Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Quantifying Success

I think most of us would agree that the badging work has come along way generally. And yet, in many cases, it’s a feeling or some anecdotes. It’s a hard thing to quantify.

I’ve also certainly experienced several palpable shifts in the conversation - from the “what if” conversations in the first year, to the “ok, we get it, what now”, to now a surge of “how”. But again that’s mostly subjective and based on each of our own experiences.

Some things are a bit more obvious. In 2010 and 2011, if you dropped in on a community call, you’d see the same 10-15 usual suspects, all digging in to important early issues like defining the standard. Now that call (still going 4 years later!) has featured hundreds of new voices, representing every imaginable type of organization, audience and perspective. 

Another measure of growth is the number of organizations issuing badges and badges issued. I remember when we celebrated 100 issuers and 1000 badges in June 2011, and now we have close to 3000 issuers and over 250,000 badges in Mozilla Backpacks. But even that doesn’t truly represent the full ecosystem because we can only directly measure issuers using the Mozilla issuer API and the Mozilla Backpacks. All of the platform providers out there have their own numbers. The best we can estimate is that there are over 13,000 issuers and millions of badges. We expect to have over 4M earners by the end of 2014, and 10M by 2016. Those numbers require estimates and contributions from every issuer out there in the ecosystem, yet are undeniably a sign of progress. 

Another number that I feel is important to consider is the average number of badges per earner. You could argue that one badge might be enough to get someone a job or reach their goals, but for me, the vision is that badges can be a comprehensive representation of you. That means you need badges to represent all the skills, interests, affiliations, experiences, etc. that truly represent who you are and what you can do. 

Again, the only data we have to work with are the numbers from the Mozilla Backpacks. There are over 70K unique Backpacks, and a little under half of those (32K) have only 1 badge in them. The other 38K Backpacks on average, have 5.7 badges in them. That means over 50% are well on their way to building a solid collection, a comprehensive representation. That to me is an exciting sign.

Quantifying our success is hard, but we do have some proof of progress.

And I think we can do better. We owe it to ourselves, to the learners, to find ways to more accurately understand what’s working and what’s not. That will need to involve more formal and regular contributions from organizations across the network, but we’re doing pretty well finding ways to collaborate so far, and this feels like an important one to keep up our track record for. I think it will also involve ways to feed usage data back into the system - what badges were used for which jobs, etc. These are not easy problems to solve, but if we can get there, abstract/obtuse concepts like success, or even validation and accreditation, get a whole lot easier to see and understand.

I’d like to be in a place in a year from now when we’ve got quantifiable metrics of success as a network, and some easy way to reliably collect that data across the network, and regularly check in on those numbers. If you have ideas, or want to help, shoot me a note.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Badge By Any Other Name…

The recent announcement by Udacity to offer nano-degrees really got me thinking. It’s, of course, a new word - a hip and buzzworthy word especially with the geeky crowd (nano!). So now we’ll add that to the list beside credential, badge, microcredential, certification, certificate, pathway, industry-recognized credential, points, and probably more that I’m missing.

Let’s face it, the alternative credentialing space, as its called (words that don’t have consistent meaning themselves), is hot right now. Policy changes and exemplars like SNHU have opened the gates for more types of learning and more recognition that matters to employers and other stakeholders beyond the degree. It makes sense that there are a lot of players jumping at the opportunity to leverage the potential openings, make an impact, get a piece of the pie.

But I think we are really at risk of failing ourselves, and more importantly, the learners, if we segment too early.

Names are just words, but words really matter. If we start calling each project something different, not only are we confusing people and holding ourselves back from showing the true size and power of this work, but we are designing from the beginning, even if unintentionally, for NON-interoperability. Or should I say outeroperability or extraoperability (see, I can make up words too!)

What we’ve learned over and over, is that to really influence systematic change in learning, you need an ecosystem. To do this at the scale we all talk about, we need interoperability and connectedness across lots of organizations and stakeholders. We need need providers and contributors, with their own personal agendas, to be able to do their work, but in a way that feeds into a broader context. Otherwise, we’re designing more prescribed pathways that only touch a certain set of learners. Silos might impact a small segment, but will not lead to systematic change. In so doing, we’re limiting learners’ agency and limiting our own success.

Words really matter to people. In many occasions, I’ve gotten some scowls and exasperated comments when I assert that a badge is a credential. To many, a credential is a very specific thing and the implication is that we’re hurting ourselves and the effort by using that word. A quick look on returned the following:


#2 is the ticket here. Anything that can tell us something about someone with confidence. That’s definitely what we mean by ‘badge” and I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Udacity means by ‘nanodegree’ and MIT means by ‘degree’. Again, I’m not trying to be naive or ignore the obvious nuances and need for validity and assurance here, but just trying to point out that the words are really not as different as we think they are. Or if they are supposed to be, then we’re doing a really bad job explaining why they are different and need to be different.

I’m not necessarily saying that ‘badge’ should be the word for everything. Or maybe I am. I personally think it could be, b/c a badge is simply an evidence-based digital record of something. That something could be a single skill, or a higher order collection of skills that represents something more like what we now call certification. I think badges can represent low stakes, informal learning experiences, as well as high stakes, stacked skills/competencies (nanodegrees are just sets of badges, no?). It’s simply more information that we need to put into each badge to distinguish. There may be should be different types of badges like skill badges or certification badges to help distinguish and evaluate. But whether you agree with that or not, most importantly, I’m saying, let’s all agree we’re working with the same low level thing so that we can design for interoperability from the beginning at the bottom…still leaving lots of room for innovation and customization at the top, with the market, but making sure all of this great work is connected for the learners, for the ecosystem, for us.

Many of you might be thinking, ‘Wait, didn’t you make up a new word too? Why ‘badge’? Why not just call it a credential?" You don’t miss a thing, do you? :) Back a few years ago, the term ‘badge’ was something that was building on all of the interest and usage of digital badges in the social and game space at that time. We started this work at a time when the concept of alternative credentialing was only a few whispers in hallways, and the audacious statement made then was what if we used these digital badges, these digital records, as learning credentials. Again, words matter. I think it was important then to have a different word to start that conversation, which it certainly did, but now that there is momentum, adoption and interest, we’re at a time when its important to use the same words, or at least again, agree on which words we’re using for what. 

I think the first step is being intentional and consistent with how we define a badge, and how these other terms are defined and used as well so that we can make a conscious decision together about what words to use and be clear about how it all fits together. Luckily the Messaging WG is tackling this head on and in addition to building talking points for key audiences, also developing a glossary of terms in the alternative credentialing space.

If you’d like to contribute to that effort, please sign up for the working group at You’ll be added to the mailing list, where you can post opinions and thoughts on this important matter and we can work it out together. Also, don’t hesitate to shoot me a note or post a comment here. 

I guarantee that we’ll never settle on a word or words that everyone agrees with. But I am sure that we are all after the same thing and that we have enough of the right minds and perspectives at the table to make some conscious decisions on how to leverage each other and make the most impact. We have to design interoperability in from the beginning and that starts with the words we choose.

What do you think?


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Manifesto in the Making

Holy time warp, batman. It’s been awhile since I’ve written here. Don’t take that as a sign that there isn’t anything to write about, more as the by product of trying to do this: 

As this first cycle of working groups and first phases of the Badge Aliiance enters the homestretch, you can expect more from me here on the things we’ve learned so far, goals we have moving forward and general thoughts and reflections on the badging work at this point in time. 

One of the core things we’ve been working on is a manifesto for the Badge Alliance, the network and the work overall. We’ll share a version of that in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, I wanted to share some of the raw data that is going into that work and also ask for your input.

We led some exercises with our Steering Committee a few months ago to get a sense of what values and descriptors they felt had the most relevancy and weight. This fun little wordle (remember wordle?! remember Java?!) captures the outcome of that work:


Obviously, Interoperability was a big theme, as well as the expected ones like Open, Network, Stewards, Connectors, Visionaries. But others emerged that were not necessarily the first thing we’ve included in the past but feel right as well: Prosocial, Dependable, Credible, Inclusive. Also included in here were other important values like Equity, Commitment-to-action and Volunteers that all will be important pieces of a success story. 

One point of possible tension is honoring things like inclusiveness with things like open or interoperable. I think we will need to draw a few lines in the sand to say these are the values that everyone in the network needs to abide by, even if its only that the badges must align with the standard and not be silo’d from the broader ecosystem. But even those two statements alone, while ensuring interoperability and healthy growth of the ecosystem, will start to make this a bit less inclusive. So we’ll need to consider those values carefully as we zero in on this manifesto. 

That’s the royal we, because we need your help.

The exercise we did with our Steering Committee was hugely helpful in both affirming our own assumptions, but also bringing new ideas to the table, so its important to me that we do that with the broader network (you) as well before finalizing something that we all can get behind. 

So, we’d love it if you could take a few minutes to fill out this short form on what the BA means to you, which values or descriptors ring true for you, etc. Your input is critical and appreciated. 

Here’s that link again:



Friday, April 18, 2014
A credential, like any common currency, is valued only because of the collective agreement to assign it value. The value of a college degree has been in question since the Great Recession, but there have yet to emerge clear alternatives for the public to rally the around. There are plenty of contenders, though, and it won’t be long before one of them crystalizes the idea for the masses that the traditional degree is increasingly irrelevant in a world with immediate access to evaluative information. Michael Staton - Harvard Business Review
Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More Beefs


A week or so ago Barry Joseph - a close and valuable colleague and contributor the Open Badges community - posted  “My Beef with Badges”, where he calls for a healthy dose of skepticism and honesty about our successes and our failures with open badges. I do not disagree with Barry’s main point: the goals with the badging work are lofty and tough, and we won’t see any significant impact or change if we aren’t watching closely, sharing (all) findings, recalibrating or evolving as we go. But there are specific points that Barry makes that I, errr, have beefs with, or that I feel deserve more context and discussion.

The problem that concerns me the most is the lack of a broad ecosystem for badges. I want to tell youth in our programs their badges will have value outside our museum, and many even need to hear that as a condition for participation. But without such an ecosystem in place, I’d be lying. 

Again, I do not disagree with the general sentiment: the badging ecosystem is still young and while there is a lot of adoption and interest, there is still much more growth necessary to recognize the potential. It’s true that the ‘issuing’ side of badges has received and continues to receive the most attention from the community. Why? Because without valuable badges out there to earn, the conversation about systemic change stops pretty quickly. That said, in the last year, there has been significantly more interest and work on the ‘consumption’ side of badges - employers using badges in the hiring process, universities using badges for admission, etc. -  and we’ll see even more of that this year, as it’s a top priority of the Badge Alliance. But there are a few things I’ll say:

1) I think we’re selling ourselves and our learners short if we ONLY link ‘value’ with our own top-down predefined measures (i.e. got me a job). There is a lot of value that can come out of learning in and of itself, community participation, as well as reputation and identity building. Before the open badges work, we weren’t doing a very good job recognizing any of that stuff. Now we’re starting to change that, and there’s some value in simply calling it out to youth (or learners of any age for that matter). Recognizing learning can help them know what they know, learn how to learn, discover themselves. And unlike anything else they may have experienced so far in their education-related trials and tribulations, the badges they earn are theirs. They own the data about their learning. They can decide what they value, what is reflective of who they are or want to be. With that as a new starting point, they can begin to build a personalized, customized story in a way that’s valuable to them. So, if we as badge system builders get stuck in a cycle of trying to determine what’s going to be valuable for learners upfront, we’ll find ourselves reinventing the same system we’re dealing with now. Not saying that we shouldn’t be considering how to build badges that are valued and used by employers or admissions folks, but we can’t limit ourselves - or our learners - to that alone.

And its not just about personal gratification or meta-cognition. Look at sites like StackOverflow, who have badges for what seem like completely context-specific behaviors. “Your answer got voted up 100 times!”, “You were the first to answer a question 5 times!”, “You edited someone else’s answer!” In isolation or with our prescriptivist glasses on, some would say that those badges are insignificant and meaningless outside of that context. But turns out those badges, in combination with other badges like “knows Javascript”, start to paint a pretty solid picture of what kind of worker and colleague this person will be. Ultimately those badges could get that person a job, so who are we to condemn them based on our own perceptions or preconceived notions. Let a thousand flowers bloom, something something. Or, as my colleague Carla so eloquently put it, let’s not get stuck behind “The Myth of the Lightweight Badge”. 

2) Don’t wait for the ecosystem, build some of those connections yourself. I’ve endured a lot of finger pointing and curved-eyebrow questioning over the last few years. Which employers are accepting badges? Which badges are being accepted for credit? By whom? Where can I use them? What’s the currency? These are all extremely important questions and as I mentioned before, a top priority of the Badge Alliance. But why wait for it at an ecosystem level? Build in some of the currency directly. Reach out to local businesses, forge that relationship with an institution. You know your learners better than anyone else, so figure out what they want with them and start to layer that into your badge system design thinking. That only makes your badges, your entire offering and the ecosystem more valuable. Win-win-win.

I mean I love them for what I’ve seen them actually achieve: new literacies amongst youth to describe their learning within a Brooklyn  after-school program; new motivation within an Atlanta private school;  pride in portfolios within a Bronx library; a new understanding of how  to use learning technology in a New Orleans day school; the emergence of  formative assessment within a New York museum. I am informed by the  theoretical but guided by practice, by what I have seen with my own eyes  over the past five years…

…But I preferred to focus on that achievement rather than the majority of youth who displayed little interest in badges as their design offered   scant value beyond an additional form of grading. 

I have to say I’m pretty sad if we can’t celebrate the individual learner anymore. Sounds like there were some pretty positive things that came out of the experience for some youth. Let’s not discount that. Indeed, let’s celebrate that! If we are going to hold ourselves to solutions that work for everyone out of the box, we’re on a slippery slope towards standardized testing. 

But OF COURSE the badges didn’t ‘work’ for all youth (although we really need to define what ‘work’ means). Badges are not a silver bullet. They are not a magical solution you can overlay and expect them to enlighten every type of learner out of the box. Does anything work that way? Badges are a tool for recognizing more and connecting more learning than we were able to do before. We still need to approach badging by being thoughtful about how we’re developing them, using them, and consuming them, all the while paying close attention to our learners and their needs, etc. Barry is totally right that we need to be honest about what worked (and who it worked for), and what didn’t work (and who it didn’t work for), so that we can build better systems that have different badges or options for different learners. But we’ve still got to do the work.

But, I do harbor concerns. Not concerns about extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation, or whether badges are the right focus for advancing  alternative assessment. Those don’t concern me. 

Interestingly, the things that Barry is not concerned about are the exact elements that we don’t have enough information about. Those are the things that we need the honest feedback and findings about. They are exactly the elements that play into how we design learning experiences and align badge systems that cater to each of our learners.


We all have a beef, or severals beefs with badges. I would be worried if we didn’t, because that would mean that we weren’t taking this seriously enough; that we didn’t think it had enough potential to warrant the tough questions. “Hopeful skepticism" is a common thing I hear, and even feel myself at times. We don’t have all of the answers figured out, but we agree that there are some problems that need solving and there is definitely some promise, some potential resident in the idea of badges that’s worth exploring.

My ‘yes, and’ to Barry’s general call for sharing and honesty about the failures, would be for us to be open and persistent about our beefs. And equally open and persistent about addressing and solving those beefs. Not to just state them or poke holes - that part is easy - but to commit to doing the hard work of finding answers, finding solutions, and suggesting alternative approaches.

I’m also pretty hopeful that the recent announcement of the Badge Alliance @SRL14 will help in this direction (Marc Lesser, from comments on Barry’s post)

Marc Lesser, of MOUSE and Open Badges community fame is spot on. I too am hopeful that the Badge Alliance will be able to move us towards progress, honesty, and impact. Simply creating the Badge Alliance (with close to 300 organizations already signed up as members), is a statement that we’re committing to collaborating and zeroing in on these issues. And now its my team’s (and ultimately the wider network’s) job everyday to ensure we are not only just talking about our beefs, but actually addressing them.

IN FACT, the Open Badges community call TOMORROW is dedicated to talking through some lessons learned so far. Join us.

So thanks, Barry, for your important and timely post. Looking forward to digging in together.



(image attribution:,,

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Feasibility of Badges for Adult Learners

Last Wednesday, the Office of Vocational Adult Education (OVAE), in partnership with the American Institute of Research (AIR), hosted a federal briefing on two working papers they’ve recently published, one of which is The Potential and Value of Using Digital Badges for Adult Learners.

That paper is the initial outcome of a project they kicked off last year around exploring the feasibility of badging in the adult learning space. As part of that project I was invited to co-author the initial version of the paper along with Jonathan Finkelstein from Learning Times and Susan Manning from Northwestern University.

I have to say co-authoring can be really hard, especially when you aren’t co-located, but the AIR/OVAE folks did a pretty fantastic job wrangling us. It was a pretty fun experience, which included synchronous writing sessions on key issues to start to form a pool of notes that the outline was then derived from, dividing and conquering pieces of the paper and then swapping to put some fresh flavor, and facilitated chat discussions with a wider community to get feedback.

I learned a lot about adult learners in the process and really got excited about the potential. Adult learners are ‘non-traditional’. They may be looking to enter a new career path with more opportunity for them, or to learn skills necessary to advance within their job. They often have many life demands that make a 4 (or even 2) year degree unrealistic both financially and time-commitment-wise. They often have a wealth of life or job experience that is not recognized in any way, or easily communicated to a potential employer. The existing education system wasn’t set up for these types of learners and it does not always offer them many options. For me, badging was more than just feasible, it is needed. The adult learning space is screaming for a new way of thinking about learning recognition, discovery and communication. It’s screaming for badges. The obvious fits out of the gate were:

  • Badges can liberate adult learners from lengthy, required prescribed pathways, and allow for more a la carte choice. This also potentially shifts the power balance a bit so that teaching and learning institutions are competing for the learner, versus the other way around.
  • Badges can recognize more incremental learning so that a learner has something to show for the time they could put in, even if they couldn’t finish the course or complete the program at one particular time.
  • Badges can offer a map - a way for learners to better understand the skills they have, the skills they need, and where to find learning opportunities.
  • And finally, badges can help learners build their complete story and identity (including representing experience they already have) and connect that directly to employers.

While working through the paper, the conversation quickly moved from feasibility, to where to dig in first. The paper does a nice job outlining the potential uses of badges, as well as the particular affordances of badges that AIR/OVAE and the broader community felt had the most potential for adult learners. Some overlap with my initial thinking, but said much more eloquently. I’ll share an excerpt here:

Digital badge standardization and the democratization of achievement recognition:
A world where achievement is recognized primarily with diplomas and degrees represents a world full of barriers for many adults. Badges break down walls and allow many organizations—even those not traditionally in the credit-granting realm to recognize success and achievement in their own domains of observation and interaction with people.

Granularity, portability, and retention:
As the very definitions of literacy and most adult literacy curricula suggest, the skills required to be truly literate span a wide range of competencies and can be developed across a broad spectrum of disciplines. For adults, whose life demands make them prone to interruptions in completing courses of study, the granular nature of digital badges makes them an appealing measure of ongoing progress and success.

Embedded learning, new skills, and alternative providers:
By virtue of their capacity to recognize discrete skills and the
fact that any organization or entity can issue badges or digital credentials, digital badges open the door for the recognition of new skills and competencies….Badges magnify the potential to reward adult learners for their contributions, involvement, and achievement in nontraditional and alternative learning settings.

Despite a late March snow storm in DC, the briefing was well attended (only virtually by me thanks to said snow storm) and there was a lot of great discussion around the paper and badging in general. A few of the points that came up have inspired additional blog posts that will follow shortly.

All-in-all, a great experience and great things ahead.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Truth in Tagline

When we decided to soft launch the Badge Alliance at the Summit to Reconnect Learning, my Communications Director had about 5 days notice to pull everything together. She did, of course, pull everything together as she always does, but there was definitely some throwing ‘good enough for now’ words up on a site at the last minute. As we are starting to more formally kick off some branding work, we went back to the tagline we used. While it might not be where we end up, there was and is a lot of truth in those words, and there are layers that really get to the heart of what we’re trying to do (and I suppose, what we’re now on the hook for doing!)

The Badge Alliance is “a network of organizations working together to build and advance an open badging ecosystem”

Let’s break that down a bit…

"The Badge Alliance is a network of organizations…"

The Badge Alliance is made up of organizations that want to work on these issues together, want badges to succeed, believe in a similar vision. These organizations (and in some cases, individuals) are volunteering to contribute to working groups, to roll up their sleeves and do the work necessary to move the badging work forward. They are the lifeblood of the Alliance, and of the ecosystem we are building.

After a relatively low profile soft launch, we already have close to 300 organizations that have not only expressed interest in the Badge Alliance, but have signed up to participate in at least one working group. In many cases, they have signed up for several. The initial response has blown me away and I am more convinced than ever that the Alliance is so important and timely.

"…working together…"

One of the reasons we have created the Badge Alliance is that this work is so much bigger than any individual organization. It’s going to take a village. It’s going to take an ecosystem. That means non-profits, tech providers, agencies, institutions, schools, corporations, foundations have a role to play. It’s only through connection and collaboration across these organizations and sectors, that we will make significant progress for learners and workers across their lifetimes.

As I mentioned before, we’re pretty serious about the collaboration part. So much so that the Badge Alliance is completely built around working groups. All of the work is/will be done through working groups. All of the key issues are tackled through working groups. Most of our job will be to facilitate, recruit for and shepherd working groups. Working groups, working groups, working groups! We’re all probably going to start getting so sick of hearing those words, we’ll have to make up some others. Constellations! Action teams! Etc. But for now, working groups.

It’s a super exciting approach with lots of potential. We’ve already got a really healthy mix of organizations that seem energized and ready to dig in. But its also a little scary. I’ve always been of the ‘if it needs doing, I’ll just do it" mentality, but now our role will to wrangle, recruit and ultimately rely on lots of different players to move the ball forward. Again, together is the only way we succeed. We’ve been spending the last couple of weeks trying to create some guidelines and process to create a layer of accountability and confidence in working group outcomes, which we’ll share in the next week or so, but really these are working theories. This is going to be a constant work in progress, with payoffs so much bigger than any of us could accomplish on our own.

"…to build and advance…" (Or "…to build and grow…")

This is a pretty heavy piece. Building and advancing. What does that mean? Where do we start? What does success or advancement or sufficient growth look like? One deliverable that we are on the hook for, with our Steering Committee, is an initial definition of umbrella goals, strategy and metrics for the badge ecosystem, that we will then vet with the broader network. This will help to provide a larger context for all of your work, while also connecting work across the ecosystem, highlighting gaps or new opportunities to put some attention into and giving us all way to determine if we are winning.

But we don’t need that, and frankly, can’t wait for that to keep the momentum going. Each of you can probably list a few things that you think are needed to advance the broader badge work, or maybe even your own badge systems. Issues that need tackling, hurdles that are in the way, use cases you need to see, questions you need answered…I guarantee if you all did write them down, there would be a lot of overlap. And I can also guarantee that we’ve probably been talking about many of them since very early on. So let’s stop talking and dig in. That’s the purpose of a working group. Let’s pick one of these key issues and work together on it. Let’s set concrete goals and divide and conquer.

With our soft launch of the Badge Alliance, we tried to capture what to us felt like some of the most critical issues/topics through the initial working groups:

  • Open Badges Standard - shaping the evolution of the open standard for badges
  • Endorsement - how to build functionality and practice around third party endorsement of badges
  • Cities & Network-wide Badge Systems - how to support network level badging systems
  • Badges Messaging - how we talk consistently and effectively about badges to different audiences
  • Globalization, Localization & Badge the World - how to encourage and support badging in other countries and cultures
  • Web Literacy & Digital Literacy Badges - a shared badge system(s) for promoting and recognizing important digital skills
  • Badges for Admission to Higher Education - how to get badges into the admissions evaluation process
  • Recruiting Next Generation Workforce & Acceptance by Employers - linking badges to jobs, internships, career advancement and other opportunities
  • Badges for Educators & Professional Development - granularrecognition for teachers and educators

This initial set of working groups isn’t comprehensive, of course, but reflects where we and the broader community sense some the biggest urgency or heat. It’s a healthy mix of driving adoption on the issuing side, while also really starting to dig in on the ‘consumption’ or currency side of the ecosystem as well. We already have begun to identify a fast follow set of working groups that will most likely include things like research, validation (although this one is too big for one working group), K12/schools (also too big), pathways and privacy/data.

(you can still participate in these working groups - visit to sign up. You can also suggest additional topics/working groups you think should be represented)

"…an open badging ecosystem…"

Oh you thought the last part was heavy? Wait for this one! :)

An open badging ecosystem. I could write several blog posts on the meaning/importance of that phrase, probably at least one post on each one of those words (the one on “an” would be a page turner ;)).

But while we *could* (and I am sure at some point *will*) get existential and philosophical, this doesn’t have to be that complex. If we agree that ultimately this is about recognizing and connecting learning of many (and of more) kinds across contexts and across lifetimes, and leveraging that recognition to better connect people to jobs, additional learning, personal growth, advancement, social connections and more, then there are some pretty obvious and important lines in the sand, but only a few. Two actually.

1) Badges must be interoperable. In this case, that means badges must align with the open standard, which is the ‘information model’ for badges.

2) Earners must own their badges and have control over where they are stored, how they are shared, etc.

That’s it really. If we all agree on those two points, then we have the makings for a healthy ecosystem. If badges are interoperable, then they are stackable, we can ensure we have enough information for making sense of them and we can always build tools and processes on top of them to better issue, manage, understand, etc. And if earners are in control, then badges cannot get ‘stuck’ in a silo and we can continually build in more connections and opportunities for that badge earner. The work doesn’t stop with these two ‘principles’, but these are the minimum required to ensure that the ecosystem can grow up around the badges in a way that places the learner at the center.

We haven’t gotten so far as to finalize a manifesto or formalize any requirements for membership, but I can’t imagine these two NOT being in there in some shape or form. We’ll be co-creating these types of things with our Steering Committee and Alliance members, so obviously much more to come here.

So…we didn’t do so bad with our first tagline. There’s a lot in here, maybe some of it is controversial. Certainly some of it I intend to dive into much more deeply in subsequent blog posts. But don’t wait for that - I’m definitely interested in getting feedback and hearing more from you on these somewhat rambling thoughts. Where do you agree? Where do you disagree? What are other working group priorities? What does open ecosystem mean to you? What other names for working groups should we use? :) This is a pretty critical juncture in the Badge Alliance and the overall work so now’s the time to weigh in!

And don’t forget, another way to get involved is to participate in one or more of the working groups. You can sign up on the site

Much more soon.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Badge Alliance

Finally enroute back east after a quick and power-packed trip to San Fran for an awesome Summit to Reconnect Learning

At the Summit, we announced a new venture to build a Badge Alliance. The Alliance is a network of organizations and individuals working together to build and support an open badging ecosystem. Members of the Badge Alliance will collaboratively tackle important issues, questions and opportunities to continue to push the work forward.

We also announced that I will be transitioning out of Mozilla to build and run the Badge Alliance. Over the the course of the year, I’ll move to the Alliance full time to drive this work.

I am incredibly excited about this opportunity - it really feels like the natural and necessary evolution of the badging work and of my role in it.

We really need this. The badges work relies on a robust ecosystem and while there are many many folks playing in the space, we aren’t leveraging each other enough. We aren’t sharing enough. We aren’t building a knowledge base. We aren’t moving the ball forward as quickly as we could. And that’s not because we don’t want to. It’s not your job. You each need the space to do your work, your slice, with your agenda, timeline and perspectives. Someone else needs to help connect the dots, set overarching goals, drive the conversations that need to happen. Well, now that’s my job. :)

So I am just thrilled. This is going to be fun!

As this has been unfolding, I keep getting pulled nostalgically back to a dusty corner in a Barcelona museum…we were at the Mozilla Festival in 2010 in “the Badge Lab” and posed a set of questions: What if we reimagined credentials to support a broader definition of learning? What if we thought about digital badges as a way to capture more about what we know and an do? Folks then wrote down the questions, issues and ideas that came to mind. 

Now that was a relatively small group of people - maybe 15. But let me tell you, the amount of post its produced was astounding. We’d both hit a nerve but also hit on something worth talking about. And talk we did, we spent the next 3 days digging in.

This story is relevant to me right now for a couple of reasons:

First of all, many of the folks in those conversations then are still in conversations today. In fact, many were at the Summit with me. That day, we started a community, we started the ecosystem that is vital to the success of this work. That has grown significantly over the last 3 years. There are so many of you contributing to major ways to the work and that’s absolutely critical. And there is so much potential when we start to leverage each other. I feel so motivated and inspired by this opportunity to get up everyday thinking about how to support you, connect the work and move us all forward.

Second, many of those questions that were written on those post it notes are still open questions today. In fact, some are topics we spent the first day of the Summit talking about. We’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time and we are at a moment where we can make decisions and really accelerate by more formally working together.

The Badge Alliance will operate through working groups that are facilitated by the Alliance team. This isn’t really new - as evidenced by the 300 people who showed up to the Summit to work through key issues - this is how we’ve been working already. The Badge Alliance will just layer in more intentionality, accountability and support.

We are going to hit the ground running. Today is the soft launch, with a formal launch planned for Q2, but in the meantime, we are going to kick off the initial working groups. These working groups will help us continue the conversations and work needed to move the ball forward on important issues. You can visit to view the initial working groups, sign up to participate and suggest additional ones.

I may be taking a leadership role in the Alliance, but this is way bigger than me. Just as the Alliance is a network of organizations building the ecosystem, it needs those organizations to help shape it. It’s incredibly exciting to me that a number of organizations have already stepped up as founding members:

Huge hugs and high fives to these folks for their initial interest and support. And it’s not too late to contribute as a founding member. If you are interested visit or email me at

Also, definitely sign up and secure your spot on the initial working groups that are important to you. You can do so at

Many many more posts to come from me with more information as this unfolds.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BadgeKit, the Why


Just back from MozFest, where we announced BadgeKit, an Open Badges tool stack that will support the key pieces of the badging experience. This includes defining/designing, assessing, issuing, collecting/managing, sharing and using. BadgeKit will consist of open, lightweight tools that can snap together or be used alongside or within other sites or systems. Sunny and Jess both respectively wrote about it in more detail, but I wanted to dig into the “why”. 


Why BadgeKit, why now?

We’ve been pretty good about explaining the WHAT of our work, but I think we can be better about explaining the WHY. Often the WHY is because of feedback we’ve gotten from you, or because of a risk to ecosystem, etc. The WHY is always tied to our values. But I don’t think we talk about it enough. So, I wanted to take a second and jot some of my thinking on the WHY for BadgeKit down for folks to start that conversation:

[] Despite the progress we’ve made with interest and buy-in with badges, the gap between I get it and I have it is way too big. Platforms have emerged that are big, closed and expensive, and there is a huge risk of segmenting or closing large chunks of the ecosystem. Despite us promoting the ‘open’ part of Open Badges, its increasingly EASIER to build a closed system because of the limited availability of tools. We need to fix that. The ecosystem needs simple, easy, open options to move quickly and do so in a way that benefits the entire ecosystem. 

[] And building from that, we need to bake our values into the core so that it is easy to build badges and systems that are open, interoperable, transparent, learner-centric, etc. By offering a set of tools to scaffold badging, we have a chance to support our values even further. For example, we care a lot about the open standard (and in fact think that’s the most important piece of all of this), so we should make it REALLY easy to build badges that are aligned with that standard. Easier than building badges that DON’T align with the standard. 

[] But that’s not all. This isn’t a new idea out of nowhere, this is actually WHAT WE BUILT FOR CSOL, but more standalone, more complete, and more valuable to the broader ecosystem. We actually ALREADY HAVE BADGEKIT - we have all of the foundations. We are now really working to build out these tools in a way that makes them easy and accessible. 

[] Oh yeah and there are TONS of other organizations, cities and groups that want to do what Chicago did or something similar. Networked or ‘connected’ badges are the future - that’s the secret sauce that badges provide but we need the systems to support it. There are so many variables with these badge systems, that it seems to make sense to try to have some shared pieces to help minimize the burden and maximize the speed and efficiency of these roll outs. Plus, a shared technology infrastructure makes for easy sharing and leveraging across these networks. And if that technology is open and extensible, we all win.

[] Finally, we don’t have a bottom line. Building tools in a way that works well with other tools, and invites - even welcomes - competition, is not what any VC would recommend or support. Our priorities are ease of use, but also extensibility, interoperability and playing nice with others. We want to spend the time defining common interfaces so that you can use our issue tool with an assessment tool from somewhere else. Or pick up our build tool and make it better. We want more and better tools in the ecosystem, but the key is that they all work within the same open ecosystem. I don’t say all of this to be snobby, I think its a luxury that we can work this way. But also an obligation. That’s what makes Mozilla Mozilla, and I think we need to step up and build these foundational pieces to increase access and help everyone, including other open tool providers, thrive.

On the why now piece, the demand really speaks for itself. But above and beyond that, I’ve been reflecting back on this entire wild ride. In late 2010 (2010!), when badges was merely a few months old, there was a lot of pressure internally and externally to build an issuing platform. Brian and I, the only Open Badges employees at the time, resisted this at the time because we were afraid that if we did that, we’d too greatly influence the development of the badge ecosystem. We didn’t have a really solid idea of what a good badge looked like or how badge systems could work at that point. And whatever decisions we made and built into the platform would have heavily weighted the ecosystem out of the gate. We showed this diagram (below) all the time and repeated over and over that the stuff in the boxes (with the big blue lines around them) was independent of us, by design. We wanted to build the necessary pieces to support and not confine innovation at the edges, where the learning was taking place.


 And yet here we are building issuing tools. But I really think things are different now. We’ve seen a ton of badges and badge systems. We’ve built a ton ourselves. We’ve seen a market emerge around the tools, some done the right way, and some done the wrong way. We also know how to build more neutral systems, and our role in protecting and promoting the open standard. I still think that was the right decision initially, but also think that we’re really primed to do this now. 

When BadgeKit?

BadgeKit is already available for select partners - we’ve used it to support Chicago Summer of Learning, Connected Educator Month and Open Badges badges to date. We’ll continue to build out instances to support specific partners and campaigns that engage with us, but are aiming to release a free, open public beta of the standalone offerings in early March 2014. 

We really do need feedback from folks on this direction, as well as the specifics of BadgeKit. We keep saying “simple” and “easy” but need some help defining exactly what that means to people, what they need. We will need help prioritizing all of the potential features as well. And more. So look for more from us, and in the meantime, reach out and tell us what you think.


Monday, September 30, 2013

CSOL - How Did We Do?

The mornings are crisp and the leaves are turning rich colors here (you should come!)…it’s officially Fall. We’ve wrapped up the Chicago Summer of Learning and have had some time to reflect on how it went. 

It was helpful to start the debriefing process with a look back at what our original goals were back in what feels like years ago, but was only February of this year. Looking at the numbers through that lens has helped us start to thoroughly evaluate this summer. We, of course, want to supplement the raw numbers with more real feedback from youth and organizations and research, all of which is forthcoming.


  • Challenge all Chicago youth to learn over the summer
  • Call on all youth serving organizations to collaborate and support learning initiatives over the summer
  • Highlight opportunities in the city related to STEAM

Internally, we also aspired to:

  • Reach as many youth as possible, especially low-income or minority kids, get them to earn at least one badge (goal: 100,000)
  • Provide pathways for youth to encourage additional learning and ‘leveling up’ (goal: 1000 kids leveling up)
  • Get as many participating orgs as possible (goal: 100)
  • Make the badges ‘worth something’ (goal: avoid all ‘participation’ badges, engage CPS and local institutions to recognize badges)


The CSOL numbers:

  • Total orgs issuing badges: ~125
  • Total of badges available for earning: >1000
  • % badge types: 3% participation, 92% skill, 5% achievement
  • Total badges issued: ~150,000 (note: number includes some badges that are still in the process of being issued)
  • Total badges claimed to date: ~50,000
  • Total badges wish listed: >5000
  • Gender breakdown: of reported 53% Female, 47% Male
  • Race breakdown: of reported, 56% african american, 7% white, 6% asian, 29% latino/hispanic, 2% other
  • Age breakdown: of reported 26% under 13, 60% 13-17, 9% 18-24, 5% over 24
  • Average time on site: ~6 minutes
  • Total youth who earned city-level badges: ~600
  • Total youth who completed challenges, or successfully leveled up: ~300


What Went Well

When I look through these numbers, the initial reaction is wow. We can go down the goals and check them off across the board. Over 100 orgs and 1000+ badging opportunities represents not only a lot of coordination and collaboration that I am still shocked that we all could pull off in just a few months, but also an incredible coverage across the city and a heck of a lot of learning opportunities. The badges themselves were really great - with only a few orgs issuing badges simply for participation*, but most badges focused on skill development with robust assessment and criteria. The Chicago organizations really stepped up and came into this summer and this new concept of badging with open minds and a dedication that was astounding. Huge kudos to all of them - they are the ones with the content, experiences and relationships with youth that matter. The badges are just the recognizer on top of that learning. That said, the badges were very strong and DePaul University has already stepped up to say that they will accept some of the badges for credit in their institution, and CPS is working to define rewards and advancement that they can offer for the badges.

(*Note: this is not to say that participation badges are *bad*. There are many reasons why rewarding someone with an initial participation badge could be valuable, including motivating additional work, recognizing time commitment, etc. But we wanted to hold ourselves to a goal of having the majority of the badges tied to a deeper assessment, which they were)

Orgs issued over 100,000 badges this summer - that represents a lot of learning and a lot of youth. And there is diversity among those youth. Time on the site shows that youth (and parents) were spending time searching for things to learn or digging into the self-paced challenges that were available for youth on the site, and the wishlisted badges show that some youth were setting goals and into learning more.

Even though we had set a goal around 1000 youth leveling up, I was pretty worried about this one given the fact that many programs started later in the summer and often required multiple weeks of participation and learning before a badge was issued. In order to level up, kids had to not only earn a badge, but earn several within the same category (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts or Math). This most likely involved doing a combination of local learning programs and online self-paced challenges. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that almost 600 youth got to the city level badges and had access to the challenges, of which almost half of those completed challenges, which were not easy and required commitment and hard work. 

What Could Have Gone Better:

The part I am less wowed by is the disconnect between the badges issued and the amount that have been claimed. This number is less stark as it looks but only about 50% of badges issued were claimed and added to Backpacks. To explain this a bit, badges were issued one of two ways: 1) through an issuing tool built by Mozilla called OpenBadger that had an admin interface for org representatives where they could issue badges to youth emails, the youth or their parent had to click through the link in the email to accept the badge and have it show up in the youth’s backpack.  2) Organizations with offline learning experiences could also hand out paper badges with unique claim codes printed on each. The earning youth then needed to log on to the website and enter the claim code to see it in the Backpack. 

There is still some research to conduct, including some surveys and focus groups that folks are conducting to learn about what worked and didn’t work for kids this summer, but its likely that the lower number of badge acceptance most reflects breakdowns in the overall user experience. Many youth haven’t checked their emails, or didn’t click through links of the original, text-only emails. Some might not have had access to a computer at all to claim or accept the badges. Others may have lost the paper badges - its likely there are lots stuffed down in corners of physical backpacks - before they could claim them. Another option is that kids just didn’t care about the badges, or didn’t understand the value, so that’s something we’re exploring more. 

While, as I mentioned, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of kids leveling up, we did not hit that initial goal of 10% of kids. Some of this can also be attributed to user experience design, some of this was the relatively short amount of time to learn and earn and level up. I also think there is an opportunity to design and promote challenges in a way that even more connects directly to youth interests and real opportunities. I’d love to see more challenges next year that show youth completing real projects for their neighborhoods or the city of Chicago. Or developing skills that are directly tied to career pathways, jobs and internships.

In general, the numbers were again, impressive, but I think we can do more. Through a combination of improved tools, better user experience design, more and better training and more marketing and communication, I think we can bring more organizations on board, reach more youth and see more accepted badges.


There is a big assumption in that last statement: that we are doing another CSOL in 2014. I think there was a resounding consensus in a recent meeting in Chicago that the results of this year’s summer were compelling enough to demonstrate the value and promise of this work. So there will be a CSOL 2014, and in fact, maybe something more on the lines of CYOL (Chicago Year of Learning or something like that). Lots of details to work out on the goals, roles and specifics for that work, but given that we are building from a foundation and set of findings, as well as starting those conversations in September instead of a few months before launch, to me, means the possibilities are enormous and exciting.

We’ve learned so much this summer about what it takes to build a badge system at this level, how we can better the tools, who to invite to the table from the get-go, and more. Lots of work to do to get to a 2.0, but there are a lot of pretty clear marching orders. Look from more blog posts from me and the team on these lessons learned and thoughts for moving forward on our pieces.

Also, turns out that Chicago is and will continue to be a hub for innovation and advancement with badging, but another exciting development is that more cities are interested in building something similar to CSOL in their neighborhoods and I think we’re going to see not only more geographical reach, but also a significant amount of more learning and youth impacted in less than a year.