Digital Badges for Adult Basic Education

What is a digital badge?

A badge is a symbol or other indicator of a skill, an accomplishment, a quality, or interest. When most Americans hear the term they think of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts or the game Foursquare. People have used badges to set goals, motivate themselves or others, and to recognize their own or others’ accomplishments. A “digital badge” is an online record of achievements that makes clear the issuer of the badge and the work completed or competencies attained to get it. Digital badges can support connected learning environments by motivating learning and signaling achievement both within particular communities as well as across communities and institutions. (Source: Erin Knight White Paper)

Digital badges appear in one’s personal or professional online portfolio. Not just an icon or a symbol, because they can hyperlinked a badge holder, prospective employer, training provider or post-secondary education institution can click on the badge and drill down to find out what competencies it represents, who designed it, who affirms it, and more. A digital badge has the potential to have measured, certified meaning, and to provide deep documentation of its meaning and value.


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One kind of digital badge is an open badge. These are specifically designed to enable someone to verify skills or achievements through established, respected organizations. Because this badge system is based on an “open standard,” earners can have badges from a range of issuers that, taken together can reflect their achievements in a performance-based digital portfolio. Adult learners could choose to share badges from their portfolio, or to post them on a web page for prospective or current employers, college admissions officers, training providers, and for friends and family members to see.

Open Badges is a concept developed by the Mozilla Foundation, and is described on its badges wiki page, . Open Badges are:

  • Free and open: Mozilla Open Badges is not proprietary. It’s free software and an open technical standard any organization can use to create, issue and verify digital badges.
  • Transferable: Collect badges from multiple sources, online and off, into a single backpack. Then display your skills and achievements on social networking profiles, job sites, websites and more.
  • Stackable: Whether they’re issued by one organization or many, badges can build upon each other and be stacked to tell the full story of your skills and achievements.
  • Evidence-based: Open Badges are information-rich. Each badge has important metadata which is hard-coded into the badge image file itself that links back to the issuer, criteria and verifying evidence.

Who is issuing Digital Badges?

Here are just a few examples of digital badge issuers:

Basic skills and academic learning organizations

Public schools

Work-related organizations

Technology and Digital Literacy projects and organizations


Who is using open badges, and how?

Can Adult Basic Education Programs or Schools, State Adult Basic Education Systems, State or national Adult Basic Education professional development organizations issue digital badges?

Yes. Some already are. For example:

  • Since June, 2014 the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment,, a free widely-used online digital literacy assessment, has awarded over 200 badges – 10% of the assessment certificates earned at sponsor sites in Minnesota and elsewhere. “Once a Northstar Certificate is awarded, a test-taker can claim a badge. This is then stored in his or her secure Badge Backpack, a webpage that serves as a transportable portfolio to be shared with employers or other stakeholders who need to know that person’s skills and experience.” Further information is available on the Badging section of the FAQ.
  • Some Adult learners use Khan Academy. It has a digital badge system to recognize accomplishments in a range of areas and six levels.
  • Meteorite badges are common and easy to earn when just getting started.
  • Moon badges are uncommon and represent an investment in learning.
  • Earth badges are rare. They require a significant amount of learning.
  • Sun badges are epic. Earning them is a true challenge, and they require impressive dedication.
  • Black Hole badges are legendary and unknown. They are the most unique Khan Academy awards.
  • Challenge Patches are special awards for completing topic challenges.

What’s the advantage of digital badges to adult learners and programs?

Consider, for example, the National Manufacturing Badge System

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There are several potential benefits to learners, adult education programs, employers, and to post-secondary education:

  • Badges can account for learning both inside and outside the classroom, and can document performance-based assessments, for example in internships, volunteer experiences or work.
  • Earning badges may motivate some adult learners.
  • Adult learners may like having a web-based portfolio in which they accumulate recognition of their accomplishments.
  • Programs may now have a way to recognize students’ small, but real learning accomplishments, and to help students recognize their progress.
  • Students may be able to demonstrate competencies that employers value.
  • Employers may be able to have students who are enrolled in work-based learning or community-based learning programs achieve meaningful work-related competencies and have them verified.
  • Employers might participate in choosing the competencies that the badge recognizes.
  • A badging system could include both individual small badges but also be planned to have these badges add up to larger badges or work-related certificates or licenses that are recognized by employers.
  • A badging system, designed by a program or state could be put on a map of badges, so that adult learners would have a career path of badges and courses.
  • Adult learners who enter a program because they are interested in one or two digital badges might then become interested in more badges, and possibly courses. This could be a way of attracting learners whose focus is work opportunities, but who also need stronger basic skills.
  • From a program perspective, digital badges fit well with mastery learning and competency-based or performance-based curricula. A program that already uses a competency-based curriculum can easily organize the competencies into badges.
  • Badging could be used for adult educator professional development.


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For example, the Young Adult Library Services Association has created competencies for Librarians who serve young adults and these are now being developed and tested as digital badges.   Badges could also be developed for adult education professional development, and these could lead to a professional certificate.

Also see:


3 Responses to “Digital Badges for Adult Basic Education”

  1. Steve Quann Says:

    Digital Promise talks about digital badges in terms of micro-credentials. What are you thoughts on that?

  2. djrosen Says:

    Thanks Steve. I am interested in Digital Promise’s ideas for micro-credentials and prefer this to the term Digital Badges. In a post to the LINCS Professional Development CoP recently I argued that we need (a) Career Pathway (s) for Adult Basic Education teachers, and I think ABE professional micro-credentials is the way to build it.

    • Steve Quann Says:

      I was curious. I prefer “micro-credentials” as well. But I know the digital badge concept has been a descriptive term around for a while, so it remains to be seen which one stick will (or both) be used in the future.

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