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Badging, and digital badges in particular, offer opportunities to recognize individuals’ accomplishments, skills, qualities, or interests and help set goals, motivate behavior, represent achievements, and communicate success in learning offered in schools, professional settings, or daily life. [1]

How It’s Developing

Badging and digital badges can be thought of as a continuation of traditional concepts of badges associated with scouting, the military, or even video games, but they are increasingly used to recognize and demonstrate the skills people develop in a range of learning environments, including the classroom but also online courses, workshops, and internships. [2] Proponents view badges as part of a fundamental change in learning – away from traditional texts and lecture pedagogy to multiple knowledge streams, including media, collaboration, interest-based learning, and project-based learning. [3]
Badging may be seen as an alternative to traditional forms of educational assessment and recognition. Traditional systems for recognizing learning – letter grades, transcripts, or even diplomas– may not be able to fully demonstrate students’ actual learning or achievements. Digital badging would allow metadata to be attached to each badge, bringing together valuable information about the criteria for earning the badge, the institution or instructor behind the badge, the date the badge was earned, descriptions or copies of assessment tools, or even examples of actual work submitted to receive the badge. [4] Additionally, as a form of micro-credentialing, badging would help document specific learning achievement along a larger path towards general achievement.  
Digital badging assumes that educational providers will offer digital badges in recognition of participants’ learning and that learners will use the badges to demonstrate their accomplishments and educational attainment. As a growing list of badge providers and earners emerge, determining the quality, value, and acquisition of badges will likely be a challenge. [5] Open Badges, supported by Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation, is providing a more standard platform to unite issuers and recipients under shared criteria and evidence verifying the credential. [6]  
Formal educational institutions are experimenting with badges in different ways. Among the most frequently cited examples, the University of California, Davis’ interdisciplinary major in sustainable agriculture and food systems incorporates a badging system based on the program's core competencies (including systems thinking, strategic management, etc.) and recognizing both formal (courses and grades) and informal (field work, workshops, awards, projects) learning. [7] Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina has integrated badging into first year-composition courses, creating modules where students earn badges for individual skills (research, citation formatting, etc.) that are part of the overall goals of the course. [8] Other institutions, like Purdue, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT are exploring badges in both degree granting programs as well as in free or low-cost, noncredit, massive open online courses. [9] The long-range transition of university degrees into digital credentials will likely take time since so much in society still depends on degrees, but proponents of digital degrees note that our current system (transcripts, resume/curriculum vitae, degree verification services) is slow, complicated, and unreliable, so there are clear advantages to carefully creating digital infrastructures that might one day create a digital infrastructure for advanced degrees. [10]
Badging’s use in MOOCs helps demonstrate how it will become an important part of professional development and continuing education. EDUCAUSE, an association for information technology in higher education, has helped lead the adoption of badging in professional development beginning in 2013 and issuing over 2,500 badges in 2014 with over 41% of recipients opening and sharing the badges with their colleagues. [11] Badges for professional development or continuing education will allow individuals to demonstrate their continuing mastery of skills beyond a requisite entry degree or certification and allow professional communities to continually expand professional competency areas and create new domains of mastery or expertise. [12
For learners of all ages, badging will be an important tool to recognize hands-on or experiential learning, where learning may not be effectively captured by grading. [13] For its Summer of Learning program, the City of Chicago recruited over a hundred organizations, including the public library, arts organizations, parks, and activity centers, to develop badges recognizing a range of educational and hands-on activities – ultimately resulting in over 150,000 badges issued. [14] Pittsburgh joined the Cities of Learning initiative, along with Chicago, Dallas, and Washington DC, and in 2015 organized over 40 participants to help children and teens develop skills in a variety of interest areas and document their achievements with digital badges. [15]

Why It Matters for Libraries

The UC Davis sustainable agriculture program’s badge framework was designed from insights provided by experts, employers, professors, and students thinking across an environment of learning that includes both classroom, on-the-job, and informal learning. [16] As badging systems continue to recognize learning that happens across a wide environment, including out-of-classroom learning, libraries of all types may be called upon to support the development of badges for learners. 
Community- or campus-wide initiatives to support learning will likely involve cultural institutions, including libraries. City of Learning initiatives like those in Chicago or Pittsburgh have included libraries as key partners in supporting connected learning and providing badges.
If digital badges disrupt existing forms of credentialing (college and university degrees) or create new paths towards job credentialing, they could significantly alter the environments in which libraries operate, especially academic libraries, or the services libraries provide, such as spaces for individuals to complete modules towards a specific job credential. 
As users become more aware of badging’s role in professional development or continuing education, libraries may be important partners in supporting individuals’ pursuit of badges. For independent learners, such as those enrolled in MOOCs, library spaces might be used to develop informal learning cohorts to increase the likelihood of course completion and badge attainment.  

Notes and Resources

[1] “Open Badges for Lifelong Learning: Exploring an Open Badge Ecosystem to Support Skill Development and Lifelong Learning for Real Results Such as Jobs and Advancement.” [Whitepaper] The Mozilla Foundation and Peer 2 Peer University, in collaboration with The MacArthur Foundation. January 23, 2013. Available from 
[2] "Digital Badges Gain Traction in Higher Education." Michelle Harven. edtechtimes. March 28, 2014. Available from 
[3] “7 Things You Should Know About™…Badges.” EDUCAUSE. 2012. Available from 
[4] “Digital Badges: Catalyst in the Evolution of Higher Education or ‘Killer App’ for Alternatives?” Kyle Peck. The Evolllution. June 19, 2012. Available from
[5] “7 Things You Should Know About™…Badges.” EDUCAUSE. 2012. Available from
[6] "How Badges Really Work in Higher Education." David Raths. Campus Technology. June 20, 2013. Available from
[7] “A Future Full of Badges.” Kevin Carey. The Chronicle of Higher Education. April 8, 2012. Available from   
[8] “Digital Badges in the Classroom.” Alan Reid and Denise Paster. Inside Higher Ed. October 11, 2013. Available from 
[9] “Show Me Your Badge.” Kevin Carey. The New York Times. November 2, 2012. Available from 
[10] "Certificates, Reputation, and the Blockchain." Philipp Schmidt. MIT Media Lab / Medium. October 27, 2015. Available from 
[11] “Badges: A New Measure of Professional Development.” Michael Hart. Campus Technology. January 14, 2015. Available from 
[12] “Digital Badges for Professional Development.” Veronica Diaz. EDUCAUSE Review. July 1, 2013. Available from 
[13] “Badging From Within.” Paul Fain. Inside Higher Ed. January 3, 2014. Available from  
[14] “Connected Learning: Chicago Tests ‘Digital Badges’ to Track Education.” Nancy Scola. Next City. March 31, 2014. Available from 
[15] “This Summer, Pittsburgh Becomes a Citywide Campus for Learning.” Natalie Orenstein. Remake Learning. June 15, 2015. Available from 
[16] “A Future Full of Badges.” Kevin Carey. The Chronicle of Higher Education. April 8, 2012. Available from