Open badges for workforce development

Big achievement for me the other day. I was awarded my TripAdvisor ‘Senior Contributor’ badge for writing my twentieth review on the site.


Hell yeah!


And it felt significant that that review came courtesy of an overnight stay in Glasgow to attend the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s (SQA) ‘open badges external stakeholder group’.

I was very skeptical about ‘open badges’ when I first came across them a few years ago, dismissing them as ‘gamification’ by another name. They were usually explained using a scout badge analogy. Which didn’t help me ‘get it’ at all, as I was never a brownie or girl guide.

Then I wrote my first TripAdvisor review. And got a badge! And with that badge came an invite to gain another badge if I wrote a further four reviews. Well, you can see how that went.

So, I began to think there might be something in this digital badge lark. And then a few months ago, Rob Stewart from the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) came to talk to me and some colleagues. Rob told us how the SSSC has successfully adopted badges as part of their suite of digital learning tools for the social care workforce.

Rob’s story was pretty compelling and prompted us to start exploring the potential of open badges.

Hey, back up a bit! What the heck are ‘open badges’?

Well, they’re a bit more interesting and complex than TripAdvisor’s auto-awarded badges.

Open badges are an open digital standard that recognises and verifies learning. Sometimes known as a digital credential, an open badge is an image containing embedded data. The data describes who earned the badge, how, where and when they earned it and who it was issued by. That data can be viewed by anyone wishing to review someone’s credentials.

Badges can link to award criteria and supporting evidence. They can be collected from an increasingly diverse range of organisations. And they can be displayed on social networking profiles, websites, job sites, etc. Open badges enable an individual’s learning or achievement to be represented as a network of connections, rather than a static, paper-based CV/portfolio.

Badges can be ‘stacked’, to build upon each other. In this way they can support learning pathways – with ‘micro credentials’ motivating users to ‘level up’ to a more comprehensive badge.

Badges can be displayed in ways that are appropriate in different contexts. You might not want to display your belly dancing course badge on your online CV (depends on the sort of jobs you’re applying for, I guess…), but you’d probably want to display badges awarded by your professional body.

From an organisational perspective, badges can support better matching of job requirements against applicant skills and abilities. And provide data which can help organisations see what skills they have available or need to cultivate.

Hang on though, surely ‘rewards’ can sometimes have a negative impact on learning?

There is a lot of skepticism about open badges, particularly around the motivational claims made for them. But, as Professor David Theo Goldberg says ”badges in short are a means to enable and extend learning. They need not be behavioral lures so much as symbols of achievement, expressions of recognized capacity otherwise overlooked. As with any means they can be mistaken for ends in themselves, but there is nothing intrinsic to badging that will inevitably make them so. And dismissing them out of court because they just might motivate learning for questionable reasons, […] is to do so at the peril of a good deal of learning they do well to prompt, promote, even proliferate” (Goldberg, 2012).

But, for sure, not all learners are going to be drawn to badges, or find them awesome. Some are going to be down right turned off by them.

So, we’re taking an exploratory approach – with small scale tests across a number of different programmes, learning what works as we go.

OK, fair enough. So tell me a bit more about what you’re doing. 

Here’s a taster:

  • Within the Scottish Government, a number of us are exploring options for badges or are already actively testing badges. These initiatives include:
    • using badges to recognise different phases of a mentoring relationship.
    • using badges to signify the different roles people take in communities of practice.
    • displaying badges on staff profiles on our intranet.
  • We’re also testing badges across a number of Workforce Scotland workstreams, including the Fire Starter Festival and the Dialogue Community of Practice.
  • We’re working with SQA, SSSC and others to develop a national open badges event, that we’re hoping will be part of the Fire Starter Festival in January.
  • Rob and I are talking about our badge experiences at the Mozilla Festival (the world’s largest festival for the open internet movement) in London at the end of October.

But what about the bigger picture? Surely for open badges to work there needs to be widespread adoption?

If the SQA open badges external stakeholder group meeting I mentioned earlier, is any indicator, we may be approaching a bit of a tipping point with open badges in Scotland. There seems to be a lot of activity happening across all educational sectors.

The SQA itself is investigating the opportunities presented by open badges to support learners across Scotland and is encouraging its partners to do the same.

Right, you’ve got me interested, I’d like to find out more.

OK, there are loads of open badge resources on the web. These should get you started:

Great, I’d like to get involved please!

Look out for badges coming to a learning opportunity near you, soon! We’ll post updates and highlight opportunities to get involved here, on the Workforce Scotland blog.

Rob has set up an ‘open badges in Scotland’ LinkedIn group where we’re sharing our experiences of developing badge programmes.


Goldberg, D. T. (2012). Badges for Learning: Threading the Needle Between Skepticism and Evangelism. DML Central Blog 6 March 2012. Accessed on 12 September from:

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