People have been proudly displaying their diplomas for as long as they have been around. We are used to seeing framed pieces of paper on the walls of all professionals we see – from physicians to psychologists and hairdressers. Apart from the hard-earned college degrees, any course taken over a longer period of time or over just one week-end offers some sort of written proof of participation and completion.

This has been the norm for corporate training as well – I have personally spent a lot of time personalizing, printing out and laminating diplomas for trainees whether they were for a new-entry program or a more elaborate learning path. They were very well-received and appreciated.


Read more: Why each employee needs a learning path


While course hand-outs or further reading materials were often forgotten in the training room, certificates of participation or achievement never were. Recognition of effort and performance are important parts of any educational undertaking and should never be overlooked.

Paper based credentials are obsolete

Corporate learning has changed drastically over the past decade. Extensive training programs have been replaced by brief online modules. Micro learning has become very popular and employees can enroll in a module, pause it for extensive periods of time, resume it or abandon it altogether if it feels unimportant or redundant. This type of behavior makes the awarding of any kind of certificates very difficult.

Furthermore, with everything gone digital, it’s rather strange to show up to people’s desks holding a piece of paper with their name on it. Since organizations have gone global and often times the L&D department is in one location and various branches of the company are geographically scattered, printing and sending out diplomas would take a lot of time, resources and also feel rather impersonal.

Luckily, there is an internet-based solution for this as well – as there seems to be one for improving every aspect of our ever-changing lives in the digital revolution.

Origins of digital badges

The concept of digital badges has become popular back in 2011 when Peer 2 Peer University and The Mozilla Foundation co-authored a paper titled “An Open Badge System Framework”. Here, a digital badge was defined as

A symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, quality or interest

Example systems that served as inspiration included the Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts, and even technology companies like Foursquare. According to the report, badges “have been successfully used to set goals, motivate behaviors, represent achievements and communicate success in many contexts… badges can have a significant impact, and can be used to motivate learning, signify community and signal achievement”.

The study also reveals an important aspect – context is more important than design. Every badge should give information about who earned it and how, what it represents and if at all possible, samples of the work or projects that lead to the awarding of that particular badge.

The digital badge standard

The Mozilla Foundation took things one step forward and developed an open technical standard called Open Badges in 2011. This served as a unified system for issuing, collecting, and displaying digital badges across numerous websites and non-profit organizations. They incorporated all the essential contextual information mentioned above as an essential part of the standard.

Open Badges 1.0 was launched in 2012, and by 2013 over 1,450 organizations were using it for giving out badges to their employees. The Badge Alliance, a network of organizations and professionals seeking to improve and promote Open Badges was formed in 2014. In the same year, Concentric Sky, and edX decided to launch together Badgr, an open source project meant to act as a reference implementation for Open Badges. In 2015 IMS Global Learning Consortium announced their adoption of Open Badges, and in 2016 it was announced that all operations having to do with the Open Badge standard would transition to IMS Global on January 1, 2017.

Designing a digital badge

The graphic part of a badge is of course important but there is a lot more to it: metadata that communicates details to all those curious to verify it needs to be made available.

Things that anybody could learn upon minimal investigation ought to be:

  • who the recipient of the badge is,
  • who the issuer is,
  • what were the steps taken or the criteria that lead to the awarding of that particular badge and last but not least, if it comes with an expiration date.

Part or all of these facts can be showed in a visual format wherever the badge is displayed, but storing all important information in the digital badge’s metadata is still a must. All else that may be relevant or simply of interest should also be stored and accessible to anybody troubling themselves to make an inquiry.

The digital form should not in any way diminish the importance of the badge as it ought to stand out equally relevant to its older paper-issued cousins.

All in all

L&D professionals have had to adapt quite a lot in recent years. Everything from what to how and in what environment people learn has been subject to impressive transformation. Reward and recognition also needs to keep up and digital badges are the most sensible way to go.

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