Badging and employability at The Open University

Law, Patrina; Perryman, Leigh-Anne and Law, Andrew (2015). Badging and employability at The Open University. European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, Best of EDEN 2013-2014, article no. 704.



Awarding badges to recognise achievement is nothing new. Of late, badging has gone digital, offering new ways to recognise learning and motivate learners, providing evidence of skills and achievements both within and beyond formal learning contexts. Badging (or ‘soft accreditation’) has been piloted in various forms by the Open University (OU) in 2013, both in discrete projects and elsewhere on open courses and employer-led initiatives. This paper outlines what the OU has learned from its pilot projects and details how the University is subsequently developing a suite of badges for informal and formal students that align with employability and the OU’s existing skills-related open educational resources (OER).

The OU’s badging pilots are informed by recent research (Perryman, Law and Law, 2013; Law, Perryman and Law, 2013) into the motivations and demographic profile of learners using the free educational resources which the OU makes available through its OpenLearn and iTunes U platforms. The research findings had indicated that a substantial number of informal learners using the OU’s free content do so for work and/or professional development and that learners are eager to have their informal learning achievements recognised in some way. The research also provided evidence that OpenLearn is providing a bridge to formal learning in several different respects, suggesting that the addition of badging could strengthen this bridge.

The evaluation of the 2013 pilots indicated that learners who achieved badges were highly motivated by the experience and that the badged courses attracted learners who were particularly inclined to become students. The evaluation has subsequently informed the development of a further project to deliver a suite of free, open courses of 24-hours learning, each of which are assessed through the deployment of a set of Moodle quizzes. To mitigate perceived risks to the sector and the University of providing a badged OU curriculum on a bite-sized scale, badges are limited to employability and skills development. The badged courses will be provided free of charge to the learner and those achieving badges will be encouraged to display them through their public-facing profile on the OpenLearn website. The badged content will be evaluated for its efficacy to motivate and develop informal learners and to provide employability skills for OU students. It is hoped that this paper will stimulate academic interest in the topic and will be of interest to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) globally and open up the discussion around developing a known currency of non-accredited learning.

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