Using Badges in Competency-Based Education

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As the world continues to evolve, the shift towards student-centered learning is becoming more apparent. One important instructional method showing positive engagement and success is competency-based education (CBE). According to The U.S. Department of Education, “Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities.” Competency-based education also promotes mastery of skills by allowing students to work at their own pace to gain that mastery, it increases their accountability and ownership of their learning.

Competency-based education also promotes mastery of skills by allowing students to work at their own pace to gain that mastery, it increases their accountability and ownership of their learning.

In other words, students will provide evidence or an artifact proving their knowledge and understanding of each competency in the class but may do so in a variety of meaningful ways and at their own pace.

Striving to provide the best education and preparation for the new post-industrial economy, a lot of schools, universities and academic institutions are adopting innovative methods, such as CBE, to meet student and staff needs. Adopting CBE initiatives and personalized learning to diverse populations of students can seem like a daunting task to both faculty and administrators. However, identifying complementary strategies for improving efficiency, saving resources and applying consistent standards may support CBE initiatives.

How Open Badges Are Deployed As CBE Tools?

Badging provides a credible interface between pedagogy (competency-based education) and practice (digital badging). Badging also has great potential for broad applicability and impact across both student and faculty/staff populations. And with focus on personal and professional growth for student in mind, it is easy to imagine how shifting the focus from the core of the system (the school) to the edges (students) is a natural steps towards education as an enabler of the new economy.

One strategy for open badging in CBE may be the incorporation of digital badging within the curriculum for maximum impact on learning. According to HASTAC (the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), “A digital badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality, or interest that can be earned in many learning environments.” Digital badges are more commonly known as a graphic representation of an acquired skill or accomplishment. Badging for scouting is often used as an example, and it is probably one of the old forms of badging their are. Before earning badges, scouts have to accomplish a task or show mastery of a skill. But in addition to that, someone must verify and confirm that the task or skill has been mastered.


Digital badging may be able to provide the flexibility our students need while attaining consistent standards for faculty to guide and assess their learning until mastery of competencies are achieved. The badges are defined by approved goals, standards, or skills. Once students have met all requirements, and have proof of the accomplishment, faculty can review for mastery. If mastery is determined the badge is awarded. If not, the student continues to learn and improve until the badge is awarded. A 2015 article on states “Digital badges have the potential to be the effective and flexible tools teachers have long sought to guide, recognize, assess and spur learning. And they can recognize the soft skills not captured by standardized tests, such as critical or innovative thinking, teamwork or effective communication.”[3] A single badge or a combination of a set of badges can lead to the mastery and completion of a competency.


Learning can happen anywhere, in or out of the classroom, and it can be formal or non-formal in nature. As CBE allows for personalized choices for attaining goals, infusing badging strategies can and should include learning obtained outside of the classroom and incorporate personal preferences to make the learning more meaningful to the student. Therefore, noted accomplishments such as leadership, critical thinking skills, or any variety of other soft or hard skills that are valued by employers can also earn a badge. To help create a robust badging ecosystem, or constellation as it’s more commonly called, we hope to engage local employers, museums, libraries, etc. in creating and issuing badges for students to include in their digital portfolio or resume. Digital badges have the potential to be very versatile. When established with credible validity and perceived with educational value we can see many uses for them.


Badging can help motivate and encourage students by allowing them to earn and display recognition for achieving goals along the way. As badges are awarded, students can show their success by displaying them on social media or in an electronic badge backpack. Once displayed, viewers (including employers) can click the badge to see the evidence of obtaining the badge along with information on the issuer of the badge. This has great potential to match students with specific skills employers need and want.


Combining CBE with digital badges also appears to lead to the best practice of students creating a digital portfolio to display accomplishments. Having a portable digital portfolio allows students to conveniently display their work and progress to prospective employees or clients. Take this one step further and overlay digital badges that were earned by producing the artifacts in the portfolio. This published work in the portfolio is the evidence linked to the digital badge. Adding the digital badge portfolio of accomplishments to academic credentials earned provides employers with a more complete picture of skills and ability to ensure the best fit for success.


As badging becomes more recognized, another valid use could be credit for prior learning especially for returning students. Badges may show that they have already obtained skills, and credit toward a degree could be applied. Or they may be able to earn the badges more quickly saving them time and money. Both advantages have potential for reaching new students who do not have a degree but have many of the skills for a degree.

How Open Badges Contribute to Lifelong Learning for Educators?

The use of open badges is not restricted to students, open badges can also see be used to promote lifelong learning opportunities and recognition for academic staff. Badges could allow them to keep track of structured and non-structured professional development they gain throughout the year. In some instances, gamification in the form of leaderboards in combination with open badges can be introduced to encourage motivation and self-learning. Managers or supervisors could use badges to identify skills needed to be successful in positions. This could also encourage faculty and staff to work towards badges for career advancement purposes, ultimately incentivizing the accumulation of badges. Open badges can be used to recognize formal and informal learning outcome, including work group activities and projects.

In order to fully realize the pedagogy inherent in competency-based education, it is necessary to explore more innovative ways to quantify the CBE outcomes. Digital badging provides one methodology of particular interest and promise. Initial studies of badges in education as well as business show promising positive results, beyond the classroom and towards real workplace and personal growth impact.