Sheryl Grant, a veteran in the Digital Media and Learning community, has written a concise and very helpful report on open digital badges called "What Counts as Learning." I am personally really interested in digital badges and view them as having a lot of potential for opening up learning pathways for young people, allowing them to own their own education, and make a stronger case for their skills, experiences and achievements to potential employers, universities and elsewhere. And as an educator in a science institution, I think that what we do is particularly well suited for digital badges, given the diverse audiences we serve, across a range of different kinds of educational programming.
For someone unfamiliar with digital badges for learning, Grant's report is a great entry point for what badges are, how they are used, and what applications they are particularly well suited for. And for those who are already knowledgable about digital badges, it's a good overview of the state of the field, including how specific institutions are current implementing digital badges, from universities to online platforms to small non-profits.
Here's a great quote about who is using digital badges currently:
Hundreds of organizations, including cities, universities, school districts, and professional organizations pledged to issue or accept badges through the 2 Million Better Futures badging commitment launched by the MacArthur Foundation at the Clinton Global Initiative… In 2011, roughly 300 organizations submitted applications to the Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition to build badge systems before very few developers and learning organizations knew what they were. Two years later, Chicago began building a full-scale badge system for its citywide Summer of Learning initiative. Dallas, Los Angeles, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. launched their own badge systems before results from Chicago’s badging experience had even been fully analyzed. By 2014, there were more than 1,000 institutions issuing more than 100,000 badges, and hundreds of new organizations were launching new models of badge systems each month. Pearson, Educational Testing Services (ETS), Blackboard, and other recognized corporations with stakes in the broader learning ecosystem have committed to open digital badges.
I found particularly helpful the section on some of the technical details of implementing an open digital badging system, at least one using the "Open Badging Infrastructure" created by Mozilla. Peel away all the educational and youth development jargon, and essentially what you need to know is that a badge is a digital image with embedded meta-data.
The case for the relevance and importance of digital badges is well laid out by Grant. She discusses their uses for credentialling, assessing, norming, and directing learners. While there are certainly a lot of work being done in this space over the past four years, it's probably most correct to say that digital badges show a lot of promise, but without much real data showing significant impact on learning, achievement, or opportunities for young people or others.
Download the full report here.