Blog Post

Open Badges - The Future of Accreditation?

There is no doubt that the web has delivered innovation in many spheres of our on and offline lives.  In the area of accreditation, however, there been little innovation or disruption.  Regardless of the reasons, there is no doubt that Mozilla Open Badges could be one of those technologies that creates a step change in this area; providing a new way to capture a holistic set of skills, display them digitally and open up new opportunities for learners.

Over the past 11yrs we have co-designed many digital learning programmes, using the web to allow learners to take on real-life roles such as such as sports reporter, digital curator or web campaigner.  We’ve worked with teachers as well as awarding bodies to map project activities to existing qualifications.

But I would not mind betting that if you have been involved in similar endeavour, you will have felt a bit as though you were trying to hit a moving target as government thinking constantly shifts the goal posts and qualification principles, and policies come and go.

Continuity and Reward

In our own effort to deliver continuity and recognition, we have issued paper based certificates to children and young people.  But these do not carry the same weight as those issued by the official accrediting bodies and they are also not accepted by industry bodies.  This is disappointing considering that they are designed to be more flexible in the range of skills and assessment that they recognise. They invariably end up being undervalued.

This presents us with a problem

The existing assessment system does not recognise digital making skills. This failure to recognise these skills overlooks an important opportunity to motivate learners, schools and parents.  But more importantly, there is currently no recognition of the broader set of skills young people develop through digital making such as leadership, resilience, collaboration and communication.  This leads to less chance for young people to turn their achievements into new opportunities - whether in employment, as an alternative to formal accreditation, or as a stand out accomplishment for university applicants.

The current system is short changing learners by not recognising what, arguably, are the most important skillsets they will need to succeed in today’s dynamic economy.  In a world with a far from secure workplace, project and problem based learning skills are essential.   At present, however there is no way to recognise the multi skill base that these job seekers can offer.

The Birth of the Digital Accreditation

In 2011 we began looking at Digital Badges as a way to recognise a learner’s skills that they had demonstrated whilst taking part in our projects.  Then we looked at ways in which they could display these achievements on the web - paving the way to unlocking new opportunities for employment, access to other projects or as an achievement to highlight in a university interview.

We looked at some of the existing badge solutions already out there but we didn’t feel any currently on offer had the right level of flexibility when applied to digital maker skills.  There were also questions around where the learner would be able to display their badges  - we wanted the learner to be able to display their badge over all platforms, regardless of which specific platform the badge was earned on.

Mozilla Open Badges

That’s when we came across new technology under development by the Mozilla Foundation called Open Badges & the Digital Media & Learning Competition.  They have funded our Open Badge Development project S2R Medals and have produced:

  • Open Badges that have provided the flexibility to co-create our own assessment and recognition criteria with learners, teachers and within the relevant industry.
  • The opportunity for us to develop an approach that combines automatic web based recognition as well as peer and teacher assessment.
  • The capability to digitally authenticate ‘endorsers’ for the badges we create  - whether they relate to industry, a trade body, celebrity or to university, to add value, recognition (and outside rigour) to our badge programs.
  • Different to ‘Digital Badges,’ Open Badges that can be displayed on any platform which accesses the web .

The Road is Long…

We still have a long way to go and we are still testing and piloting our system with schools and groups around the UK and internationally.  We are still learning about how badges affect motivation and learning and we still need platforms use this open and free technology to display the Open Badges.  Schools have asked to us to work with them to link existing qualifications to Open Badges and young people want us to work with employers and universities to ensure that their achievements are recognised.

There is, however, one significant difference to our previous approach, which was broadly looking up and mapping to qualifications handed down to us.  Now we are co-creating, and building value for the learner from the bottom up in collaboration with a network of young people, teachers and within industry.   Our aim is that when fashion or policy shifts again the value we have developed together will still be there for the learner.

Opportunity - Skill  - Creation

We have started to explore the co-creation of badges for Student Digital Leadership with teachers and the SSAT and other badges to be led by teachers, learners and by industry.

There are many other badge issuers like Disney, Microsoft and NASA who are creating badges based on their expertise.  We hope that between us we can provide a rich eco-system of recognition for learners that both engage and empower students through projects that are relevant and engaging, and connect them like never before to the world outside of school.

Working together using Open Badges we want to create the kind of opportunities that learners deserve for the skills they develop through the projects they create.

Join our Student Digital Leaders co-design group or pilot S2R Medals by emailing

Find out more about S2R Medals



1 comment

Sally, thanks much for your thoughtful note about badges and accreditation.  In some other posts about struggles to have badges' value recognized by students, companies, etc, and the changing requirements of governing bodies, your summary and suggestion of a way to work with teachers, learners and industry reps makes utmost sense.  If we want people to value and own the meanings of badges, it is critical to engage those who we hope will value what the badges represent.

It's also likely that other uses of badges as, we're attempting with the Badges for Veterans project, will have to somehow accomplish the task of "valuing" the training Veterans achieved while in the military and represented by training specific badges.  The goal of the Badges for Veterans project is to help connect Veterans seeking civilian jobs with employers seeking qualified applicants.  Those who know the quality and extensiveness of training in the military will come with a sense of value, but what about potential employers who don't have the experience of having been in the military themselves?  And, for all potential employers, how does the use of badge technology figure into their search for candidates?

We hope to have some information on the usefulness of badges in this context within the year.