The slow but steady growth of digital badges

Digital badges are one of the most exciting innovations in educational technology in recent years. A badge is a kind of certification showing that you have completed an educational activity, project, or course. However, unlike traditional certifications, they are designed to be live digital items that can be displayed anywhere and contain metadata on the issuer, learning activities undertaken, and standard that has been reached (Gibson, Ostashewski, Flintoff, & Knight, 2013). This makes them instantly verifiable, and the open badging infrastructure allows a wide array of institutions and organizations to issue them (Ahn, Pellicone, & Butler, 2014). The concept was developed in 2011, and the Mozilla Open Badges project became one of the leading badge issuers (Gibson et al., 2013). Badging was instantly recognized as a technology with the potential to revolutionize—or perhaps undermine—traditional systems of certification and credentialing (Young, 2012). Since then, badging, both in terms of acceptance of badging and in the prevalence of it and the infrastructure behind it, has been growing steadily. What makes badges more valuable than traditional certifications? According to a report from American Institutes for Research (Finkelstein, Knight, & Manning, 2013, p. 2):

“Some of the characteristics that are unique to digital badges include their ongoing connection to sources that can validate their issue; some form of evidence of the achievements they denote; and an emerging, consistent standard regarding what constitutes a badge, making it possible for these digital representations of accomplishment to be portable and displayed side by side with badges received from a range of sources.”

Educause started its badging program in 2013, and saw significant growth from 2013 to 2014 (Hart, 2015). There is a strong interest in the potential of badging from many large and prestigious non-profits and foundations. The MacArthur Foundation and Purdue University, to name just two, both have badging initiatives. Groups like Badge Alliance have also attracted corporate partners from Blackboard and Acclaim (“Badge Alliance,” n.d.).

open badge example image

A badge from Mozilla Open Badges

The research on badging is mixed. The very different contexts of different badge programs makes it difficult to assess the concept as a whole or make an generalized statements (Ahn et al., 2014). Badging within a course, as part of gamification of the course, has been shown to be a significant motivator for some, but not all students (Fanfarelli & Mcdaniel, 2015). Open badges on technical subjects that serve as a sort of mini-technical certification have become wide-spread, but there’s a dearth of research on their impact and prevalence (Ahn et al., 2014). There is a movement to implement a badging system in the context of adult continuing and vocational education (Finkelstein et al., 2013). Badges might be particularly useful in this context because they would be serving a population that has little access to formal learning credentials like diplomas and degrees.

More than MOOCs or other components of “open education,” badges can offer a real, verifiable credential, which makes them an essential tool in the decentralization of education (Ma, 2015). Although badging’s impacts on learners, communities, and traditional education institutions are not yet well understood, the future impact of badging may be transformational on a large scale (Ahn et al., 2014; Gibson et al., 2013).


Instructional Designer K. Anthony’s website lists the badges they’ve earned from online learning platform Treehouse. You can see them here:


Ahn, J., Pellicone, A., & Butler, B. S. (2014). Open badges for education: what are the implications at the intersection of open systems and badging?. Research in Learning Technology, 22. Retrieved from

Badge Alliance > About. (n.d.) Badge Alliance. Retrieved from

Fanfarelli, J. R., & McDaniel, R. (2015). Individual Differences in Digital Badging: Do Learner Characteristics Matter?. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 43(4), 403-428.
Chicago. Retrieved from

Finkelstein, J., Knight, E., & Manning, S. (2013). American Institutes for Research. The potential and value of using digital badges for adult learners. Retrieved from

Gibson, D., Ostashewski, N., Flintoff, K., Grant, S., & Knight, E. (2013). Digital badges in education. Education and Information Technologies, 20(2), 403-410. Retrieved from

Hart, M. (2015, 14 January). Badges: A New Measure of Professional Development. Campus Technology. Retrieved from

Ma, X. (2015, April). Evaluating the Implication of Open Badges in an Open Learning Environment to Higher Education. 2015 International Conference on Education Reform and Modern Management. Atlantis Press.

Young, J. R. (2012). “Badges” Earned Online Pose Challenge to Traditional College Diplomas. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from