Badges in the real world

How badges lead to jobs, career advancement and new learning opportunities


How do we explain Mozilla’s Open Badge Project to beginners? These user stories — drawn from Erin Knight’s “Open Badge System Framework” paper — are meant to illustrate through everyday scenarios. This post is a first draft only and needs your feedback. Please add your comments here. Or suggest edits to the etherpad version. Other communications assets — including a one-page summary — are in development here.

Eduardo: Connecting learning inside and outside the classroom

Eduardo is a 16-year-old Chicago southsider. His school has a traditional academic curriculum with few options for learning about his real interest: computers. But he is also actively engaged in developing skills and interests outside the classroom, through informal learning with peers.

Eduardo is learning storyboarding and making short films in digital media workshops, mentoring younger kids at a local “Fab Lab,” and took second prize in a recent hackfest competition. But until now, Eduardo had no way to gain credit or recognition for these skills, or carry them to his school and other contexts.

How badges help:

Badges help Eduardo get recognition for the skills he’s developing outside of school. Eduardo submits his latest movie project and storyboards for the Storyboarding and Movie Maker badge from the Chicago Learning Network.

His peers and facilitators review his work using a defined set of criteria, and issue Eduardo the Movie Maker badge. Eduardo’s storyboards are missing a key narrative element, so based on that feedback, he refines and resubmits them, and earns the Storyboarding badge as well. One of Eduardo’s collaborators also awards him the Good Teammate badge based on their experience together.

Eduardo looks up the badge collection of a peer he admires to see which additional badges he should focus on to “level up” his skill set.  He then shares his badge collection at school. Eduardo’s teachers are impressed and ask him to assist with a narrative activity in class. He leads his classmates through a  storyboarding exercise, building esteem and earning recognition from his  classmates.

The result:

Badges connect Eduardo’s learning inside and outside the classroom, demonstrating his abilities to his teachers, peers and himself. This helps Eduardo’s teachers fully evaluate him as a student, understand his strengths, and capitalize on his interests. Outside of school within the Learning Networks environment, badges help Eduardo build confidence, form relationships, and find new ways to develop his skill set.

Sara: Gaining and displaying employable skills

Sara is an 18-year-old web developer who started building websites when she was 13. She’s refined her skills by tinkering on her own sites and building sites for friends.

Sara’s parents want her to go to college and get a computer science degree. But she’s reluctant. The curriculum for university-level classes seems out of date, unchallenging and redundant for her.

She’s taken online courses through Peer 2 Peer University on specific web technologies and learned a lot from the community there. But she has nothing formal to put on a resume to show for this learning, making it difficult or impossible for her to get job interviews, especially given her young age.

How badges help:

Badges help Sara get recognition for the employable skills she already has. Peer 2 Peer University offers  badges through their “School of Webcraft” courses and community, so Sara submits her websites and work.

The community reviews her work and rates them based on clear criteria and rubrics. As a result, she earns the Javascript Expert, HTML5 Pioneer, JQuery Guru and CSS Expert badges. Several peers are impressed by her code and commenting, and issue her the Clean Code and Doc Rock Star badges as well.

In addition to submitting existing work, Sara builds  several new web pages using a web framework she’s learning called Django. She issues herself the Django Basic badge after successfully running the initial set of  exercises. Sara writes a blog post about her experience and the importance of  accessibility in web development, and is awarded the Accessibility Evangelist badge by an accessibility guru from the community.

She adds the badges to her personal web site and online resume, so that her community and potential employers can see them, as well as her parents.

The result:

When applying for jobs, Sara is now able to show potential employers her collection  of badges, each linked to specific work samples and recommendations. This provides a more clear and complete picture of Sara and her skill set. And demonstrates her competency in new technologies like Django that many traditional university curricula still don’t touch.

Sal: Breaking into a new job market

Sal is a 32-year-old father of two with a BA in accounting. He works as a finance professional, but is looking to switch over to environmental policy. Sal has learned a lot about his new field through his undergraduate education, work experience, and personal history. But he has little to show for it.

He starts taking night school courses, but finds them difficult to juggle with raising his two kids and current job. And he’s unsure of the specific skills he most needs to develop to break into the field. Potential employers are telling him that his formal education and experience don’t match with the job requirements they’re looking for.

How badges help:

Badges help Sal connect with mentors, add missing skills and break into his new career. Sal begins taking free online courses through Peer 2 Peer University, making it easier for him to fit learning into his busy schedule. While there, he recognizes several badges that match skills he has already developed, including the Critical Thinker, Public Speaker, Pro Presenter, Debater and Green Evangelist badges.

Each badge comes with an associated assessment, from challenges and puzzles to personal history to reflective blogs posts. Sal completes and submits them. His work is assessed by peers and course organizers, and he’s awarded everything but the Green Evangelist badge. The assessment feedback helps Sal see that he needs to learn more  about environmentally friendly technology and practices.  He signs up  for a P2PU course on the subject.

He also finds several P2PU peers who already have the Green Evangelist badge. He browses their badge collection to identify other skills to work on, and asks for advice on breaking into the field. Sal adds his new badges to his web site, social networking profiles and online resume. As a result, he soon begins receiving calls from recruiters and new potential employers impressed with the breadth of his revelant skills.

The result:

Badges help Sal gain access to an exciting new job market. Badges capture employable skills Sal has acquired across his formal education, work experience, and  personal learning. This gives employers a far more detailed and granular picture of his hard  and soft skills. And opens new employment opportunities to helps Sal transition to a new career.

Karen: Hiring the right person for the job

Karen is a hiring manager at a top software company. She spends a lot of time interviewing candidates referred by her HR department — most of whom aren’t right for the position.

Candidates that seem good on paper often aren’t good in practise. It’s hard to learn enough about their working styles and skills from resumes and transcripts, especially for more intangible skills like teamwork, communication, critical thinking and initiative.

Karen has changed her interview questions and styles repeatedly to try and uncover these qualities and skill-sets up front. But she still hasn’t found a satisfying way to predict candidate success and return on investment.

How badges help:

Badges give a more complete picture than traditional resumes and transcripts can provide. Candidates that apply for jobs are able to share their badges as part of the application process, indicating skills and achievements that were previously omitted or too vaguely defined.

This allows Karen to click through each badge to see the candidate’s work, reviews and endorsements, giving her greater context and evidence for each skill than was previously available to her. In addition to hard skills and achievements, badges covering experience, qualities and social aspects also help provide a more complete picture of the candidate.

When considering two candidates who seem roughly equivalent on paper and in interviews, for example, Karen can review their badges to see that one has earned the Team Player and Good Communicator badges from peers, with outstanding endorsements. This highlights important qualities and work styles that ensure the best applicant gets the job.

The result:

Providing more of what employers are looking for. The candidates Karen gets from HR are of a higher quality. HR is able to use applicants’ badges to more quickly and accurately gauge their fit with key elements of the job and company culture. This saves Karen time, adds quality employees to her team, and matches skilled job-seekers to the best possible position.

Jin: Transferring skills to new communities and contexts

Jin is a 22-year-old artist from Philadelphia. She  has partly completed an associates degree in management at community  college. But her real passion is her art.

Jin  actively participates in the local art community through social  networking, conferences and shows. She’s also started a youth  art-mentoring program and works with kids evenings and weekends.

Jin  is seen by her peers as an excellent “greeter” who’s welcoming and  patient with newcomers. She also has a reputation for being “avant  garde”  because she pushes boundaries with her work’s style and tone.

But  she’s worried. Jin is planning an upcoming move to Portland, and is  nervous about leaving her  local community and starting from scratch in a  new place. She  wants to continue focusing on her art, but she has little to show for her  community work or peer reputation, and has no easy way to transfer them  with her to her new community.

How badges help:

Badges help Jin recognize the reputation she’s gained within her local  community — and tranfer it to her new community. Jin has a specialized skill set with real value, especially for specific communities and niches. Badges make her reputation portable across communities, like the one she hopes to find in Portland.

Jin earns the Avant Garde or Cutting Edge badge from her Philadelphia peers, linked back to samples of her work to signal her style, interests and strengths. Plus a Greeter badge signaling her community-building and mentoring tendencies. She also hearns a higher level Gold Star badge recognizing her long-standing contributions and status with the community.

Jin carries all of these badges with her as she meets new artists and community members in Portland.

The result:

Jin’s badges bootstrap the process of transferring to a new community, ensuring her good work and reputation are not lost. Badges  from her community college experience also present evidence of Jin’s  broader skills and achievements — instead of coming away with nothing  to show from her incomplete community college degree.

22 thoughts on “Badges in the real world

  1. I agree w/Ken. This is a wonderful illustration of how p2p learning helps people to get ahead in life. Especially those of us who don’t have the time or money to pursue another degree. Educational opportunity should be equal for everyone, the p2p framework helps to make up for lack of opportunities and level the playing field. I can’t wait to start some p2p classes myself!

  2. “This helps Eduardo’s teachers fully evaluate him as a student, understand his strengths, and capitalize on his interests.”

    What an amazing statement, with this idea in mind, education’s only path is towards evolution.

    Can’t wait to read the paper.

  3. What if Eduardo later used his badges to help gain admission to a film production program in university? That’s typically a very competitive process and the badges might tip the balance.

  4. I love this badge concept. My only question is…with friends being able to give each other badges, is there some safeguard in place to prevent the awarding of badges that haven’t really be earned? Will there end up being a marketplace…give me $10 and I’ll give you a badge? I’m not understanding how that will be handled. Thanks for your excellent examples.

    1.  Hi, Jesse. I think the main value of the badge will come from the issuer. A robotics badge from NASA is likely to have a high perceived value — with schools, employers, practitioners, etc. Whereas a robotics badge from “your friend Steve” probably won’t have much. Unless it becomes meaningful over time to a particular audience or community. The standards and criteria for earning badges are really up to each individual issuer.

      The other aspect is the ability of badges to link directly to the work done to earn them. You can click on the badge to see a specific portfolio, artifact, work samples, etc. So in many ways, the meta-data around the badge is as important as the badge itself.

      In many ways, “badges” themselves are meaningless. It’s the reputation of the badge issuer, the work you did to earn it, the tranparent criteria for earning it, and the comments and testimonials from peers that are much more important.

  5. What guarantees that the badges earned are legitimate? As OpenMatt said, the issurer is critical and yet it is very easy to present yourself as another. I ask as this intrigues me and yet i would hate for anyone to waste their time only to have potential employers disregard their legitimate badges and all of the hard work that earned them, (us), said badges.

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