In a non-formal learning setting, one can break down the model of a seminar in badge-related activities. Participants can decide what activities they want to confirm in a badge, such that they can also steer their learning plan more actively.
The Open Badge system is used in university and adult learning and has made a strong impact in non-formal education (NFE) for several reasons, the main one being its flexibility. You can build and design any number of badges for an event or workshop, dealing with any aspect. Want to focus on the skills practiced? Content discussed? Both? Likewise, when used to highlight these elements of your workshop or event, they become a tool for reflection after the workshop. To remember the content of a session, or to have a concrete description of the skills or competences employed in that session is invaluable a year after that event finished.
Receiving the badge is only the outcome though. The design and implementation of badges is an immensely creative endeavour. The design of the badge can be as simplistic, colourful, eye-catching or intensive as the organiser wishes. Titles of badges can be thematically linked to the workshop, to previous events, other projects or even other badges. For example, in a series of events that were part of a project dealing with civic education, discussions of pop culture and the influence on society, the titles of our badges were based on quotes from films, as a medium with a significant influence on pop culture
Open Badges as Recognition
This ability to fill the space required makes Open Badges a great way to fill the niche of recognition in NFE, using an approach that Formal Education cannot incorporate. Primarily, since NFE does not certify, the experience of a participant is personal, not standardised, and Open Badges aid this in helping participants to reflect on the skills and content employed, rather than qualifying a specific threshold of achievement. In many ways, this is exactly why something like Open Badges should be used in NFE. The purposes are neither structured nor categorised like a curriculum. There is no national or international body standardising content or method. Despite this, there is a wide variety of institutions who accept Open Badges as evidence of skill or content engagement, including some universities. This will not replace a CV, of course, but it is an excellent way to augment one’s competences.
The Open Badge system was introduced by the Mozilla Foundation in 2011, driven by their open-source community approach. Like other open-source projects, the aim is to share and improve your ideas through collaboration and personal motivation. By using the product, you contribute. Of course, many people have different ideas about how to solve the intended problem, and so, between many thousands of users, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Open Badge platforms. (Please visit https://openbadges.org for more information.)
How to Check Evidence
The programme we use is by Badgecraft (badgecraft.eu), and it lets you set several options.
- Organisers can confirm the evidence.
- The user can confirm for themselves.
- You can set a number of other participants as required to confirm the evidence for the participant to earn the badge.
I usually set this at one or two, for two important reasons. Firstly, I want participants to actually earn the badges, and the more checks required, the harder this becomes. Secondly, those participants will see somebody else’s submission for evidence. Every participant has a submission and will see at least one other submission. They get to see someone else’s interpretation. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
This objectives- and achievements-based process and the form of peer review translate well from youth to adult education, in processes where the learner can take the lead and direct their learning while supporting colleagues in their assessment. Continuing to expose learners, young and old, to other opinions and perspectives is a key element of non-formal education. These processes make Open Badges a useful tool for adult educators to share responsibility and raise motivation between their students in this way.
Open Badges in Adult Learning
As I have outlined above, Open Badges are a tool that can be applied to any structure with which you wish to engage it. Therefore, the benefits of including them in adult learning environments are virtually the same as other contexts. The downsides will depend on the organiser and participants. Creating badges for your event or workshop requires additional time, plus the “maintenance” of walking your participants through the steps of being able to engage with them. The more complex you make them, the more time you will need to dedicate to creation and maintenance. A potential problem that could be more prevalent in adult learning is dismissal of Open Badges. Contextualisation will be important. If your participants believe badges are a flimsy attempt to look like certificates or qualifications, and they understand it is optional, then they will refuse to engage with them. However, if you are clear that they are not tracking achievement, not meant to replace a qualification, but to help with reflection as a personal tool, to aid personal growth, you can pique interest in this alternative approach.
Conclusions for Educators
In the end, the optional nature of Open Badges is most important when considered by the organiser. If you can find some aspect of employing Open Badges that inspires you, whether the creative aspect, the engagement for participants, or the opportunity to reflect thematic links in your projects, you will be motivated to include them and make them the best tool available to your participants (and because this is NFE, you make some mistakes and learn better methods along the way). If the breadth of application, optional nature, or lack of quality-assurance are knock-down arguments for you, then you would do a disservice to your participants by forcing yourself to include them. Open Badges done well will only highlight what good elements are already present in your project. Done out of reluctance, they will draw time away from your planning and detract from the content you want participants to engage with.
That’s the great thing about Open Badges being optional. The choice is yours.
Mike has an MA in Philosophy, Science and Society from Tilburg University, NL and is a Project Coordination Assistant at CGE Erfurt in Germany.
Education and Learning
This text was published in the frame of the project DIGIT-AL - Digital Transformation Adult Learning for Active Citizenship.
Pirker, G. and Martínez, R. (Ed.): Education and Learning (2020). Part of the reader: Smart City, Smart Teaching: Understanding Digital Transformation in Teaching and Learning. DARE Blue Lines, Democracy and Human Rights Education in Europe, Brussels 2020.