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Open Badges - 2 Years On, Wearing Well?

When the Open Badges Movement launched two years ago, it made waves. It ushered in real potential to change how we  recognise, credential and validate learning. Ahead of our seminar at World of Learning Conference and Exhibition (WOLCE) 2015 in Birmingham this week, we take stock of where we are with Open Badges, and what’s ahead.

Badge of the past or sign of the future?

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, recently shook his considerably sized stick at the university model. He compared them to the Catholic Church before the Reformation - outmoded, corrupt, elite, and trying to convince everyone that if you don’t go to them, you’re going to hell. Does Salvation lie in alternative education models, such as MOOCs rewarded through digital badges, not dusty scrolls?

Well, two years after Open Badges emerged, have all the universities shut down? Not quite. Not even close. But change comes slow in education. The universities have had a 500 year head start. But already badges are making inroads.  14,000 organisations are using them, according to an Extreme Networks Survey. There are over 10 talks on the power of Open and Digital Badges at the Elearning Guild’s DevLearn Conference next week. This may be a biased audience, but it’s a sign of their currency.

Here are three reasons that Open Badges are not going away:

1. They’re easier for employers

Employers want workers with specific industry-recognised skills, experience and credentials. Does that mean they need a formal qualification? Less and less. In fact many employers feel there is a disconnection between the skills they need from their workforce and what is being delivered by formal education providers. Even where they are aligned it is difficult for employers to be able to check against specific skill and knowledge needs. So we’re now seeing more learner–centred models of training where the focus is more on how to learn combined with recognition of skills and competencies.

This means a more personalised, competence based model. It’s less about when and where you went to school and more about show what you know now.


2. They’re easier for learners

Paper based credentialing makes less sense in a digital world. Historic qualifications decline in value and relevance over time. Many skills need continual updating as recognised by continuing professional education programmes. Digital credentials such as digital badges with machine readable data embedded, including the capability to be verified and even cancelled by the issuing organization are more relevant today.  

Digital badges allow learners to take control and showcase their competencies by displaying their badges on digital CVs and web based profiles. Employers can easily validate and access the bigger picture behind learner’s skills and achievements.


3. They keep us all honest

Badges are very simple at one level. In the same way they work in The Scout Association, they are a validated indicator that an individual has a particular skill or accomplishment.  They can be earned through all forms of learning such as on the job training, e-learning, courses and demonstrated experience.

Once earned and awarded, Badges can be shared and displayed digitally. The awarding organisation can provide details on why it was presented and set an expiry date.

Anyone can issue an Open Badge: employers, institutions, even your community peers if that’s how you structure your system. Employers can use verified skill-based Badges to identify suitable new employees and to address staff development. Learners can display them to show employers their capabilities. Badges are not the same as just sticking your irrelevent degree from 20 years ago on LinkedIn. They can carry expiry dates. You’ve got to stay fresh and prove it.

So who’s using them?

Over 14,000 independent organizations are issuing digital badges, including large corporates and schools like Carnegie Mellon, MITx and edX, Kahn Academy, Purdue University, Seton Hall, and Yale.

In the corporate space, several clients are using Open Badges within Totara LMS to track and reward evidence of competence.


Samsung use Open Badges on its Totara LMS platform to reward staff for completing product based knowledge learning:

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You can see more of the Totara Samsung developed by Totara Partner Kineo here.

Good Shepherd Microfinance

Likewise Good Shepherd (an Australian community finance organisation) recognises the competences of its Microfinance NILP volunteers through the use of Badges via Totara. There are 22 customised Badges for achievements and competencies such as excellent customer service.

Badges have come a long way in two years. In education, they have the potential to challenge ‘old money’ paper certificates. There’s some way to go before they reach tipping point in the corporate landscape. Making the LMS badge friendly, like Totara, is a key step. We’ll keep watching and bringing you updates as the Open Badges market continues to chip away at the old models.

Get your badge on!

Badges are easy to create within Totara LMS  - get in touch with us here, or drop by our stands at WOLCE 2015 in the VIP lounge and DevLearn at booth 246 to find out how. 

And If you're at WOLCE this week, come and hear Totara Channel Partner Manager Andy Kirk talk about Open Badges on Wednesday Sept 30th at 13.45 in Theatre 1. 




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