© The Tree Maker, 2011

I’m currently on holiday so shouldn’t even be logging on, but I want to capture an important development that needs to be carefuly followed and assessed.

This is Mozilla’s Badges project. The idea itself is relatively simple. You learn something and some agency issues you a badge for learning it (remember stars for good work at school?). You collect all your badges and display them on your Facebook page, blog, or whatever. Mozilla, working in partnership with P2PU, is developing open source software protocols/standards and offering to ‘host’ (or perhaps more accurately, manage) the badges in the cloud. It is up to agencies issuing badges to decide the basis on which badges will be issued.

I’m refraining from commenting on this at the moment (no, that’s a lie – see below. I’m refraining from commenting on it after a lot of consideration). In fact, the whole project is still in beta stage but Mozilla hopes to launch in January (2012). All I want to do is draw attention to what is happening, because it is at the design stage that basic assumptions are made that become difficult to change later. For a thoughtful analysis of this project at this stage, see Bud Hunt’s post: Digging Out My Sash.

I believe that Mozilla’s Badges has the potential to be an important development. At a minimum, it could provide a way to accredit (recognize is perhaps a better term) non-formal or informal learning activities.

But I have so many questions about this project, starting with ‘why?’ and ‘who?’. The why stems from the contradiction between informal learning and assessment (however it is done). Isn’t the point of informal learning is that it IS informal and it’s the informal learner herself who makes her own assessment of its value? (I suppose there’s nothing to stop learners issuing their own badges, of course)

The ‘who’ is perhaps an even bigger worry. The team developing badges is rich in software engineers and PR /communications staff, but poor in educators (I didn’t see anyone I could identify as a professional educator on the list on the Mozilla Badges site). Pretty good for innovation, but shouldn’t somebody be in there asking some hard questions, such as those being aired by Bud Hall? Or is this another attempt, such as learning objects, by computer software engineers to decide what’s best for education?

On the other hand, we could just sit back and see how it develops. Let the market decide – after all, all those people couldn’t possibly be wrong, could they?

Lastly, you should be aware of my inherent, unreasonable objection to badges. I am actually one of the very few people in this world banned from the Boy Scouts, following a paint-gun raid on a local Cubs’ band by my best friend and me when I was 10 years old, so you could say I am suffering from a bad case of badge envy. It won’t stop me though coming back to this topic at a later date.


  1. Perhaps you should include a ‘what’ question. Why would adults be interested in collecting badges for their assessment? They aren’t boy-scouts. They might like to choose a type of self-assessment, but I doubt if many adults would feel empowered by accumulating some badges.

  2. Because people like some kind of marker for completion.

    I direct an all-faculty, all-volunteer, grass roots group called the Program for Online Teaching. Our “professional educators” are volunteer faculty from MiraCosta College, where we offer workshops. We are currently running an open online Certificate Class for online instructors and others who want to join. At the end of completing 24 weeks over two semesters, participants will do a project and link to all their weekly blog posts, which are based on specific readings and tasks. We are not accredited, nor are we giving this certificate from the college itself, there is no official credit, and we don’t charge anything. At the moment we have over 90 people working from all over the world. They started September 1 (‘registration’ is now closed), and the vast majority have declared their intention to complete a certificate, even though it’s very clear that it is not a college or university certificate. It consists primarily of a document in pdf format that can be printed, and a “badge” (though our faculty member in charge of it didn’t like that term, as in “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges”) that instructors can post on their web pages or inside their LMS.

    So what I’m saying is that there can be markers for informal learning that do matter to people, although I think the experience of working on them is more important than the badge.

    • sometimes, too, institutions ask for some kind of proof that you engaged in some form of Professional Development. In such cases it’s nice to have something to present, even if it’s not from an accredited institution. There’s a big difference between a degree that says you’re competent in some field, and informal learning that enhances your pre-existing skill set. The idea is that learning is learning, formal or not; and, it’s not so much what we’ve learned that counts, but what we do with that learning is the true test.

  3. I agree with you, Lisa, about both the experience as being the value, and that some people want some kind of marker for completion.

    A little story about that from my own experience. I used to teach a Continuing Education class in Dreamweaver at a local community college. Non-credit stuff – no testing, no grading. At the end of the course I would give out a certificate of completion.

    Fast forward 3 years and I get a new job. I am walking around meeting some of the employees. One of them is a student I had years earlier in my CE class and what do I see pinned up on her wall in her cubicle? The certificate of completion from my CE course. It really “means” nothing other than she completed the course, but she felt it had enough value to her that she pinned it up on her cubicle at work to publicly display for people in her place of employment.

  4. My understanding, after looking around the P2PU website, specifically the School of Webcraft in question here, is that people would be able to put their ‘badge’ on their facebook and twitter pages, so that it would be an external marker of having completed the steps to gain that badge.


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