Published on 2013/04/17

Open Badges Transform the Higher Education and Labor Markets

Open Badges Transform the Higher Education and Labor Markets
Open Badges is new software that captures the skills and competencies students learn that fall outside of the norm for their industry, and formalizes learning that occurs outside the walls of a higher education institution.

Today we have the opportunity to learn in a variety of ways, but there are far fewer opportunities to gain formal recognition for learning. As a result, a lot of lifelong learning is lost or not represented at all. And traditional certifications, such as degrees and diplomas, lack the detail to paint a rich picture of the skills people possess — such as specializations and interests within a discipline, or those that cut across disciplines, such as writing skills for an engineer or project management for an artist. These traditional certifications don’t show us how learning happens or the pathways someone took to get there. Finally, there is no way to represent the full set of skills developed across institutions or contexts, other than simply writing them on a resume.

When it comes to the credential-consumption side, otherwise known as hiring, employers all say the same things. Undergraduate degrees are a check box, but they tell you very little about the skills a particular person possesses. Social or 21st-century skills, which are invaluable to employers and correlated with job success, rarely show up on a transcript. Resumes are ‘flat’ and difficult, if not impossible, to verify.

Open Badges changes this. It uses digital badges to reimagine recognition and credentialing so they capture more and translate in greater detail. These badges are digital and information-based, making them powerful, networked and credible. Open Badges allows you to represent, verify and communicate your skills, interests and achievements, and because the system is based on an open standard, you can combine multiple badges from different issuers to tell the complete story of your achievements. Badge earners can display their badges wherever they want them on the web, and share them for employment, education or lifelong learning.

We recently launched Open Badges 1.0, which moves us out of beta into a production offering. It is made up of two elements: 1) a technical standard anyone can follow to make his or her own evidence-based, inter-operable open badges and 2) free, open source software for issuers and users.

The open, technical standard is the critical piece that ensures all badges work together and inter-operate for the earner. It moves us from a set of siloed systems to a true learning ecosystem. This means credential issuers of all kinds — from formal institutions to small non-profit learning providers — can award verified open badges and connect their users into a broader learning ecosystem. Users have a way to collect and combine badges from across experiences and share them with key stakeholders. Employers have the information they need to understand and vet each badge: who issued it, how it was earned and even the work that went into earning the badge.

All of this is powered by free and open source software that anyone can use.

We hope Open Badges will change how people, and traditional institutions, think about recognition and achievement and have a real impact on how people find jobs and new opportunities.

Many ask us if this means badges will replace degrees. We believe badges can certainly function at this level and, in fact, tell us a more complete story of an individual by representing more granular skills and learning paths. There will be people in certain disciplines who earn badges for learning outside of formal channels and use that information to get jobs. That said, degrees aren’t going away anytime soon, but we’ll see badges being used to supplement them with more detail on skills and achievements. It’s likely badges will also be used as differentiators in hiring decisions because they can identify the specific skills employers are looking for in an evidence-based manner.

Open Badges offer formal institutions both power and opportunity. We are already seeing higher education institutions adopt badges to supplement transcripts with evidence of extracurricular activities and achievements, recognize prior learning, give professors flexibility to capture additional learning, align programs with competencies and work-relevant skills and empower students to craft their own pathways towards specific careers. Purdue University, UC Davis and Seton Hall are some of the earliest innovators in this area and many more are starting the conversations.[1]

Ultimately we all want the same things: to connect people with opportunities and jobs. Open Badges gives us a new, powerful way of approaching this and we’re excited about its potential.

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[1] Sheryl Grant, “Questions about badges in higher ed,” HASTAC, October 5, 2012. Accessed from

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Readers Comments

Stephanie Ritchie 2013/04/17 at 9:25 am

The Open Badges concept is really innovative. I’ve visited the site and played around a bit, earning a badge in the process for taking a quiz. I can’t wait to see which direction badges take in the coming years. Thanks for this article!

Vera Matthews 2013/04/17 at 11:10 am

With Open Badges, you’ve created a great platform for learners, but there still isn’t enough awareness and recognition of badges among their intended audience (e.g. employers, admissions staff). I wonder what the next step is for Open Badges to promote this type of credentialing as legitimate and accurate.

Daniele Thomas 2013/04/17 at 2:02 pm

The idea of having some type of credential that describes a learner’s competency, skills and experience in detail for prospective employers is a good one. However, I’m not convinced digital badges offered by private companies are the next wave of credentialing in higher education. I can’t see postsecondary institutions adopting badges that aren’t vetted by some type of accrediting body or measured against an existing standard. Near the end of the article, Knight discusses several institutions that now offer expanded transcripts that more fully describe a student’s abilities. This seems more likely to be the direction institutions are headed in.

Susan Farber 2013/05/28 at 9:11 am

Erin Knight and many other innovators have described multiple ways our educational system is transforming in response to other changes in our society.
We have other expectations as learners, workers, and people; simply step back and consider all of the adaptations many of us have accepted in our daily lives.

Education is starting to catch up; digital badges and the interest in MOOC’s are 2 of several examples.

Innovation can either be defined or managed by us, or individuals can be controlled by innovative practices that others have designed and determined as required (technological determinism).

So many desirable skills, useful for participation in the workforce, have yet to be organized into formal degree programs, the model we have used for so many decades. These skill sets are periodically changing due to the rapid evolution of technology or digital tools. Digital badges appear to address the need to formalize individuals’ mastery of such desirable skills.
The paradigm is shifting. Through experimentation, documentation and analysis of these experiments we can design and control innovative practices. We can determine how to structure learning experiences that are responsive to individual interests and meet the needs of societal forces.

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