Digital badging is an emerging education trend that offers a fluid, informal and flexible way for people to learn in different contexts and be recognised for the knowledge and skills they've acquired. As the name suggests, it is a contemporary, online version of a Scout or Girl Guide badge earned for a specific skill. A digital badge is customised, open source and available to everyone.

A "badge" is a way of displaying and verifying an achievement, ability, skill or interest that can be achieved in a variety of learning environments. It could be a formal academic award or the demonstration of abilities and "soft skills" such as leadership, communication, collaboration and organisational skills.

Badges are small digital images of pictures, symbols or words that signify achievement. The image is hyperlinked to information about who issued the badge, when, and the criteria of achievement. The receiver can display their badges on their personal websites, blogs, or digital CVs, and the hyperlink allows anyone to check the credentials of the badge.

What impact might badging have on traditional learning methods and institutions? We have identified three areas where badges challenges the status quo and offer innovative teaching and learning opportunities.

Badging for formal and non-formal achievement
Skills, knowledge and competencies can be acquired across many different contexts: in formal classrooms, on the sports field, through cultural events, in the workplace, through hobbies and clubs. Badging is a way to acknowledge learning that is authentic, networked and made of many parts. It connects formal and non-formal achievements, enabling a learner to showcase individual strengths and interests across a range of areas.

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Badges can be used to evidence: achievement in a formal assessment, an endorsement from a peer, or recognition of soft skills. These can provide a more detailed and personalised learner profile.

Massey's Institute of Education is piloting the use of formal and informal use of badging in professional programmes. Badges are awarded as learners progress through online courses and as credits for completion. Achievements outside of formal course work as well as interaction in online learning are badged as evidence of meeting core competencies.

Badging to 're-bundle' traditional courses
Contemporary teaching and learning is flexible and distributed with free access to information anytime, anywhere. Open online courses are easily accessible and badging is a mechanism to credit achievement.

Badging offers potential for traditional programmes to be designed in different ways. "Unbundling" a course into modules enables learners to "re-bundle" the modules most relevant to them so they can design their own learning pathway. Badging each module enables learners to either step through a prescribed course at their own pace or to mix modules.

Badging for online identity as a life-long learner
Learning is not just about what you know - it's increasingly becoming more about who you are and where you belong. Badging can be used to develop an identity as a life-long learner connected to a field of practice.

Displaying badges of capabilities as part of an online identity enables learners to present a more complete picture of themselves to various audiences, including potential employers, mentors, peers and collaborators. This online identity, showcased through badges in a personal or professional website, blog or portfolio enables networking with other professionals and learners.

Learners can develop a professional online portfolio with badged achievements. Portfolios showcase evidence of a professional identity as they document ongoing professional learning, continuing competence, and provide a vehicle to network with other professionals in practice.

Digital badging challenges traditional approaches and offers innovative alternatives to credit skills and knowledge outside the formal curriculum. For some learners, badging is motivating and fun, helps to track progress, validates soft skills, recognises that learning is flexible and open and that achievement occurs across contexts. Many say it's the next revolution in learning.