Top 5 benefits of open badges for corporates

I’ve been blogging a lot about open badges lately. That really means I’ve been thinking a lot about open badges lately, as I use my blog as a sense-making platform.

Through my blogging, combined with the insightful discussions following both Badges of honour and The past tense of open badges, I have been able to consolidate my thoughts somewhat.

This consolidation I rehash share with you now in the form of my Top 5 benefits of open badges for corporates.

Carrot badge

1. Open badges can motivate employees to learn.

Badges are widely perceived as being childish, yet there is no denying that the game mechanics that underpin them can work. Some people are incredibly motivated by badges. Once they’ve earned one, they want to earn another.

You will note that I am using weasel words such as “can” and “some”. This is because badges don’t motivate everyone – just ask Foursquare! But my view is if they motivate a significant proportion of your target audience, then that makes them worthwhile.

I consider this an important point because as learning in the corporate sector becomes more informal, the employee’s motivation to drive their own development will become increasingly pivotal to their performance, and hence to the performance of the organisation as a whole.

Credential badge

2. Open badges can credential in-house training.

Yes, corporates can print off certificates of completion for employees who undertake their in-house training offerings, only for them to be pinned to a workstation or hidden in a drawer.

And yes, corporates typically track and record completion statuses in their LMS, but that lacks visibility for pretty much everyone but the employee him- or herself.

In contrast, open badges are the epitome of visibility. They’re shiny and colourful, the employee can collect them in their online backpack, and they can be shown off via a plugin on a website or blog – or intranet profile.

Badges therefore give corporates the opportunity to recognise the employees who have completed their in-house training, within an enterprise-wide framework.

Portable badge

3. Open badges are portable.

Currently, if you undertake training at one organisation and then leave to join another, you leave your completion records behind. However, if badges were earned through that training, their openness and centralisation in the cloud means that you can continue to “wear” them when you move to your next employer.

This portability of open badges would be enhanced if third parties were also able to endorse the training. So an APRA-endorsed badge earned at Bank A, for example, would be meaningful to my next employer, Bank B, because this bank is also regulated by APRA.

Still, the concept holds without third-party endorsement; that is to say, much of the training provided by Bank A would probably still be meaningful to Bank B – because Bank A and Bank B do very similar things.

Task-oriented badge

4. Open badges are task oriented.

Despite my talk of “training” thus far, open badges are in fact task oriented. That means they recognise the execution of specific actions, and hence the mastery of skills.

I love this aspect of open badges because it means they don’t promise that you can do a particular task, but rather demonstrate that you have already done it.

That gives employers confidence in your capability to perform on the job.

Assessment badge

5. Open badges can formally recognise informal learning.

I have argued previously that in the modern workplace, we should informalise learning and formalise assessment.

My rationale is that the vast majority of learning in the workplace is informal anyway. Employees learn in all kinds of ways – from reading a newsfeed or watching a video clip, to playing with new software or chatting with colleagues over lunch.

The question is how to manage all of that learning. The answer is you don’t.

If a particular competency is important to the business, you assess it. Assessment represents the sum of all the learning that the employee has undertaken in relation to that competency, regardless of where, when or how it was done.

I see open badges as micro-assessments of specific tasks. If you execute a task according to the pre-defined criteria (whatever that may be), then you earn its badge. In this way, the badge represents the sum of all the learning that you have undertaken to perform the task successfully, regardless of where, when or how that learning was done.

Isometric office

This is my blog, so of course all of the above assertions are the product of my own opinion. Naturally, I believe it to be an opinion informed by experience.

Other people have different opinions – some concordant, some contrary, as the comments under Badges of honour and The past tense of open badges will attest.

So, I’m curious… what’s your opinion?

20 thoughts on “Top 5 benefits of open badges for corporates

  1. Hi Ryan,

    Thank you for another informative post on badges for learning and training – something I have been thinking and re-thinking about for a while.

    My experience with badges so far, has been limited to Edmodo (the LMS which I use with students). I find that students really appreciate the awarded badges, motivate them to do better (in order to gain more badges) and as a teacher, it helps me when the time comes to give out official grades. I just have to go back to my students’ profiles and check their badges which I mostly award for all the qualitative work and participation they have in class.

    Badges appeal to me essentially because of the qualitative feedback and recognition a teacher/trainer can give students.

    Other than that, my learning experience with badges is still quite simple; I look forward to more of your reflections on the use of badges in education and training! :-)

  2. Thanks Ana.

    I’ve been thinking about the implications of the “recognition” of in-house training and informal learning, particularly for talent management purposes.

    While HR can pull reports, I think there is something to the visual presentation that badges offer. In line with what you are doing when you are assigning official grades to your students, I am thinking there is scope for talent managers to review employees’ profiles holistically, perhaps via web services that table and sort all the names and badges on a single screen.

    This idea isn’t fully formed on my part, just something I am ruminating over :0)

  3. Hi Ryan

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your ‘Open Badges Trilogy’ and the discussions that have followed. It’s opened my mind to using badges in the workplace. I really like the idea but I wonder – what do you think it would take for the use of badges to actually happen within and across organisations?

    BTW – I caught a news story this morning where a boy scout in the US earned every badge that was available, 135 in total!

  4. Thanks Matt.

    For open badges to become popular in the corporate sector (and elsewhere), the number one priority for me is for the system to be easy to use – not only in terms of consuming badges, but also in terms of issuing them.

    Mozilla promises the imminent release of OpenBadger, which they bill as “a lightweight OBI compliant badge issuing platform” which will “soon make creating and issuing badges easy for non-technical users”.

    The proof of the pudding will be in its eating. If you need to be an IT pro to make it work, the system will inevitably fall short of its potential – a la Second Life.

    Another priority in my opinion is the connectability of backpacks to Learning Management Systems and other popular corporate platforms such as SharePoint. While the backpacks are web-based and hence are accessible by all and sundry, it is on the company’s existing platforms where work such as talent management will be done.

    Aside from the technical considerations, of course there is the organisational culture to consider. Will badges be seen as silly distractions or as coveted acknowledgements of achievement? Only time will tell, but if we L&D pro’s play our cards right, I think it will be the latter.

    By the way, that news story about the boy scout is brilliant. What a case study for the power of extrinsic motivation!

  5. Thanks Ryan, all good points re implementing badges. They have the potential to integrate with many aspects of workplace learning. Hopefully badges will eventually get some traction within and across organisations. The future of badges is in our hands, well maybe our backpacks!

  6. “But my view is if they motivate a significant proportion of your target audience, then that makes them worthwhile.”

    What is that view based on?

  7. Totally my own opinion!

    My experience in the workplace tells me that that what motivates one employee does not necessarily motivate another.

    So if you stumble upon something that motivates many of your people, then I suggest it’s worth leveraging because in the meantime there ain’t no silver bullet out there waiting to be discovered.

  8. I would have naturally been a cynic – but my personal drive to get my next badge from TripAdvisor has become ridiculous! They tantalise me with “just a few more reviews to get your…badge” and Im literally eating out just to add reviews in – madness but it has me hooked!

  9. LOL, I use TripAdvisor too and I must admit, the badges are motivating. I’m not sure if I’d eat out just to add reviews in (!) but it’s fun all the same :0)

  10. Very interesting information on badges. I think it is very important for companies to use employee badges as much as possible!

  11. How to you insure that the learner is not just trying to obtain more badges than his co-worker. Does it become competitve to the point that they are not transferring what they learned to earn that badge back into the workplace. Is the awarding of badges consistent across the organization. Just some thoughts that came to mind as I was reading this. Would be interested to learn how this has worked for others

  12. Great questions, Donna.

    Regarding the learner trying to obtain more badges than his or her co-worker, I see this as a good thing… to a degree. If meaningful learning is associated with the badge gathering, then that’s what gamification is all about. However, if the learner is simply “gaming” the system (excuse the pun) then obviously that’s a waste of time. This is certainly something the badge issuer would need to keep an eye on.

    Regarding the awarding of badges being consistent across the organisation, I think that’s important. It makes sense to me that the central OD team uses badges in its enterprise-wide leadership development program, for example, or that the Innovation team uses badges to acknowledge top ideas from across the business. Having said that, however, it might instead be a proactive part of the organisation somewhere that introduces badges for its own localised needs. In such a case, that team could be considered a pilot group, which the central OD team would do very well to collaborate with and learn from!

  13. Hi Ryan:

    The big blocker I see to OPEN Badges in the workplace is that old employer adage, “I train them and then they leave.”

    I know most of the rejoinders to that, at least here in Canada, but the idea of advertising the capabilities of individuals in your organization (or allowing them to advertise the outcomes of your training on their own web windows such as a personal blog or LinkedIn) seems to be an invitation to poachers in the form of other companies or recruiters.

    With the help of others, such as Stephen Downes, I’m trying to think though a private/public construct that would allow employers to:
    -hire using public badges, perhaps specifying badges they’d like to see in candidates
    -manage competencies in their workplaces using private badges (perhaps in conjunction with public badges, or maybe converting public badges to “private company tender”)
    -allow some kind of limited “filebox” export of badges when employees leave, perhaps trading in the company badges for public versions that can go into their Mozilla backpack. This would make incremental employer funded “value add” less vulnerable while they’re at the employer, but not lock it up in perpetuity, more like temporary escrow (yeesh, I sound like a lawyer)

    Is this something that you and others have been considering also?

    In the meantime, I’ve added your very helpful insights to a page collection in my professional portfolio that’s helping me learn and communicate about Open Badges in the workplace and beyond:

    Looking forward to learning more from this blog!

  14. Valid concerns, Don.

    Of course, the individuals in the organisation aren’t just advertising their capabilities to potential poachers; they’re also advertising to potential employees. As a star performer from Harvard (or anywhere else for that matter) I would be attracted to the firm that invests in the development of its people. So in a way that I didn’t think about until you commented, open badges can also be used for proactive recruitment.

    Still, your point holds.

    I would be very interested to learn how your private/public construct progresses. The escrow aspect worries me, though. Don’t get me wrong: I’m just as much on the side of the employer as I am on the employee’s. It’s just that it appears the employer is holding something the employee values to ransom, and its release could be seen as an incentive to leave. I don’t have an answer to this, merely food for thought.

    Thank you for contributing to the conversation Don, you’ve given me much to think about. Thanks also for adding my thoughts to your portfolio, I’m humbled.

  15. Hi Ryan:
    Good point about the ransom.
    Speaking about advertising, though, I forgot to bring up an in-house benefit: team building based on badges – form of internal hiring, I guess. Apparently the “IBM Blue Book” was a precursor to this.
    Simple example: suppose you want to open an office in another country; it might be useful to know that the bookkeeper in the Finance Dept knows the language.

  16. Excellent example, Don. While of course there are other ways of doing this, a badge system could facilitate it nicely.

  17. Good piece on badges! I’m no expert on corporate environments, but I believe badges add more than just fun to the process. Like it or not, gamification has invaded all walks of life. Even if some people snub petty rewards and certifications as childish, they still appreciate overt and covert forms of appreciation, and this is one of them. As a previous commentator noted, it does get you hooked so you always move on to the next level. This could be leveraged by employers as a great motivational factor like other gamification techniques. For the sake of comparison, feel free to read about the academic use of badges, challenges and other triggers in my blog posting

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