A Beginner's Guide To Open Badges

A Beginner's Guide To Open Badges
Summary: This ultimate beginner's guide to badges, provides answers to the what, how, when, and why of digital badging.

All You Need To know About Open Badges

Open Badges are verifiable, digital awards, issued to individuals for learning or displaying skills or knowledge, or successfully undertaking a specific task or activity. Badges can also be issued for belonging to a certain group or sharing a common interest.

Badges are free to use and can be issued, earned and displayed across a range of different systems including Learning Management Systems, portfolio and résumé applications, dedicated badging applications, and social networks.

How Do They Work?

A badge is an image with a range of ‘built-in’ information or metadata. This metadata is added to a badge by the issuing system, and includes details such a description of the badge, the issuer and recipient of the badge, the criteria for earning the badge, whether the badge expires etc.

Badge metadata

Badges are awarded to an individual, either automatically or manually, when they have met the required criteria or provided the required evidence.

An individual may collect badges from different issuers and choose where to store and display these badges. When an individual displays one of their badges, the metadata can be viewed and verified by others simply by clicking on the badge.

Why Would I Use Badges?

Learners are motivated in different ways and for different reasons. However, most people find encouragement from recognition of their achievements. Badges are a simple, yet effective and visually appealing way to recognize these achievements, as well as a way for learners to share and compare the development of their skills and knowledge with their peers.

Training is more effective when individuals are motivated to learn, share, interact, and collaborate. Badges can be issued to learners for actively participating in a course and displaying certain soft skills, thereby encouraging these behaviors.

Badges can also advertise knowledge, skills, and qualifications for new roles within an organization or to prospective employers, and can add a level of gamification to your learning environments.

How Can I Create A Badge?

Anyone can create a badge, although there are some minor constraints in the format and size of the image. Images need to be square—although different shapes can be used within a transparent square—and the file needs to be in .jpg, .png or.svg format.

Badges can include text, different shapes, and colors. Logos and be created using any design tool. For non-designers, there are free badge creation tools, such as Open Badges.

Once you have created an image, you can define the criteria for awarding that badge and add other relevant metadata to the badge via an issuing system.

Example badges

How Do I Issue Badges?

Your options depend on the system you are using to issue badges. After adding a badge, the system will automatically issue the badge to anyone who meets the specified criteria, or allows anyone with permission to issue the badge manually.

How Are Badges Displayed And Shared?

A badge is linked to an individual’s email address, so it is personalized and usually exportable to an external Backpack service. A Backpack is a system for storing, managing and sharing badges. Via a Backpack, badges can be shared individually, or several can be shared as a collection to a variety of sites including—but not limited to—job sites, LinkedIn, blog sites, Twitter, and Credly.

Mozilla backpack example

How Do I Get Started With Badges In My Organization?

The first step is to ensure your organization has a reliable, flexible system to issue badges. This system will need to run for as long as you want your learners to be able to verify their badges, so consider a long-term operation and support plan.

The next step will be to consult with the stakeholders who will be creating, maintaining and issuing badges. Without an understanding of how badges work and how they can be used to add value to training programs, there will likely be little investment in time or use from these stakeholders.

Once support has been received from critical groups, establish an initial—it can always be revised later—framework or process for the creation and issue of badges. This should include thought into how badges will be used/earned, displayed/shared and designed.

When considering the design of badges look at a standard which is sustainable and extensible. Consider not just the icon and wording, but the shape and color to represent different skills, knowledge area, and/or type of badge.

Set some measures for success. Look at enrolment numbers, engagement, completion and learner satisfaction rates across courses before and after badges are incorporated into training programs. Being able to quantify and qualify the benefits of badging within an organization might encourage further investment into both badging and training.

Finally, include a degree of gamification and fun into the badging system. Learners and trainers finding enjoyment and surprise within their learning and training will help improve performance and engagement in training programs.

How Do I Use Badges Effectively?

As one of the key stakeholders involved, letting learners know how badges work and how they might earn and display them is vital to the success of any implementation. Providing an initial badge for a simple task, such as adding a picture to their profile to get learners started with badges, along with a guide to where and how they can be shared, will go a long way to showcase the badging process.

Use a range of badge types across your site to help keep learners and trainers engaged in the badging process. Given that badges can be linked to gaining skills or knowledge, completing tasks or gaining membership to a group, you have the opportunity to offer variety in how badges are awarded and used within your system.

As part of offering this variety, there will be some badges which can be automatically issued, and some which will need to be manually issued. In order to reduce unnecessary administrative overhead, easier to earn badges, such as for course or online activity completion, should be—where possible—awarded automatically by your badging system. Harder to earn badges or awards for soft skills or behavior that need to be observed or assessed, such as displaying mediation skills within a peer group, will need to be manually issued.

Try and foster excitement in the badging process across your learners and trainers. Besides offering great looking, meaningful badges, one of the best ways to do this is by tapping into the competitive spirit of your learners and trainers. Badges displayed within user profiles and badge leaderboards are a great way of encouraging others to earn badges.

What Should I Avoid When Using Badges?


The best approach to badging will vary across subjects and the type of training. However, offering badges for the majority or even all course activities, rather than a limited number, will diminish the value of each badge. There isn’t a magic figure for the ideal number of badges within a course, as it will depend on the length and structure of the training. For example, there could be a large number of badges available within a short course, but learners will not have the opportunity to earn all of them, as the course has branching activities. With learners working through different learning pathways, only some badges will be available to them.

Zero Challenge Badges

Offering too many, easily earned badges, limits the sense of achievement a learner may feel from obtaining that badge, and again diminish the perceived value of the award. Earning a badge should provide some type of challenge to the individual.

Meaningless Badges

When creating badges, you need to provide a description of the badge, including what criteria an individual has met in order to earn that badge. If you find any difficulty in describing what the badge represents, consider whether the badge has any meaning or relevance to the earner or others viewing the badge.


Badges are a simple and effective way to encourage learning, bring groups together, and reward participation and effort.  Give badging a try today!