OpenBadges: Increasing Visibility of Association Education

There has been much discussion lately about the value of digital badges for both association education and certification programs. Describing the appeal of digital badges, the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC) says, 

Digital badges are a powerful new tool for identifying and validating the rich array of people’s skills, knowledge, accomplishments, and competencies. Digital badges inspire new pathways to learning and connect learners to opportunities, resources, and one another”.

The social connectivity offered by digital badges aligns perfectly with the nature of association membership and education programs in particular. As noted in the recent whitepaper “The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm”: “Associations create educational programming designed to fill needs unmet by more traditional educational institutions and foster social connections and professional opportunity through networking.” Association membership brings together people with shared professional interests, providing a community in which members support, network, and share experience within their industry. This article in Associations Now magazine suggests that “digital badging can strengthen an association’s community by making its members’ accomplishments more visible”.

Association education programs, whether providing conferences, online or offline training, blended programs, or a combination of approaches, are inherently social in nature. Due to this, there has been growing interest in digital badging among associations, especially those seeking to engage more millennials in membership. This blog notes that “more than 90 percent of educational institutions are offering credentials and digital badges, in part, to serve their millennial students, who favor badging and certificates to traditional degrees”.

This is leading to the availability of several platforms offering digital badge solutions, including a few learning management systems, such as TopClass LMS. Several of these solutions offer digital badges within their own system or platform, meaning members can earn badges for achieving defined requirements for learning or participation and display these badges on their profile, but only within the platform. However, digital badges within a particular platform do not fully satisfy the modern learner’s need to be able to display and share their accomplishments outside the association community, to their extended professional social networks.


Why should associations look for a digital badging solution that incorporates OpenBadges?

Mozilla OpenBadges

OpenBadges is a free open source project from Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation that provides the increased visibility that modern learners seek to share with their peers. OpenBadges provide “a new online standard to recognize and verify learning”, allowing the learner to earn badges from multiple, verified sources, display these in an online ‘backpack’ and share outside the badge issuing platform to social networking profiles and websites. With OpenBadges, the learner can share their verified badges with their entire professional social networks, increasing the visibility of their achievements outside the association member community.

OpenBadges are becoming the accepted online standard for sharing digital badges. The Badge Alliance is a network of organizations and individuals working together to build and support an open badging ecosystem, with a focus on shared values including openness, learner agency and innovation. They note that OpenBadges take the concept of digital badges a step further, in that it “allows you to verify your skills, interests and achievements through credible organizations and attaches that information to the badge image file, hard-coding the metadata for future access and review.

Mozilla OpenBadges Backpack showing badges earned in WBT System's TopClass LMS


When a learning management system, or other digital badge issuing platform is fully integrated with OpenBadges, it allows the issuing organization to validate the requirements, expiration and authenticity of the badge by encoding metadata into the badge image. This means that anyone who views the badge shared on a social networking profile, will be able to view and confirm the authenticity of the badge and the credibility of the issuing organization. This should provide some reassurance to associations that may have concerns about how to “protect relevance and the reputation of the association’s education programs”, as outlined in these survey results.


TopClass LMS and OpenBadges for Association Education


OpenBadges increase visibility for the Association

One aspect of digital badges and OpenBadges in particular that associations may have overlooked is their use as a promotional tool to market association education programs to a wider audience. The facility to encode the issuing organization’s details in the badge metadata ensures that whenever a learner shares their achievement through the OpenBadges backpack to social media or other websites, that the association’s name is visible on that badge. If the learner’s peers are looking to achieve similar credentials, certification, or educational requirements, they can see that the association is the issuing organization, and link to their website to find out more about the programs on offer. This increases the visibility of the association’s education programs to the learner’s entire professional social network, without increasing marketing costs to the association. A valuable tool indeed.

TopClass LMS has introduced digital badges with full OpenBadges compatibility in the latest release. We are proud to be contributing to the open source innovation in digital badges through the OpenBadges project. Our Lead UX and Design Architect will be sharing and discussing our solution with the Badge Alliance on the weekly community call on October 19th.

If you would like a demonstration of how TopClass LMS and OpenBadges can help your organization and your learners to increase the visibility of your education and certification programs, request a demo today.


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