Blog Post

Live Blogging: International Day of Badges | Germany, Ireland, and Belgium

I listened to three really engaging presentations about badging/micro-credentialing initiatives from Ilona Buchem (Germany), Blaneth McSharry and Iain MacLaren (Ireland), and Vincent Van Madlderen (Belgium). Here are my notes for those of you who missed the talks (pardon any typos). I expect the OBHE (Open Badges in Higher Education) team will post the archived recordings. If so, and you check out the presentations, the question and answer period was great, including the always difficult but important question about how people managed to build buy-in (responses included below). 

Ilona Buchem (Germany)

The rational for Ilona’s projects are based on unemployment in Germany, which is twice as high among people who have a migration background. The first project Ilona discussed is IQ Network (Integration through Qualification). This project is focused on helping migrants find jobs or progress with their careers, and to recognize their diplomas that they bring from other countries. The aim of the IQ Network is to improve employment opportunites for people with migration backgrounda and to ensure that professional qualifications acquired outside Germany lead to employment appropriate to one’s level of education. The organization also provides counselling on credential recognition (per Germany’s Recognition Act of 2012) including compensatory measures to attain full recognition to improve integration into the labour market (both regulated vs. non-regulated professions).

Ilona compared two projects, one that has concluded, and another that is underway. The first project, Project Credit Points, ran from 2013-2014. It served 25 participants (50/50 male + female), and focused on 20 STEM degrees. About 70 % of the people who were unemployed at the beginning of the project became employed after participating in the program and attaining a badge.

The second project, Project BeuthBonus, is underway and will run until 2018. It builds on Project Credit Points, and is currently focused on 7 participants from Greece, Syria, Afghanistan, Kenya, with a goal to reach 40 participants. Again, the focus is STEM degrees, and in this project, IT-related careers as well. Ilona reports that due to recent changes in legal regulations, they are not able to offer the program to refugees.

Project BeuthBonus has an Advisory Board, and their goals are to 1) help understand labor market/employer requirements; 2) co-define competencies for employment; 3) advise and co-design relevant credentials and endorse open badges

Two following two projects represent two different approaches to open badges, including “badge last” and “badge first.”

Project Credit Points (2013-2014)
Observe, Explore, Supply
Badge Last

  • observe personal development
  • explore individual potentials
  • award individual badges

Project BeuthBonus (2013-2014)
Define, Develop, Request
Badge First

  • define employment relevant skills
  • develop skills along defined badges
  • request badges and provide evidence

For the “badge first” approach, Ilona mentioned that they’re working on a competency matrix, and that this process starts with a badge, and with a description, where the critieria is defined ahead of time. She mentioned that this is probably an approach that is well known to the audience, but that it is a new approach for her organization.

Both projects we are using a specific instrument called ProfilePASS to capture competencies. It’s a method (that includes biographical, developmental, and holistic approaches) and an instrument (a set of questions for self-reflection and self-assessment accompanied by expert consulting/coaching on forumulation of own goals and professional orientation) to capture individual competencies.

Also interesting was Illona’s point about how they will be issuing both open badges and an electronic certificate in PDF form because this proved to be an important supplement to the different application documents that people must submit for employment. At the moment, at least in Germany and probably elsewhere, paper is still relevant when it comes to employers.

Wrapping up her discussion, Ilona mentioned some of the key challenges:

  • Internal view: how to balance standardization (efficiency) with personalization (quality) of the badging system?
  • External view: how to create value added for badge earners when open badges are not recognised by employers yet?


Blaneth McSharry and Iain MacLaren (Ireland)

Iain and Blaneth have been working on the All Aboard badge system based in Galway, Ireland, an initiative driven by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. Iain started off the presentation talking about the goal of their platform, which is to enable and empower staff and students to flourish in the digital age, and to feel a little more empowered in their everyday work. He mentioned that their platform spans 7 universities, 13 institutes of technology, plus a number of specialist and private colleges. All total, there are roughly 158,000 students who could potentially engage the All Aboard system. In Ireland, even though institutions of higher learning are autonomous, there is still a national strategy and collaboration is strongly encouraged.

The All Aboard system involves a number of approaches.

  • contrast with traditional approach to skills
  • participation, open, encouraging
  • working with students on campaigns and festivals
    • informal in style but serious in intent
    • sense of engagement and ownership
  • contributions sought
  • repurposing, re use
  • branding neutral

The team came up with their own framework after many discussions (i.e., digital skills, knowledge, attributes). Iain shared a slide that showed the different pie wedges that their badge system focuses on: tools and technologies; communicate and collaborate; create and innovate; find and use; identity and wellbeing; teach and learn. They looked at over 60 documents to see how others were approaching digital skills, knowledge, and attributes.

As Iain said, while the pie might be appealing to academics, they needed to make something that showed more of a journey, so they created this wonderful subway map and repurposed it to show how a learner could navigate the system, attaining skills and badges along the way to their destination. People can work through those lessons on their own time, and decide what skills, knowledge, and attributes they want to pursue.

There are three levels for the topics:

  • what you really should know (demystifying)
  • application/trying it out (hands on)
  • critical perspectives (strategy, implications, etc.)

And badges are used as a way to recognize achievement:

  • a form of micro credential
  • transferrable
  • link with eportfolios, digital CVs, certification

Like many people working with badges in institutions of higher learning, Iain mentioned that they found it was more effective to describe them as micro-credentials rather than badges.

The platform is also designed to allow different parts of the institution to recognize learning. Some of the badging examples included:

  • CPD in teaching and learning
  • student volunteering awards
  • science outreach initiatives
  • linking research, teaching and community
  • graduate attributes
  • skills for successful study

While Open Badge Factory is the platform that All Aboard is using, there are other LMS Systems involved, including Blackboard and Moodle. Both of these systems are very popular in Ireland.


Vincent Van Madlderen (Belgium)

Vincent works at an organization called Selor, which is about to launch Be Badge, an exciting online badge platform for increasing talent mobility. Selor is a selection office and recruitment office for the Belguim public sector, and they will be launching Be Badge next week.

When Vincent first heard about badges, he was at Selor, where they were already looking for ways to share the talent of the people we test and screen on a yearly basis. Selor is responsible for the recruitment of civil servants in Belgium, and they screen approximately 100,000 people on an annual basis. To deal with such large numbers in an efficient way, candidates have to pass a generic PC-based module for any type of function for which they apply. Statistics from 2014 show that Selor started with 93K people who applied to the process. Roughly 39K succeeded in the first module, and roughly 6K survived the full selection process. After that, roughly 1K become civil servants.

In order to fully exploit the talent potential in the pool, Selor wanted to let candidates use their test data with other organizations who had private/public selection processes. With all of this testing and identification of talent, open badges created a way to help these candidates share their talent.

Selor opted to build their own tool and developed BeBadges: Skills Made Public for several reasons. 1). They needed a tool that focused strongly on labor markets and employability, and so had to be broader than learning. 2) The tool had to be very local for their market, and be accessible in French, Dutch, and English. 3) They also needed a tool that could be used by issuers, earners, and displayers. Organizations had to be able to create and issue badges, and earners needed to be able to manage their badges in their backpack. Selor is currently looking for displayers or organizations who can check badges in the platform. 4) Selor also needed a platform that ould be steered by different partners in the Belgium labor market. They will be letting other organizations use for free to issue their badges as well, and will be creating a steering committee of organizations that will eventually steer the development of the platform.

So in a very real sense, Selor will be one of the users of their own platform.


One of the questions asked toward the end caught my attention, so I wanted to include my notes here. The question was:

How did you maintain or build buy-in?

Vincent: This is a difficult question. It depends on the type of partner. The project had to create a buy-in to our own organization first, so we could create budgets for such a platform. I found a lot of useful arguments, related to Ilona’s presentation, based on social innovation. Create employability especially for people who don’t have the higher masters or phds, lower degrees -- degree is still very imprtant to get a job in public and private sector. To create that sense of awareness, badges are useful. To get partners to issue in our system, you need other arguments. There i use arguments like, just the data cites, it will happen, when you use badges, you can follow them, you have statistics that you don’t have with typical paper certificates but also digital certificates.

Illona: I agree it’s not an easy question. What really helps is to try, go on, show, try again, so people can start to develop ideas. First, they may think, “What is it? We don’t need it. It’s rubbish, it’s not serious.” Then you start to develop ideas and find ways where they can apply it. In terms of argumentation, like Vincent mentioned, stakeholders from industry like this idea of social innovation, social responsibility. Appeal to why companies might want to engage, employer branding -- you could use those arguments along those lines.

Blaneth and Iain: Same for us. We’re all still in the early stages, we’re still convincing people. We take heart from what we do, and there is a lot of enthusiasm. The word badge is something peole can’t quite grasp. People are constantly asking for us to make badges for them. There is a niche out there for them. People have come to us when they don’t have a means to recognize achievements or skills. Now it’s easier to do that, now that we have a platform. We also found it has been helpful to give people specific examples of how badges are being used.




That was awesome.  What an excellent summary.  I will ask james to post a link to the recording.  We got 44 for the  North American meeting later in the day.  Looking forward to the Australiasia meeting tonight at 9 pm tonight.



Thanks, Sheryl for creating this synthesis of the presentations, and thanks Dan and James for making the whole thing happen.  I'm looking forwward to seeing the rest of the sessions I couldn't see live, and to talking with my students (who watched in my absence) about it when I return to PSU.  Looking forward to the posted recordings, as well.  Will they be video or just audio?  I know zoom makes both possible, but I heard James say "audio."  

Thanks again!