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Leveraging Interoperable Standards to Connect Learners with Opportunities

Open standards build bridges between learners, educators, and workforce.

Badgr Team

February 4, 2020


What do K12 students, community college learners, professional associations, employers, and international migrant systems have in common? Each of these groups shares a common need for a universal, skills-aligned recognition framework that can provide real-time, transparent, and verifiable awards that put individual learning achievements into context.

On August 6th, 2018, CEO of Concentric Sky (creator of Badgr), Wayne Skipper, recorded a pitch for a discussion on “Open Standards and the Quantification of Learning” for SXSW EDU in 2019. This pitch teased an analysis of the collaborative work done by technologists around the world that would ultimately lay the groundwork for a collection of open credential standards. This ongoing work leveraged existing projects on topics such as micro-credentials, competency-based frameworks, learning pathways, and blockchains. With Badgr’s groundbreaking Pathways functionality, individual learning achievements translate into meaningful and actionable machine-readable transcripts that inform machine learning and recommendation engines - efficiently scaling skills-aligned decision-making.


During the discussion at SXSW EDU (full recording below), Wayne expanded on topics contributing to this exciting new technological innovation.

Unpacking the Digital Backpack

What is an open badge, and what makes it different from more familiar digital or physical badges? Open Badges are more than a “digital sticker,” and what differentiates them in a more meaningful way is the story that each award tells via its standards-aligned metadata. Every open badge conforms to the open badges specification, which means that open-badge earners (or recipients) can earn interoperable awards from tens of thousands of badge issuers and organize those awards in a backpack of their choice. When shared from their personal backpack, open badges can be quickly and independently verified for authenticity and validity by recognizers of that award.

In addition to supporting learning outcomes, the open badge and open pathway specifications work together to create a mosaic of machine-readable data that enables the quantification of learning. Consistent, straightforward machine-readable records further support broad and scalable applications in machine learning and recommendation engines.

Open Badges Open Doors to Lifelong Learning and Recognition

Any digital award aligned to the open badges specification, including micro-credentials, digital badges, and micro-certifications, can be included in Badgr’s open credential pathways. These digital roadmaps help earners and consumers of badges (including employers) understand what a learner has demonstrated and where those learning gains might take them.

Furthermore, those who award badges (called “issuers”) can create custom pathways that include any number of their awards in addition to awards from third party badge issuers that they trust. This model represents a clear win-win-win for badge recipients, issuers, and recognizers that may include employers, institutions of higher education, and more.

How Far are Your Learners Willing to go for Recognition?

Digital badges and the pathways that they occupy are used for many kinds of recognition and present learners with intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivation for completing their learning experiences. For example, during InstructureCon 2017, the Badgr team scaled their engagement with conference attendees by creating a spy-themed digital badging program. This creative endeavor complemented the theme of the event and helped them scale their influence during the conference, allowing the team to effectively engage with thousands of attendees with just a handful of staff.

Rather than relying on their ability to acquire leads manually, Badgr’s “Alpha Agent” pathway demonstrated the uniquely extrinsic and intrinsically motivational power of digital badges and pathways. When employed in instructional settings, this strategy is referred to as “gamification”. Conference attendees earned badges by completing qualifying events identified by the Badgr team, including visiting specific locations including:

  • taking a paddleboat out into the middle of a lake
  • venturing a mile away from the actual convention center)
  • attending a Keynote
  • engaging with the Badgr team.

This illuminating strategy represents a simple, reproducible strategy that educators, administrators, and even marketing teams can use to scale their engagement and delight their audience.

Improve the Currency of your Credentials

Digital badges can be motivational, both intrinsically and extrinsically. But, how can you establish rigorous awards and pathways? Instructional designers and those who deliver professional training generally rely on competency-based frameworks, standards, and rubrics that are usually aligned to research-backed learning or performance outcomes. This ideology instills your college degree or PMP certification with the value that consumers of that award can immediately recognize. Open badges behave in essentially the same way.

In the spy example above, conference attendees acquired their first badge by simply engaging in a conversation or attending a keynote presentation. These are usually called “low stakes” experiences. However, some digital awards require a more rigorous standard of achievement - therefore Badgr Pathways makes it easy to identify and align your digital badges and pathways to standards that your organization trusts and the consumers of the value.

Unlocking your learning superpowers

How can a learner find out that a credential that they’ve earned may lead them to an additional credential that might improve their chances of landing the job of their dreams?

How can an employer make a skills-based hiring decision?

And, how can you deliver this information to your community of learners in a way that is scalable?

We refer to the ability to address these common challenges as “superpowers”. Which would make open badges and pathways the radioactive spider bite or the laboratory accident that’s getting between your organization and your learner’s goals.

When awards are aligned to the open badge standard and organized into pathways, a more complete record of where a learner has been and where they might go becomes suddenly available to anyone with whom that record is shared. This superpower can go even further and help employers make informed decisions about job applicants who may have skills that were previously invisible or buried beneath a “macro-credential” like a certificate of completion or a traditional transcript.

Furthermore, when these records are organized into standardized, machine-readable forms organizations can create views that support the needs of their unique learners and complement their carefully crafted learning experience. Please consider listening to the 2019 recording of “open standards and the quantification of learning”, where Wayne outlines many of the possibilities that are quickly coming to fruition.

And always remember, “with great power, comes great responsibility.”