What Are They?

The MacArthur Foundation defines digital badges as: “an assessment and credentialing mechanism that is housed and managed online. Badges are designed to make visible and validate learning in both formal and informal settings and hold the potential to help transform where and how learning is valued.”


Digital Badges are also known as micro credentials, often because they represent a smaller or incremental level of achievement, like successfully completing a project, mastering a skill, or gaining a certain level of experience. In some settings, digital badges act as a form of gamification, encouraging users to continue to learn and achieve to earn additional badges.

How Do They Work?

One of the most popular paths for digital badges is through the Mozilla Open Badge Initiative (OBI), a non-proprietary system that many organizations and companies use (though it should be noted that not ALL digital badges are open badges, but OBI is one of the most common badging systems at present). Under the OBI, learners must fulfill the required criteria to earn the badge. These criteria vary depending on the granting organization, but are most often related to attending courses, passing exams, or completing educational and professional activities.

Once these activities have been verified as completed, the badge is awarded. Badges are encoded with metadata that lets others see important information about it, including the issuer’s name, the criteria met, a description of the badge, the issuing date, as well as contact information for the recipient.

After a learner has earned a badge, he or she can push it into Mozilla’s Open Backpack or another similarly constructed site.  In this way, badges can be collected from multiple grantors and encompass a wide range of training. Badges can also be displayed on social networking profiles, job sites, websites, and other personal or professional locations where learners would like to display achievement.

What Are the Pros and Cons?

The Pros: Badges work in many of the same ways as credentials, but put more focus on the accomplishments of individual students and give learners greater autonomy in where to earn badges, how to combine them, and who to share their achievements with. Because badges can be collected and displayed as a sort of online portfolio (or even displayed on social media sites like LinkedIn) they also offer learners a way to show off skills and experiences that may not be as easy to showcase with traditional certifications, like study abroad, volunteer work, or technical education.

The Cons: Badges are a relatively new phenomenon, so many places still do not offer them nor do they always carry the same weight with employers as more traditional forms of certification. Additionally, because badges can be awarded for such a wide range of activities, from finishing a game stage to completing a semester-long course, it is often difficult to establish their comparative value. Finally, some questions have been raised about the difficulties of establishing the identity of those being awarded badges, since many activities are not directly observed and may not necessarily be administered through an accredited college or university.

What’s the Next Decade Going to Look Like for Them?

It’s likely that over the next few years many of the problems currently associated with digital badges will begin to be worked out, especially as badging is more widely adopted and used by organizations. Better systems of validation will be adopted, making it easier to ensure that both students and granting organizations are properly vetted. And with better vetting comes wider acceptance and importance put on badges by employers. In some fields, badges may even become an essential part of a professional resume, just as certifications and other forms of training are now. Employers themselves may become more inclined to create their own badging systems, with employees required to earn certain badges as part of their training.

Digital badges will also likely play an important role in higher education, both for faculty members, who can earn badges through professional development, and for students who may want to create their own portfolios of badges earned in courses, service hours, experiences or special workforce training.

In whatever ways badges change or evolve in the coming decade, it’s extremely likely that they will gain importance and become a key tool in rewarding learners for their engagement and involvement in a wide range of activities.

How Can You Use Them?

COD faculty and staff are able to earn digital badges from a wide range of organizations. Currently, several large colleges and universities give out badges, as well as museums, nonprofits, educational organizations, and a number of employers. You can find a list of current Open Badge issuers here.

You can also earn digital badges from COD itself. Learning Technologies offers badges for completing our Blackboard Basics course as well as the Foundations of Online Teaching and Learning course.  Faculty can showcase these badges on their LinkedIn pages, put them in a “backpack” or even place them on the upcoming faculty pages on the main COD website.

If you’re looking for a way to use badging as a motivational tool for your students, that’s possible, too. You can create badges within Blackboard that you can award to students for a variety of achievements of assignments in your course. You can find the badging tool under Achievements Tool in your Blackboard courses. If you need assistance, Learning Technologies will be happy to help and is planning several upcoming training sessions on digital badging.

Keep Learning

We’ve only just scratched the surface of all there is to know about digital badges. Learn more from these resources below.

  • How to Make Micro-Credentials Matter: Hear educators discuss the problem and promise of badges in this piece from edSurge.
  • What Is a Badge?: The MacArthur Foundation is an excellent place to learn more about badge basics and see how they’re being used in a wide range of settings.
  • Mozilla Open Badges: Read more about Mozilla’s Open Badging system to learn how you can use it to help your students and yourself meet educational and professional goals.
  • Digital Badges in the Classroom: Want to learn more about how to use digital badges in this classroom? This article provides an excellent overview.
  • A Future Full of Badges: The Chronicle of Higher Education examines the past, present and future of open badges.

Still have questions? Get in touch with Learning Technologies. We can help you learn more about digital badges and find ways to use them with your students.