Badge pathways

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Badge pathways are an evolving concept that can be defined as digital solutions that enable individuals to use digital badges to move towards a goal or opportunity, or that can be used as an 'infographic' to document an individual's pathway towards a certain goal, with badges.

Pave your pathway

Discover Open Badges

Discover Open Badges was the first project to research the concept of Open Badge based pathways[1] [2] [3] [4]. Run by Mozilla, the project took place in 2013-2014 and received funding from the Gates Foundation to explore tools, processes and potential specifications for badge-based pathways to employment. The project's research and development was tailored for a target audience of underprivileged youth of secondary school age, focusing on how badge-based pathways could connect and enhance this demographic's access to employment opportunities[5] [6]. The outputs from the project are listed on Github mozilla / openbadges-discovery[4].

The project developed:

  • A Minimal Viable Product (MVP) prototype digital tool to enable employers to set out competency based pathways to jobs in their industry and learners to embark upon those pathways using badges to demonstrate the required competencies. The MVP used a mobile first approach[1]
  • Processes and structural solutions to allow the evidencing of certified skills, applied skills, as well as more intangible skills such as character attributes like curiosity and agency
  • Sample badges and open assessment criteria to evidence skills required to complete badge-based pathways[7]
  • Additionally the project conducted research on the factors affecting uptake of employment and other positive life opportunities by youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, and how badge-based pathway interventions could be developed in order to increase engagement with these[8]

Project team

The project team was formed of members of the Open Badges team at Mozilla (that defined the original Open Badges standard) with additional contractors. The project was managed using Agile methodology, with sprints, iterative development and full-team discussion and decision making. Project management: Chloe Varelidi (Project Lead), An-Me Chung, Erin Knight, Sunny Lee. Community coordination: Jade Forestor. User Research: Emily Goligoski. Technical development: Mike Larsson, Chris McAvoy, with additional input by Brian Brennan, Kerri Lemoie and JP Camara. UI design: Sander Giesing. Pathways, assessment and discovery development: Carla Casilli, Lucas Blair and Gráinne Hamilton.

Methodology for defining competency based pathways

The project chose three sectors to research and develop pathway approaches with: Tech; Healthcare; and Hospitality. Employees in these industries were interviewed and the skills and attributes that had led them to their jobs were charted in terms of 'badgeable moments'. The employers were also interviewed to check their requirements for these jobs, and to guage alignment with their employees’ skills. Lucas Blair documents the process employed for charting people's pathways in his blog post Tell Us Your Story[9]. Blair comments that most interviewees believed their pathways to be unique and few had been clear about the direction of their career when starting out. However, the interviews surfaced some patterns in how people describe their skill stories, which were used as a basis for developing wireframes of pathway types[10].

Pathway types

The following types of pathways were identified through employee interviews:

  • Linear - These pathways are the easiest to follow. They move sequentially through time
  • Tiered - The tiers are often the “natural stopping points” from the linear pathway. They are like chapters in a story (e.g. middle school, high school, college, first job, second job)
  • Freeform - Badges floating in space in no particular order
  • Cluster - Clusters are a way to add some structure to freeform pathways. Think of a cluster as a way to add gravity to the freeform badges that float into space by grouping badges that share a theme. For example someone saying “These are my leadership skills” or “This area is for communication skills”
  • Hybrid - A combination of some of the pathway types above[9]
Pathway types, linear, freeform, tiered, cluster

Interviewees in many of the early conversations listed jobs, projects, certified and applied skills in order (Linear and Tiered) then at the end listed attributes (Clusters)[9].

Developing competency based pathways templates

The structure of the pathways as described by employees, were mapped against the interviews with employers to deduce if the pathway types could be used as a basis for pathway templates. These templates would be used by employers to specify competency pathways to a given job, in the prototype pathways tool.


Personas were developed based on the interviews with employees, to use as case studies of use for the pathways in the MVP[11].

Metaphors and structures

Discussions were held around the metaphorical and structural opportunities of maps[12], role playing games[3], creating a puzzle[2], stacking badges, moving up or down pathways, moving sideways, clustering badges, moving into fractal spaces or viewing and creating constellations of badges[13]. Project time and funding constraints restricted the direction of travel for pathways in the MVP to moving up, down and sideways.

Non-prescriptive and highly customizable experiences

An underlying priority for the project was that pathways be non-prescriptive and highly customizable experiences, malleable and playful. Chloe Varelidi commented that learners should be encouraged "to adapt an explorer mindset and think creatively about their future. This playful approach was greatly inspired by Patrick Bateson & Paul Martin, who write in their book, Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation[14], “Play enables the  individual to discover new approaches to dealing with the world.“"[12][3]

Skill trees

A challenge that was set for the project was to look beyond the hard skills associated with certain jobs, and to consider cross career and character attributes required for certain roles as well as those skills that are often referred to as soft, employability or additional skills that have been identified as lacking by employer groups.

To help employers map out the wider range of skills required to gain a particular job, or the skills required for a job family, the project considered metaphors such as that of a tree[5]. The first graphic shows how the tree metaphor could be used to consider underpinning skills (roots), core skills (trunk), specialisms (branches), and attribute clusters (fruit) to help define important attributes for a specific role. The Tech Tree image shows how the tree metaphor could be used to define skills for a job family[7].


Defining and completing a pathway

Taking into consideration the patterns surfaced through interviews with employees, and requirements for a range of cross-career, specific and underpinning skills identified by employers, the proposed base structure and input elements for the MVP were a grid, defined input types, arrows and information tags[15][10].

To create and issue a pathway: Pathway issuers identify spots on a grid where they would like a badge placed, and specify the required competency. Issuers can mark spots as core, blank elective, and directed elective, place arrows to identify prerequisites and place (i) information tags on items.

Badge earners complete pathways by placing badges that meet the competency requirements into the grid. Earners can also place badges in the empty spaces in the grid and can tag spots with the information tag.

Input type Description
Core input
Core badges

A grid space that designates a spot where a badge specified by the pathway issuer must be placed

Elective input
Blank elective

A grid space that designates a spot where a badge of the earner’s choosing must be placed

Directed elective input
Directed elective

A grid space that designates a spot where a badge of the earner's choosing must be placed. The badge must meet a required badge type (e.g. event participation, extracurricular activity, skill, knowledge, habit, peer evaluation, specific project). This input type was not included in the final MVP as the team questioned if this level of detail was necessary, and it was not possible to include in the prototype within the parameters of the project

Freespace input
Free spaces

Earners can place badges freely in open spaces on the grid that contain no markers

Info input
Information tags

Can be tagged to spaces or badges. Information can be a tip/reminder, a message from the pathway issuer, a message from another user, or some contextual narrative provided by the badge earner

Identifying prerequisites

Badges in a tier can be completed in any order unless they are linked by an arrow. An arrow connecting two badges denotes a prerequisite

Tiers / Milestones

Represent stages in a pathway.

Earners proceed to an employment opportunity, such as an interview or job placement, when they have filled all badge spots marked by the pathway issuer

UX wireframes for input types

Examples of creating pathways in the MVP[10].


Demonstrating character attributes - beyond single badges

Some of the character attributes listed by employers presented the project with the challenge of how to enable earners to demonstrate certain character attributes that are less tangible in nature and may not lend themselves to being evidenced using a single badge. For example, how does one demonstrate curiosity (a key attribute identified by Mozilla HR) or agency (a key attribute identified by one of the healthcare employers)? With examples such as these, the project considered options that went beyond single badges. With curiosity, for example, clusters of badges showing a wide range of life experiences and hobbies could be used to show a curious nature (this trait of having many, varied interests, was common across all of the Mozilla employees that were interviewed). For agency, testimony and examples could be provided by the earner, alongside endorsements from peers, service users or employers of the individual's ability to use agency to resolve challenging situations[5].

Competency based pathway templates

Example of a completed pathway

In the following image, on the left is an example of an issuer pathway developed by Mozilla. On the right is an example of the same pathway completed by Nick, with corresponding details, documenting his 'story'[7].


Badge details (top to bottom / left to right):

Highschool College
E- Math (M)

E+ - Senior project

E- Mechanical engineering (E)

C- HTML and CSS (WL 2.1.4)

E- Collaboration

C- Open source library (T) (WL 2.2.1, 3.4.4)

E- Prototyping

C- High School Graduation

E- MP3 library (T)

E+ - Github user (T) (WL 3.4.4)

E- Esoteric language badge (Erlang) (T)

C- CS major

E- Philosophy formal logic (T)

C- Completed two internships

C- Undergrad

i - Specialization - Developer tools engineer

Nick’s story:

Nick was not into programming in high school but he did teach himself HTML and CCS to make websites. He was more interested in mechanical engineering and math. He created a senior project for engineering where he and his teammates tried to find a better way to get frost off car windows. The project showed off his collaboration and prototyping skills. In college he took CS101 and really liked it. He worked on his own open source projects like a library for real time collaborative editing and organizing MP3s. Every project he did was on GitHub with open source license. He likes working with esoteric languages like ERLANG. He also took a formal logic philosophy course which he thinks was very helpful. After internships at Mozilla he took a full time job where he specialized as a developer tools engineer.

Pathway tags: Holland Code: Doer (Realistic); STEAM: Technology

UI design

Example of the UI design for adding badges to a pathway on the MVP[16][17].

Example of the UI for adding badges to a pathway on the MVP

Pathways tool MVP

The following animated gif[18] provides an overview of the MVP. It shows how users could:

  • Scroll through other people's pathways to see how they had gained a particular job
  • Pledge to create their own pathway based on an existing template or create a new pathway of their own
  • Fill a pathway with their own badges, goal badges (those they have not taken yet but wish to, to progress along the pathway) and add notes to provide a narrative around the pathway
  • Like other badges on the platform and save them to take themselves
  • Search for badges that matched their interests
  • Use keyword tags to search for badges collated under over-arching categories

Discover Open Badges MVP demonstration

A completed pathway can be seen in more detail in the following image. It includes a sample of badges taken from the pathway of Brian, a Mozilla Senior Engineer (also the chief architect for the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI)). It shows Brian's badges for programming, contributing to open source developments, creative writing, being a DJ and for philosophy (Deep Thoughts badge), and demonstrates Brian's mix of technical, creative and strategic thinking skills[16][8].

Sample pathway on prototype tool

Project research into supporting opportunity discovery by youth from disadvantaged backgrounds

A report prepared by the Parthenon Group to inform the project, highlighted the need for increased support to help young people make decisions about their future careers, and pointed out that ‘students don’t know, what they don’t know’. It indicated that young people can struggle to define their strengths and skills but also that their awareness of a range of careers can be restricted due to a mix of social and economic factors. Without awareness of what is possible, or their own ability to embark upon certain career pathways, young people and employers can miss opportunities to get the right people into the right jobs.

Research conducted by the project team, focused on how to support disadvantaged youth broaden their career aspriations, how to help them identify their skills, and how to encourage motivation to stay the course on a pathway towards a career goal. By understanding aspiration, predisposition and the possibility of drop-out, support and interventions could be targetted at individuals to help them get started, move from negative expectation (feared self) to aspiration (hoped for self), and progress along a pathway[6].

Some of the research that influenced the project is outlined below.

Broadening career aspriations

Mandy Savitz-Romer and Suzanne Bouffard (Ready, Willing and Able)[19] comment that many young people make job choices based on what they see their peers or family doing and that peers can have a particularly influential role to play in early job choices in particular. Referencing a number of case studies, they show youth making job decisions based on things like a friend getting them a job at the same company, choosing to work in a particular location because it is near their peers, or not pursuing a particular career because none of their family members or peers have done so.

Savitz-Romer and Bouffard also argue the importance of balancing aspiration with expectation. Focusing on aspirations to go to college, they comment that research has shown that just because someone wishes to go to college, doesn’t mean they expect they can do so. Expectations (based on aspects of identity formed from a range of factors, including social and economic, e.g. peer group behaviours and family history), that don’t support the aspirations, can result in the belief that the individual is not able to attain what they aspire to.

Kassie Freeman (African Americans and College Choice)[20] has built on this idea in her work investigating aspiration and predisposition to college-going among African American youth. She has categorised these as: Knowers (plan to and believe they will go to college); Seekers (believe they could go to college); Dreamers (aspire to go to college but don’t think they can). Understanding what category an individual using the pathways tool would fall into, could aid with targetting relevant support mechanisms to help them widen their job or career aspirations and motivation to try something new.

Motivation to start and complete a pathway

The project was also interested in how to support resilience in pursuing a pathway. Psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan[21] argue that intrinsic motivation (doing something because it is enjoyed) and internalised regulation (e.g. achieving good grades to broaden enjoyable career options (extrinsic motivation that is internalized)) is more likely to result in someone staying the course, than extrinsic motivation (doing something purely to gain an external reward such as money or prestige). Their research suggests that individuals are more likely to work hard and overcome obstacles (such as fear of the unknown) for something they enjoy doing.

In terms of envisaging who or what we might be in the future, Hazel Rose Markus and Paula Nurius[22] refer to the concept of 'possible selves'. Possible selves give us something to aspire to but can also include the idea of a 'feared self', e.g. ending up in low paid work, doing a job we don't enjoy etc. The feared self can be helpful in providing impetus for embarking on something new or challenging, and working towards an aspiration.

Psychologist Carol Dweck's book MindSet[23], also had an influence on the project. Dweck describes the idea of a “growth mindset” in which intelligence and talent are malleable factors, and comments that cultivating a growth mindset helps individuals to develop a love of learning and resilience in pursuit of goals.

Identifying skills

As a result of the research showing the importance of intrinsic motivation / internalised regulation for staying the course, and that support is needed to help individuals broaden their career aspirations, the project explored using a quiz to identify the career aspirations and expectations of users. Research into career guidance sites revealed that some use Holland Codes[24] to surface overarching categories to define the types of job activities people enjoy. Holland Codes link career choices to personality types and are used by the O*Net (US Department of Labour/Employment and Training Administration’s Occupational Information Network database) among many others. Holland Codes categorise types of activity into six areas:

1.    Doers (Realistic)

2.    Thinkers (Investigative)

3.    Creators (Artistic)

4.    Helpers (Social)

5.    Persuaders (Enterprising)

6.    Organisers (Conventional)

The project investigated a quiz format using Holland Code based questions at the start to gauge types of career or job families people might enjoy. These were followed by questions to reveal character attributes, then by badges presented for selection, based on answers to the previous questions. The quiz answers would be used to present some relevant pathways to the individual, based on what they enjoy and their character traits.

1.    Who do you want to be? - selections could be made from the six Holland Codes

2.    Who are you? - a range of attributes could be selected

3.    What do your friends think you are good at? Bonus if you can find a friend to complete this section (presented with a range of badges to choose from)

Pathways and badges would be tagged with relevant Holland Codes, attributes and STEAM categories (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths), and after the initial questions, the individual would be presented with three career pathways that aligned with the skills, attributes and likes they chose during the quiz[5]. Ultimately, the use of Holland Codes proved challenging as many of the employee stories revealed experience and enjoyment of multiple work activity areas, making the Holland Codes difficult to use as differentiators to provide pathway recommendations. This area was regarded as one that would benefit from further research.

Platforms using badge pathways

The badge-based pathways concept has been integrated into digital platforms, including:


Concentric Sky has proposed a new open standard called Open Pathways.[25]

Badgr Pathways
Open Pathways as implemented in Badgr

With Open Pathways, badges from any Open Badges compliant platform can be stacked together in alignment with competency frameworks. This enables a pathway to become more than just an infographic - instead becoming a fully portable data object in and of itself.

Learners have an easy-to-understand map view of where they are in a curriculum. And just like they can share badges, learners can share their progress along a pathway - including the steps that they have not yet completed. This allows a learner to share the directionality of their journey, not simply the credentials they have already earned.

Open Pathways can be stacked together without limit, allowing the creation of learning pathways which span institutional and organizational contexts. Learner progress through an Open Pathway can be output as a standards compliant JSON transcript that details the learner’s journey through the competency framework.

Cities of Learning UK

Cities of Learning (CofL) is a new place-based approach to enhancing lifelong learning through digitally connecting individuals to learning, employment and civic opportunities within a defined locality[26]. Originating in the US, the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and Digitalme (supported by FETL, City & Guilds and Ufi) brought the concept to the UK in 2017 and worked with three cities to develop blueprints, skills spines and a digital platform prototype to demonstrate how the CofL model could enrich the lives and prospects of city inhabitants, through connecting learning pathways to city-wide opportunities.

The Cities of Learning UK digital platform demonstrators were developed by Digitalme and are based on the concept of badge-based learning pathways. The stated aim for a fully-functioning platform is that it will allow a range of city stakeholders to issue badges that can be collated and linked to opportunities, enabling individuals to discover, take badges and follow pathways to opportunities across the city.



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  2. 2.0 2.1 [2]Open Badges. (2014, March 13). Community Call - Open Badges [Blog post]. Open Badges Blog.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 [3]Kane, H. (2014, June 17). Discover a career you’ll love and map the skills you need with #MozillaDiscover. [Blog post]. Mozilla.
  4. 4.0 4.1 [4]Larsson, M. (2014, February 11). mozilla / openbadges-discovery. Retrieved from Github.
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  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Blair, L., Hamilton, G. (2014, March 25). Final pathways. Project document.
  8. 8.0 8.1 [7]Hamilton, G. (2016, March 16). Building skills-awareness, resilience and pathways to employment using Open Badges. [Blog post].
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 [8]Blair, L (2014, March 26) Tell us your story [Blog post]. Open Badges Blog.
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  14. [13]Bateson P., Martin P. (2013). Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation. Cambridge University Press.
  15. Blair, L. (2014, January 18). Pathways art. Project document.
  16. 16.0 16.1 [14]Giesing, S. (2014, April 18). Discovery Pathway UI Design. Github mozilla / openbadges-discovery
  17. [15]Giesing, S. (2014). openbadges-discovery pathways look&feel. [Pinterest page].
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  20. [18]Freeman, K. (2004). African Americans and College Choice. Suny Press.
  21. [19]Ryan, R., Deci, E. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 54–67 (2000)
  22. [20]Rose Markus, H., Nurius, P. (1986). Possible Selves. American Psychologist. 41. 954-969.
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  24. Holland, J. (1973). Making vocational choices: a theory of careers. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
  25. [22] Skipper, W. (2018, April 20). Introducing Open Pathways. [Blog post]. Concentric Sky.
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  28. [25]Hamilton, G. (2017, December 8). Cities of Learning in the UK: a place-based approach to enhancing lifelong learning and access to enrichment opportunities. Pascal International Observatory.