems include understanding what the credential represents, and the burden of ensuring employees have the skills to go with the knowledge they earned while earning a credential.

Endorsers have “traditionally… been accrediting bodies or other independent third parties that vouch for the institution or organization and the quality and validity of its credentials. [They] are often also the ones who authorize issuers to award specific credentials. In the case of certifications and licenses, these authorizing entities can be licensure boards, state agencies, or industry organizations.” Endorsers’ problems are around determining the value of credentials, a lack of transparency and clear frameworks, and the paucity of information on which to base their endorsements.

Dimensions of Quality for Connected Credentials

This is the ‘meat’ of the report, in which the authors outline six dimensions for quality, ‘connected’ credentials:

  1. Transparency
  2. Modularity
  3. Portability
  4. Relevance
  5. Validity
  6. Equity

[The dimensions] are not all-encompassing, but they provide useful ways of discussing credentials and how they can be improved, both generally and in the analysis of specific credentials.

The dimensions overlap and also mutually reinforce each other. For example, modularity supports portability by making it easier to move credentials from one context to another; transparency supports relevance, by making it easier for consumers to understand what a credential includes and therefore how it is relevant for their purposes.

The authors outline what they mean by each of the six dimensions in bullet point format. To avoid making this long post even longer, I will simply quote the summary at the end of each dimension.


Transparency supports connectedness by making credentials easier to understand and compare, facilitating the definition and implementation of relationships among credentials. Transparency also supports connections to opportunities by helping all stakeholders understand how credentials are valuable.


Modularity supports connectedness by making credentials more componentized and less monolithic, leading to more connection points and possible relationships among credentials. Modularity also helps students understand the components within credentials and how they connect to each other and to larger goals such as socioeconomic mobility and lifelong learning.


Portability supports connectedness by making credentials more applicable in multiple contexts, connecting to multiple purposes and opportunities. Portability also facilitates connections among different types of credentials in different environments.


Relevance supports connectedness by illuminating the applicability and purposes of credentials for specific stakeholders in their own contexts, thereby connecting to opportunities in those contexts. Relevance also connects and amplifies different types of value by helping stakeholders understand the
network of verification, documentation, evidence, and social interpretation supporting the credential.


Validity supports connectedness by illuminating the broad frameworks of meaning and value that connect the credential to opportunities. Validity provides a shared understanding and trust of how the credential is defined, including the evidence and quality assurance structures that are necessary to implement well-defined relationships among credentials.


Equity as a dimension of quality credentials helps people overcome their disadvantages and connect to opportunities. Equity provides a network of flexible access points and supports that connect students to credential attainment and the benefits of lifelong learning.

Describing the Current State of Credential Types

This section applies the six dimensions of quality as defined by the authors to different types of credentials, including badges. They find that badges pass all of the tests, with the only problems being (unsurprisingly, given the nature of the report) around the lack of a common language/framework for connecting them together.

Challenge Questions for Analyzing Credentials and Visualizing Potential Futures

The final section before the report’s conclusion is a series of questions under the six quality headings that issuers can ask of their credentials. For example:

Are the competencies (knowledge and specialized skills, personal skills, and social skills) represented by this credential clearly defined?


What value does this credential carry for specific stakeholders that you identify as important? How do you know what these stakeholders value? Are they involved in your credential improvement

These are extremely useful questions for any issuer of credentials to consider.

Conclusion: Call to Action

The authors list various ways that those reading the report who are in US Higher Education can get involved. These include forming working groups, writing papers and book chapters, hosting workshops, and reading other papers by Connecting Credentials.

[A] willingness to ask and seek answers to these questions is an essential first step in breaking down the credentialing silos that sometimes impede student progress and cause our systems to be less effective and beneficial than they could be.

We encourage you to complete the arc of your journey: Identify your credentialing ecosystem stakeholders, articulate the problems they encounter when credentials are not connected, use the challenge questions to analyze and discuss the current state of your specific credentials with regard to the quality dimensions, and then establish a realistic plan and timeline for developing more valuable, robust, and connected credentials that reflect your new approach.

I’d recommend reading the report in full here and, more importantly, think about how you can apply the findings no matter what your context.

For more on Open Badges and how to get started with them, check out Open Badges 101, a free, open community course Bryan Mathers and I put together.

Are alternative approaches such as gamification and badging effective in increasing engagement, retention, and achievement?

Today I’ve been in Birmingham presenting at the AoC Learning Technology conference on behalf of City & Guilds. I made an audio recording of the 20-minute presentation to go along with my slides. You’ll have to manually advance, but it should be fairly obvious when to hit ‘next’!

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Some thoughts on the evidence behind Open Badges

A couple of weeks ago, prompted by a post I wrote about Open Badges and HR, Alan Levine wrote a post entitled Seeking Evidence of Badge Evidence. He made many good points in it, which led to Nate Otto (Director of the Badge Alliance) to invite Alan, myself, and a couple of others to engage in a panel session during today’s Open Badges community call.

This post is me thinking out loud about Nate’s proposed questions:

  1. What type of evidence are people collecting for badges today?
  2. What are challenges and barriers to effectively using evidence with badges?
  3. What services and capabilities could be solutions to these challenges?
  4. Who should hold and control badge evidence? Issuers? Earners?

I’m going to answer these in two sections rather than point by point.

Problems with badge evidence

The claim I/we often make about Open Badges is that, unlike LinkedIn profiles or CV’s, they’re a bunch of evidence rather than a bunch of claims. I think we mean a couple of things by that.

First, we mean that we’ve got something to show for the experience we claimed to have had. In other words, even if the badge issuer doesn’t use the (optional) ‘evidence’ metadata field, there is still some kind of social proof to back up our claims.

The second thing we mean by badges being a bunch of evidence rather than being a bunch of claims is pointing to those that do in fact use the ‘evidence’ metadata field. At this point these seem few and far between. I think this is because:

  • Organisations are still largely using badges in a ‘command and control’ top-down kind of way. In other words, creating one badge that is issued to many different individuals. This makes adding evidence onerous.
  • Badges are being issued for relatively low-level things such as participation in workshops and conferences, rather than credentialing more high-stakes knowledge/skills/behaviours.
  • People are misusing the criteria field as they are inexperienced (as we are all are, initially) in badge system design.
  • There’s a lack of understanding about the best ways to deal with the evidence that sits behind badges. Whether due to privacy concerns, fears around cost or compliance, or institutional policies, adding evidence is seen as a burden rather than a gamechanger.

Some suggestions

Most of the clients I deal with have some sort of background in education, and many have experience in designing assessment systems. However, because Open Badges are opendistributed, and put the learner in control, they need assistance in how to think differently.

Here are some suggestions that I’ve made several times to organisations large and small:

1. Provide appropriate levels of credibility

As I’ve learned during my long-term consultancy with City & Guilds, credibility comes through the triangulation of validity, reliability, and viability. If you’re issuing a PhD-level badge, for example, the amount of ‘social proof’ required will be an order of magnitude greater than those badges issued for participation in an event.

2. Put learners/users at the centre of your system

One of the greatest barriers in terms of pushback issuers are likely to get from users of their badging system is privacy. Granular permissions around the evidence that sits behind a badge are important, especially if that evidence happens to be visual in nature (e.g. photos/videos).

There are ways around this using existing systems such as YouTube, Google Docs, and Flickr, but perhaps an extension to the Open Badges specification could provide a standard on which badge issuers could build?

3. Ask employers what they want

Open Badges aren’t only for helping people into a job, on the job, and onto the next job, but this is a common use case. Given this, if you’re a badge issuer, it’s probably worth thinking through in detail who is likely to be the viewer/consumer of your badges. Talking to them about what they would consider sufficient evidence is likely to be an interesting and enlightening conversation.


Being able to provide trusted evidence is a gamechanger when it comes to credentialing. One of the main reasons that Alan found it difficult to find ‘evidence of evidence’ is that we’re still using the same old metaphors and structures for issuing credentials.

As I argued in my Open Badges in Higher Education keynote and afterwards in the Q&A part of Serge Ravet‘s session, if we find more useful metaphors for people that ‘certificates’ then we’re likely to see different kinds of credentials — and hopefully with many more pointing to evidence than we have now!

Image CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers

Open Badges in Higher Education: Disruptive, Desirable, and Democratic

(can’t see anything above? click here!)

Embedded above is my slide deck from today’s Open Badges in Higher Education conference. I had a great day in Southampton so thank you very much to organisers Fiona Harvey, Patrina Law, Deb Baff, Anne Hole, Jane Roberts, and Teresa MacKinnon! An extra thanks to Deb who livestreamed and recorded most of my keynote via Periscope, and to Bryan Mathers whose images I used liberally in my slides.

It was great to meet friends old and new – certainly too many to mention individually here. Resources from the day will appear in due course at this section of the conference website. My slides are also available via Slideshare.

Open Badges for HE - Participant

Why do we hire based on ‘experience’? HR, Automattic, and Open Badges

It’s 2016. Nobody can reasonably expect to have a ‘job for life’, or even work within the same organisation for more than a few years. As a result, you’re likely to dip into the jobs marketplace more often than your parents and grandparents did. That means it’s increasingly important to be able to prove:

  • who you are
  • what you know
  • who you know
  • what you can do

Unfortunately, hiring is still largely based on submitting a statement of skills and experience we call a ‘Curriculum Vitae’ (or résumé) along with a covering letter. This may lead to an interview and, if you like each other, the job is yours. We have safeguards in place at every step to ensure people don’t discriminate on age, gender, or postcode. Despite this, almost every part of the current process is woefully out-of-date. I’ve plenty to say about all of this, but will save most of it for another time.

In this post I’m particularly interested in why we include ‘job history’ or ‘experience’ when applying for new positions. Given that we have so little time and space to highlight everything we stand for, why do we bother including it? Academic credentials are bona fides, but job history is a bit more nebulous. Why is it still such a prominent feature of our LinkedIn profiles? Why do we email people CVs listing our ‘experience’?

Whether you think that looking at someone’s job history allows for a good ‘cultural fit’, or allows you to make assumptions about the network they bring with them, the reality is that we use job histories as a filter. They’re a useful shorthand. After all, if someone has been hired by Google or another big-name organisation, that’s a bit like saying they went to an elite university. We tend to believe in the judgments made by these kinds of organisations and institutions. We trust the filters. If the person was good enough for those organisations, we think, then they must be good enough for ours.

We like to tell ourselves that we live in a meritocratic world. If someone is good enough, so the story goes, then they can achieve the qualifications and experience necessary to get the job they want. Unfortunately, because of a combination of unconscious bias, innovation immune systems, and the new nepotism, some groups of people are effectively excluded from consideration. Don’t know the right people? Not good at interviews? Have skills too advanced or too new for qualifications to have been developed yet? Bad luck, buddy.

Another problem is that we tend to use what I call ‘chunky black box qualifications’ as proxies of the thing we’re trying to hire for. As an example, take jobs that require a degree ‘in any discipline’. What does that actually mean in practice? They want somebody who can think at a certain level, someone who is likely to come across as ‘professional’, someone who can submit work on time. However, we’re not directly looking at the assessment of the particular quality in this situation, we’re merely using an imperfect proxy.

There are many ways round the current status quo. For example, Automattic (the company behind WordPress which powers a lot of websites) does hiring very differently to the standard model. As outlined in this post, when hiring developers they test candidates in real-world situations through paid trials. In fact, as Automattic is a globally-distributed company, communication happens mainly through text. Most candidates don’t have voice conversation with anyone at the organisation until they’re hired! Obviously this wouldn’t necessarily work in every sector, but it is a good example of thinking differently: focus on what the candidate can do, not what they claim to be able to do.

Another way to approach things differently in hiring is to seek wherever possible to break down those ‘chunky black box qualifications’ into more transparent, granular, and fluid credentials.

For example, when I say I worked for Mozilla it usually piques people’s interest. I then have to go on and explain what I did during my time there. This isn’t easy given the amount of different things you do and learn in an organisation that you were with for three years. Yes, I had two different job titles, but I learned a whole load of things that would take time to tease out: working across timezones on a daily basis? Check. Learning how to use GitHub for development? Check. Consensus-based decision-making? Check.

Not every organisation is in a position to offer a trial period like Auttomatic. Nor would every individual be able to take up their offer. However, much as some people start off as consultants for organisations and then end up employed by them, there is value in getting to know people in a better way than the traditional CV and interview process allows. If we need better filters then we need smaller sieves.

For the past five years I’ve been working on Open Badges, a web-native way to issue trusted, portable, digital credentials. In the situation under consideration, I think there there are a few ways in which badges can be used to unlock those chunky black box qualifications.

  1. Granularity – instead of looking at qualifications that act as proxies, we can evidence knowledge, skills, and behaviours directly.
  2. Evidence – whereas LinkedIn profiles and CVs are a bunch of claims, Open Badges can include a bunch of evidence. Proof that someone has done something is just a click away.
  3. Portability – instead of credentials being on separate pieces of paper or in various digital silos, Open Badges can be displayed together, in context, on the web. They are controlled and displayed at the earner’s discretion.

I’m excited by the resurgence in apprenticeships and vocational education. I’m delighted to see more and more alternative ways organisations are finding to hire people. What I’m optimistic about most of all, though, is the ability for organisations to find exactly the right fit based on new forms of credentialing. It’s going to take a cultural shift in hiring, but the benefits for those who take the leap will be profound.

Image via Nomad Pictures