The openbadges.org home page describes open badges as:
“Open Badges are visual tokens of achievement, affiliation, authorization, or other trust relationship sharable across the web. Open Badges represent a more detailed picture than a CV or résumé as they can be presented in ever-changing combinations, creating a constantly evolving picture of a person’s lifelong learning.”
They are also described as:
“Connected, verifiable credentials represented in portable image files”
Originally developed by the Mozilla foundation the rationale for their use is given by this web page as:
“A digital badge is an online representation of a skill you’ve earned. Open Badges take that concept one step further, and 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.
Because the system is based on an open standard, earners can combine multiple badges from different issuers to tell the complete story of their achievements — both online and off. Badges can be displayed wherever earners want them on the web, and share them for employment, education or lifelong learning.”
The badge system is certified by the IMS educational standards organisations and used by a wide range of organisations including the City and Guilds awarding body in the UK through their subsidiary DigitalMe
On the face of it this is pretty close to what we might do in blockchain based system. There are some important differences though. The badges system has tended to be used and experimented with by learning providers and awarding bodies but not used for ‘proper’ mainstream qualifications. They have tended to be used to recognise soft skills and informal learning or ‘enrich’ formal qualifications – not replace them. A recent literature review observed The terminology (‘badges’) and visual design of the badges have put some people off as seeing them as childish – showing the importance of cultural acceptance. The accompanying hype has not helped either as this has often been billed as yet another ‘revolutionary change’ to education by a technology.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the blockchain direct link into the awarding body system that is controlled by the awarding body. Whereas digital badges ‘float’ around the web with the information about the learning embedded within them. This has been recognised as a drawback as this online Medium magazine article explains with the addition of 3rd party verification. To be fair, open badges were never intended to be tied into the type of closed system that this document envisages, their whole point is to be open and mobile and ‘point’ to the organisation that awarded the badge and describe the learning involved.
Perhaps the best way to think about the relation of open badges to a blockchain system of certification is that the blockchain system has more perceived and actual trust than an open badge system due to the explicit digital link to the awarding body blockchain without which it cannot work or exist. In some ways what we are proposing is simpler in scope compared to the ambitions for open badges. Another way of looking at this is that blockchain is a development of open badge ideas that are more trustworthy and, in some ways, more flexible than open badges. This article by Doug Belshaw an open badges expert discusses this. However, with the general hype that surrounds both technologies it can make understanding the differences difficult.