Open Thinkering


What we need is an Open Badges community renaissance, free of IMS involvement

TL;DR: the Open Badges Google Group contains many members but has been moribund under the stewardship of IMS Global Learning Consortium. Time for something different?


Yesterday, EdSurge published an article about Open Badges which included a quotation from me. It was the first I’d heard of it as the reporter didn’t reach out to me. My words were taken from the etherpad minutes audio recording of a meeting held towards the end of last year about Credly’s ownership of patents relating to badges.

It’s important to note that, while EdSurge mentions the fact that I work for Moodle in the article, my opinions on the subject have nothing to do with my (part-time) employer, and everything to do with my involvement in the Open Badges ecosystem since 2012. I have some things to say about IMS Global Learning Consortium, and I’m afraid I can’t be very complimentary.


To my mind, three things led to the exponential growth of badges between 2012 and 2015:

  1. Mozilla’s technical expertise and reputation
  2. The MacArthur Foundation’s money and influence
  3. The Open Badges community’s evangelism and organisation

MacArthur’s money dried up after 2015, and while Mozilla’s involvement declined more slowly, they have been essentially non-existent in the ecosystem since they handed over stewardship of the Open Badges standard to IMS Global Learning consortium at the start of 2017. So what kept the Open Badges movement going between 2015 and 2017?


The thing I really want to focus here is the third thing: community. I may be biased given that I worked for the Mozilla Foundation at the time, but they did a fantastic job at attracting, feeding, and listening to a community around Open Badges. Since the transfer to IMS that community has withered. IMS doesn’t care; as a membership organisation they exist for the benefit of their members.

Right now the Open Badges Google Group, now controlled by IMS, has 2,603 members. It was a hive of activity five years ago, but now it’s moribund. This is a direct effect of IMS working in a way diametrically opposed to the conditions under which the community prospered: they are closed, secretive and unforthcoming. As the EdSurge article points out, IMS have even allowed one of its members to get away with patenting elements of the very standard it has been charged with stewarding.

With such dereliction of duty something has to be done. In similar circumstances, other open source projects have been ‘forked’. In other words, unhappy with the way a project is being managed, community members can take the underlying idea in a different direction. From my understanding having talked to some influential figures in the community, there’s a very real possibility that could happen in the next 18 months unless IMS ups their game.

Next steps?

What we need here is a a renaissance in the Open Badges community. The existing Google Group is administered by IMS and may no longer be fit for purpose. So, I’m wondering out loud whether the co-op of which I’m part should step up and host a new place for people who want to discuss Open Badges and digital credentials?

We’ve got a history of working with the community through projects such as Badge Wiki and Badge News (now The Learning Fractal). Most of us also worked for Mozilla during the glory days.

What do you think? Would you like to see an Open Badges community renaissance? How do you see that happening?

Photo by Marc Biarnès used under a Creative Commons license

23 thoughts on “What we need is an Open Badges community renaissance, free of IMS involvement

  1. I am always for it. Community is the curriculum, though I would favor an approach that relies more on syndication and feeds rather than another email listserv or Slack group.

    Just make a badges channel in the coop Slack. Done.

    Then let’s really try to encourage people to build this communities from their own Domain. We can create a planet of feeds or a syndication website.

    When people write about or have questions about badges they ask from their own website.

    Only way to future proof against what happened between Mozilla, IMS Global, and Credly is to do it from your own Domain.

    Build community one link at a time.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Greg 🙂

      Unfortunately, I don’t think these two options are tenable:

      1. Slack – this is a semi-closed space using proprietary software that the co-op currently doesn’t pay for. As a result, the archives are not archived. Nor are they public.

      2. Self-hosting – this requires technical skills that, let’s be honest, it’s taken the entire time I’ve known you for you to refine. This isn’t the solution people outside the (very small) IndieWeb community are looking for. Sorry!

      I’m thinking more like the Loomio group we set up (which the co-op does pay for) or perhaps an instance of Discourse?

      1. I like the idea of discourse a lot, as it is far more decentralized, although not necessarily more open, as it still requires software to take part. I just joined the Loomio group (or requested, anyway). I’m game to take part in any way I can. This idea is not dead, and should not be treated as such.

  2. Right on! Over many years, including those in which I contributed to the IMS ePortfolio standard, I have come to recognise that IMS serves the needs of its members, full stop. Actually, not quite full stop, as probably the influence of members is related to their size and influence. The IMS is not a commons, and is not governed by the users of its standards.

    While this is fine for some areas of a kind of semi-proprietary standards development, I don’t think it isn’t quite what is needed for a community such as Open Badges, which is, er, shall we say, intended to be “Open” 🙂 (hint, it’s in the name!)

    As you know, Doug, I have a long-term interest in this area, and would be happy to be involved in a re-envisioning of how it might best work. No assumptions remaining unexamined!

  3. Thanks for inviting me to the discussion, Doug.

    As a member of the Open Recognition Alliance with Serge Ravet and a recruiter for its biweekly community calls as well as the ePortfolio and Identity conference as well as other gatherings, I’m a strong believer in community. And I agree that IMS has done little, other than respond to our invitations to speak.

    But ORA is something we do off the sides of our desks.
    How would you see interoperating with ORA?

  4. As you know I had a fleeting moment with badges and still do think they could have an awesome place in sign posting learners achievements but they have been neglected as a platform and / or taken over by terrible actors. I’m with you on this so if i can help #call

  5. I am new to open badges. Found this blog via Google search a few minutes ago. I do corporate training and plan to issue badges as part of online learning. Also taught high school years ago.
    Doug, I agree with your views and am willing to be a volunteer that participates in the dialogue/action moving forward. Thanks for looking out for others.

  6. Doug,

    I fully support the We Are Open Coop taking the lead towards an open badge community renaissance. I believe the open badge community has evolved. Open Badges are now a reality and the majority of our community are the people using Open Badges to design and implementing innovative approaches to empower lifelong learning with open badges. We need a community that includes all voices and welcomes all participants.

    Thanks for your post and starting this discussion! I strongly believe that a truly Open Badge Community would contribute to the long-term health and success of the Open Badge Community.

  7. Hi Doug,

    Not sure if you recall, but I could see the writing on the wall, a way back, and spoke/commented to my concerns re. the path ahead for open badges, and the liklihood of this being co-opted for less-than-the-best of community intentions. It just seemed obvious to me, that short-term proprietary interests would quickly over-ride the bigger picture of an unprejudiced and holistic credentialing system.
    That said, I wonder if this blockchain technology approach (link below) doesn’t offer some hope moving forward?

    1. If you look carefully, Darren, you’ll see I was one of the co-founders of that research group with Kerri. Blockcerts might be an ‘open standard’ compatible with the Open Badges specification, but it’s effectively even more ‘closed’, as it’s run by MIT and Learning Machine.

  8. Hi Doug, just doing a bit of catch up on Open Badges due to a project i am working n with Digital Liberties (yes, another Coop).

    I like your explanation, and it would be good to see the OB community spring back to life.

    However one aspect that concerns me is viability, ah yes, that transition from “ought” to “is”.

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