7 Exciting Possibilities for Post-Industrial Democratized Open Badges

We are starting to see an uptick in talk about the possibilities of badges. Browse education conferences and the word badge is showing up in more presentation titles (except, of course, for slow-moving groups like AERA). Scan the headlines and we read about education companies, K-12 districts, and higher education organizations exploring or implementing badges. We are also seeing some of the joys and pitfalls from badge efforts of the recent past. Amid the buzz, I’d like to offer seven uses (current or potential) that capture my interest as a way to share power and influence with learners and build badge systems that democratize credentials in fun, interesting, and maybe even impactful ways.


Gather a group of 5-10 people in a room to talk about badges, and someone almost always brings up the need to have more universal or centralized standards and oversight for badges to grow. Of course, that seems to ignore the fact that higher education grew long before standards were a large part of the discussion. K-12 schools did fine as well. As such, I’d like to celebrate the possibility of badges as a was to further non-standardize even in the most standardized sectors. Consider the UC Davis Sustainable Agriculture badge system. As I understand it, this was less about standardizing the curriculum, and more about giving choice and power for learners to differentiate themselves through real world experiences and novel accomplishments. Let’s use badges to keep from getting too drawn into the “standardize everything” movement.


Others (including me) are talking about the need for a broad trust network and badge ecosystems. That is fine, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with a hyper-local badge system that has meaning and value among a small group (maybe a neighborhood). In fact, it is a way to empower local and grass-roots efforts in fun and interesting ways. So, even as we dream of inter-galactic trust networks, how about some healthy conversation about how we can lift up, support, and encourage local badge networks (which could become the largest sector of badges at some point).


I love hearing the stories about how learners are invited to design their own badges. How does this work? Simple. Students create the challenge-based learning badge. Students accept the challenge. And when students complete it, they earn the badge for the challenge. It is a wonderful way to help people learn how to self-credential (a new aspect of the self-directed learning movement?), and it is easy enough to add some level of outside verification if people are worried about credibility of the badge. I’ve not seen many of these efforts to date, but I am hopeful that we will get a few exemplars in 2015 (or maybe they’re out there, and I’ve not seen them).

After-the-Fact Badge Design

First you create the badge. Then you tell people about it. Then people strive to earn the badge. At least that is how many think of it, but there is no reason why it has to be done that way. It is just as possible to accomplish something planned or serendipitously and then create a badge to recognize it after the fact. These post-accomplishment badge efforts give is an interesting way to think about credentialing self-directed and passion-based learning.

Clan-Based Badges

The web is full of communities of practice, clubs, organizations, and networks. I look forward to seeing more of those groups embracing the use of badges to recognize accomplishments, milestones and unique contributions in the communities. I can see this as a powerful form of credentialing on a résumé, especially that end of the résumé section that is so telling about who a person is and what they really have to offer.

Disposable Badges

We’ve only begun to think about the possibilities of expiration dates for badges. As such, I see some interesting ways to use this feature to create highly disposable badges for novel purposes. What are the possibilities of badges that expire in a day, week, month, or year? How might they amplify certain activities in a group or serve as a means of sustaining engagement?

Credentialing Credentials

I suppose Badges for Vets already does this. I see even more possibilities. What would it look like to use badges as a way for a given group to serve as a credential that adds value to existing credentials that are lesser known or understood? Or, what if we used badges as form of consumer rating of other credential-issuing organizations (like schools, perhaps)?

Who knows if any of these will gain real traction, but the possibilities intrigue me. I see no reason why we should shape badges into something that simply reinforces our past practices. Why not add even more playfulness, creativity and experimentation to our efforts? Let’s lead with our core values and shape the badges into something that will help amplify those values. For me, one of those values is empowering human agency. What about you?



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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, host of the MoonshotEdu Show, professor of education, AVP of Academics, and Chief Innovation officer. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education, educational innovation, alternative education, and nurturing agency and curiosity.