2013 was a year of tremendous growth for Mozilla’s Open Badges. We launched OBI 1.0. We worked with other terrific organizations to build and launch the first city-wide badge initiative, Chicago Summer of Learning. Along with other partners such as MacArthur and HASTAC, we made a 3 year commitment at Clinton Global Initiative America to harness the protean power of open badges to improve 2 million lives: 2mbetterfutures.org. We ran a full two day track at MozFest where we heard about progress from the Scottish government, learned of the first after school learning badge system in Canada, celebrated the amazing Badge the UK work, and announced the Badge the World project. More great things in this terrific interactive timeline.

You may have heard one of our team members—or one of our community members—speak at a variety of meetings, conferences, symposia, convenings where we touted the merits of open badges, the use of the OBI and the development of badge systems to address, acknowledge, and recognize different forms of learning, experiences, qualities, competencies, and achievements. No doubt you’ll see us at this year’s meetings, conferences, symposia, and convenings as well.

Over time we’ve learned that a common lexicon for badges provides a meaningful base for conversation and understanding. We distinguish between open badges and simple digital badges. In short, the term digital does encompasses the modifier open when it’s attached to badges. Open, as members of the OER Research Hub well know, is a special category and descriptor worth celebrating. It’s not just a technical description but a conceptual description as well.

Open Badges are foundational in nature: they’re connectable, they’re dynamic, and perhaps best and most important of all, they’re designed to work together. They are the building blocks for an interoperable ecosystem. That’s worth restating: not just an interoperable system but an interoperable ecosystem. Open badges are like learning and experience LEGOs. As they represent different aspects of learning, activities, experiences, skills, competencies, etc., they can interlock together, can stack upon each other, can be built into new structures (read: pathways) get torn apart and reassembled into even newer, more dynamic structures.

Digital badges by themselves—siloed, without standard metadata prompts, unable to be easily parsed along with other badges—do not permit this sort of organic and interchangeable growth pattern to emerge. As we look to a world where individuals, teachers, students, organizations, etc. can pull together various open educational materials, where folks can and do mix and match learning resources, where the cost of a 2 or 4 year degree has begun to feel punitive, where peer learning and self-teaching are not only possible but are occurring regularly, the idea of a grokkable, interoperable, evidence-based credential makes huge amounts of sense. Open badges offer the possibility that the line between in-school learning and out-of-school learning can finally be blurred and ultimately erased.

In today’s world, open badges and open educational resources seem like a perfect fit. They both carry the ethos of open, albeit in different interpretations. Open badges seek to connect and recognize learning and experiences wherever they happen. OER materials build off of the four R’s (reuse, redistribute, revise, remix). We, Mozilla and with the entire open badge community, are very much interested in linking badges to OER materials. It’s a huge task and will benefit not only independent learners, but out of school initiatives and formal academic environments as well. To this end, the open badges community are interested in learning from the lessons of OER, building on the successes and interpreting the failures.

Right now, issues of ownership, reuse, revision, remixing and redistribution are in our sites. These concepts are being discussed regularly in the open badges community. My challenge to the OER community: let’s unite to find where we might develop and highlight promoted practices, create good exemplars, and enhance each others’ important and world-changing tools. Ideas and colleagues welcome.

During the past two years, we’ve gleaned that many of you are interested in open badges and excited about them. For some the excitement leads directly to action, for others, the excitement leads to questions about where and how to start. We have heard your questions and concerns and in answer to them, we are once again building a free and open source tool. A tool that will not only streamline the process, it will also simplify it, too. BadgeKit is coming. You can read more about BadgeKit here (overview, Erin Knight)here (product, Sunny Lee)here (design, Jess Klein), and here (tech, Chris McAvoy). All good reads. Take a read and let us know your thoughts.