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What Counts as Learning: Open Digital Badges for New Opportunities


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What Counts as Learning: Open Digital Badges for New Opportunities is a free publication available here:

Open digital badges are simple tools that have the potential to change our current system of credentialing, creating ways to recognize more diverse learning pathways and opportunities for both learners and institutions for generations to come. How, then, do we go about building on this potential? How do we design relevant, innovative, and transformative badge systems that connect people’s multiple spheres of learning and link them to new opportunities?

This research is an early response to designing badge systems grounded in actual practice. It provides a building block for anyone interested in designing open digital badge systems, and also for educators, policymakers, technologists, humanists, scholars, and administrators who have a stake in how badge systems might impact learning, assessment, and opportunities for lifelong learners.

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What Counts as Learning: Open Digital Badges for New Opportunities

  1. 1. Mozilla Open Badges Community Call Wednesday, November 19, 2014
  2. 2. • What are the three most important things you would share with another organization just getting started? • What are the three main challenges to widespread adoption of your badge system for your organization? • What are three things have you learned about badge system design? • What would you do differently if you were to start over?
  3. 3. Building the team • Average core team size was roughly 5 to 6 people. • Teams were as large as 10 people, especially for those with content and multimedia experts, and for those who built custom-designed badge systems. • Choose your team wisely.
  4. 4. Who are my stakeholders? • Stakeholders will define the boundaries of your system. • Every stakeholder group represents a boundary that must be navigated and crossed. • Don’t skip the process of identifying stakeholders, no matter how tempting it may be to do so.
  5. 5. Teachers are stakeholders • Engage teachers and faculty as co-creators in the design of the system. • Train teachers first, and well, and make this training an ongoing process. • Think carefully how teachers will be involved in the badge-issuing process.
  6. 6. Find a common language • Identify terminology specific to badges. • Make sure everyone working on the system can understand the language of badges. • Communicating design ideas from content experts to design experts to programming experts is hard. • Have early conversations with the web development team.
  7. 7. Explain badges early • Give all of your stakeholders time to become familiar with the concept of badges. • Get started before the badge system design process begins. • Create a shared understanding among anyone who will have a stake in the system. • Develop strong stories about how badges work.
  8. 8. Design for relevance • Map your badges to whatever your community finds valuable. • Ask your learners what they value — avoid assumptions as much as possible. • Same for other stakeholders, including faculty, administrators, and external stakeholders. • Think early about data. What can your badge system tell you?
  9. 9. Build external partnerships • Build value and relevance at the beginning of the design process. • Define your trust network. • Think hard about what gives your badges “weight” with external stakeholders.
  10. 10. Trust networks • Answer the “so what?” question. • Have meaningful answers that go beyond badges as an aspect of a learner’s identity. • Foster the collective belief in the value of your badges.
  11. 11. Iterative design • Fail fast. • Put all aspects of the system in harm’s way and test with real users. • Release smaller parts first instead of big chunks. • Engage all users in the design process early.
  12. 12. Learning pathways • Designing learning pathways is more complex than developing curricula and defining course requirements. • Create shared assessment criteria so that badges can be connected between different programs. • Align badges to standards where possible. • Think about tagging badges so others can find them.
  13. 13. User experience • Check your assumptions about navigation! • The system will fail if you don’t get this right. • A “clunky” platform will make understanding, earning, and sharing badges difficult. • Without a seamless user experience, learners may not even share their badges.
  14. 14. Visual design • Do not underestimate the design elements of the badges. • Simpler designs are better. • Think how badges will display on different screen sizes. • Distinguish single-lesson achievements from more significant achievements.
  15. 15. Number and type of badges • Experiment early. Start small. • Keep things simple. • Consider using other features to increase engagement and chart progress. • Carefully consider learning outcomes and values.
  16. 16. Badge system technology • Hire the most experienced programmers possible. • Focus early and hard on the technical side of badge system design. • Prepare for complex technical challenges if you are integrating with legacy systems.
  17. 17. Questions?