The MacArthur Foundation, and Mozilla have been working on developing a wide variety of badging systems for over a decade, and last year we joined with IMS Global to begin to scale open badging systems globally.  Picture Boy Scout merit badges, or miniature completion certificates.  And nothing else.

Digital badges are suited to an educational model where acquisition of skills is valued above integrated knowledge. People love games and collecting and competing. It’s to our advantage to remake learning as a kind of Pokemon Go quest. First we aligned instruction to an exhaustive framework of standards, Common Core and its rebranded successors, that could eventually be represented by badges. This framework normalized the idea that education is something that can be broken down into discrete pieces.

Once we had the standards in place, we could move to competency-based instruction. Students only need to demonstrate they’ve “met a standard” and check the box. That allows us to eliminate report cards and diplomas and shift to digital learning lockers and backpacks that will feed workforce-oriented “lifelong learning” e-portfolios of credentials.

The framework ALSO enables “community partners” to replicate standards-based instruction OUTSIDE a school setting.   If a student is meeting a standard, we’ll say it shouldn’t matter how they are doing it.  They might be in a neighborhood school with a full-time, salaried teacher or at a private makerspace, art center, work placement or library with a non-certified, part-time, gig economy staff person.  They might be with a well-intentioned community volunteer. Outsourcing instruction via CBE and badging allows school boards to cut costs while creating revenue streams for online learning providers and non-profits funded by the foundations we control.

Digital badges have always been a key part of our program. Initial badging programs have been embedded within summer and after school activities for children and professional development opportunities for teachers. As we train teachers to accept badges as representations of achievement, it will be difficult for them to oppose use of such systems as competency-based education is implemented.