A speculation on the possible use of badges for learning at the UK Open University

Rosewell, Jonathan (2012). A speculation on the possible use of badges for learning at the UK Open University. In: EADTU Annual Conference: The Role Of Open And Flexible Education In European Higher Education Systems For 2020: New Models, New Markets, New Media, 27-28 Sep 2012, Paphos, Cyprus.


There has recently been a flurry of interest in supporting the idea of using ‘badges’ to recognise learning, particularly due to the Mozilla Open Badges project (http://openbadges.org/) and the funding channelled through the 2012 Digital Medial and Learning Competition (http://www.dmlcompetition.net/). Badges offer the potential of rewarding informal learning and reaching non-traditional learners.

This paper speculates on ways in which badges for learning could fit into the offering of the UK Open University, and exposes some of the tensions that badges raise.

• Should badges be used only to recognise informal learning, perhaps in the Open University’s open educational resource OpenLearn (http://www.open.edu/openlearn/), or should they also recognise success on the university’s modules that lead to formal qualifications?

• Who will be motivated to acquire badges – existing students or the general public? Can badges provide a route for access to higher education, offering low-stakes tasters that will encourage prospective students to embark on higher education? Do badges offer a way of encouraging life-long learning?

• What types of material might promote engagement and motivate people to earn badges?

• What is the perceived value of badges to learners? Will badges also be perceived to have value to others – to friends and family, to peers, or to employers?

• How will people ‘read’ the meaning of a badge – what subject, level, and extent of study or learning does it represent?

• Can badges, by escaping the constraints of traditional syllabuses and quality assurance frameworks, support radically different educational experiences? Or will they be used simply to recognise smaller chunks of otherwise conventional study?

• What should the granularity of a badge be? Should it reward a small chunk of learning, perhaps the equivalent of a few hours of study, or the hundreds of hours of study required for a traditional university module?

• What level of assessment is appropriate for a badge? Is it the case that a badge requires a less rigorous assessment than credit-bearing modules that lead to formal qualifications? Can methods of assessment be offered at sufficiently low cost to form an effective partner to open education resources? What forms of assessment could offer this low-cost basis: what place should there be for learner analytics, computer-marked assessment, peer assessment or self-certification?

• How could branding and reputation work in an ecosystem where an institution offers both formal study leading to qualifications and informal study that leads to badges?

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