How We’re Making Education More Like the Web

ReconnectLearningToday, as we hold a historic badge summit, the Open Badges Summit to Reconnect Learning, in Redwood City with more than 300 people, I wanted to reflect on why Mozilla got involved in badges, and what it is we’re building.

Mozilla never set out to disrupt the education system.

But, as anyone who’s ever experienced the spark of online knowledge will tell you, the way we recognize learning is desperately outdated. It’s time we rethink the idea that awarding credentials should be limited to educational institutions.

Today, thanks to the web, anyone with an internet connection has access to an unprecedented wealth of information. Free resources, tutorials and classes are providing opportunities to millions of learners around the globe. Entire online communities have sprung up, dedicated to helping individuals teach and learn.

Now we’re faced with an intriguing question: How do we recognize and award this new way of learning?
That’s what Mozilla set out to answer when we started work with the MacArthur Foundation and the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC) in 2011. Looking to build a standardized way we could recognize the education that happens everywhere, together we developed the Open Badges infrastructure — a badge interchange standard and a collection of open source software for issuing and sharing badges — to create one holistic view of an individual’s learning, skills and experience.

Ultimately, a badge is just one credential, one assertion of what we know. But, added together from different contexts across society, they tell a story about us that’s backed by a lot of people, and says, “this is what I can do.”

Building a digital badge infrastructure that’s open also allows Mozilla to help shape how we value learning in the internet era —building our values of openness and decentralization into the education system itself.

In just 3 short years, major education organizations and employers like Blackboard, the Clinton Global Initiative and Moodle have adopted the Open Badges standard, with more groups expected to join their ranks later this week.

Now, we’re focusing our efforts on two main areas: the BadgeKit software stack and web literacy badges tied to Mozilla’s Webmaker project. Together, these will make it easier for people to deploy Open Badges and will set up Mozilla as a shining example of badges in action.

BadgeKit is an out-of-the-box toolkit that allows anyone—organization or individual— to start issuing and recognizing badges. If the Open Badge infrastructure is our Gecko, providing the underlying plumbing for shaping standards around our vision of the web, then BadgeKit is our Firefox, making the badge system easy to adopt and access for millions of people. And, since BadgeKit is open source, users can use it to build their own tools and customizations that still align with the common standard.

Web literacy badges represent Mozilla’s first large-scale attempt at putting the credentials into practice. Issued through the Webmaker project, these badges will create pathways to web literacy — an understanding of the mechanics, culture, and citizenship of the web. We’re particularly excited about badging web literacy because it represents a way of recognizing learning about the web that’s of the web.

To bolster the broader badging ecosystem through distributed leadership, we’re working with MacArthur Foundation and others to establish the Badge Alliance. Operating independently of Mozilla, the Badge Alliance will be a network of technologists, designers, researchers and thinkers committed to moving the badge ecosystem forward by working collaboratively together. We’re proud that Mozilla’s Open Badges pioneer, Erin Knight, has been chosen to lead this new organization.

The web has usurped the traditional idea of how we acquire an education, and we now have limitless pathways to self-driven knowledge and a seamless connection with other people who can help us learn. Open Badges is a concrete way of capturing and recognizing what we learn in all parts of our lives. We’re announcing the Badge Alliance at today’s Summit, to continue to grow the ecosystem, as the more organizations and employers who participate, the more robust this system will become.

Learn more about Open Badges and help us shape the future of learning.

Share on Twitter