Open Badges, MOOCs and Recognising Lifelong Learning

I wanted to re-visit my blog post yesterday and add some thoughts on my experience with a MOOC and how I feel open badges could have fitted into that type of learning scenario. I also wanted to explore further how an open badge framework might support the range of ways in which we learn and if it could help develop desired skills for lifelong learning.

As a result, the original post was becoming too long so the previous post is now ‘What are Open Badges‘ (changed from ‘What Are Open Badges and How Could They Affect How We Learn?’)…

Connected Learning

The Mozilla Badge System Framework draws on the principles of ‘connected learning’ as defined by the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative:
“Connected learning’ is: 1) participatory, demanding active social engagement and contribution in knowledge communities and collectives; 2) learner-centered, empowering individuals of all ages to take ownership of their learning linked across a wide range of settings — in school, at home, and informally with friends and peers; 3) interest-driven, propelled by the energies of learners pursuing their unique passions and specialties; and 4) inclusive, drawing in people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life across generational, socioeconomic, and cultural boundaries.” (The Mozilla Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, 2011. Footnotes and References)
The concept of ‘Connected Learning’ seems to align with Siemen’s learning theory, Connectivism (2004) (Siemen’s Connectivism website contains resources relating to this). Connectivism, as a learning theory, I think helps to frame the opportunities and challenges of learning in an information rich, fast paced, digital age and puts forward the importance of our ability to tap into knowledge networks and to know where to find information. It points out that we learn in many different ways – socially with our peers, through formal and informal education, at work, in communities of practice and so on.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

This learning theory informs how MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), first delivered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, run. MOOCs are free, open, online courses that anyone, anywhere, can join. Much of the learning in a MOOC is generated in ways outlined in the principles of ‘Connected Learning’ – through people from a wide variety of backgrounds and with an interest in the subject of the MOOC, communicating and collaborating together through open systems. A MOOC might have a looser or more defined structure depending on who organizes it (the Mobile Learning MOOC I participated in last year apparently had a slightly more structured design to it than some have had (see blog posts on my experience of participating in a MOOC)). The contribution of ideas, knowledge and resources from hundreds of participants from various backgrounds creates a very rich, dynamic environment for learning and, as a result of the interest driven participation and volume of brains contributing to the learning, one which is highly likely to provide relevant and up-to-date thinking on the subject.

One of the key aspects of a MOOC is you get out of it what you choose to put in. The amount of information generated can also be quite overwhelming so advice is actually provided on how to manage and navigate that. I started the Mobile MOOC with ambitions to participate far more than I actually did during the period of the course (although I continued to learn after the end of the course by reviewing materials and discussion generated during it). There was an opportunity to gain a certificate of participation if I completed and participated in so many activities but other commitments and my failure to live up to my own expectations, meant I didn’t achieve this. That is not to say I didn’t learn a lot from the experience, both about the subject but also from participating in that kind of course environment for the first time, but I have nothing to show for any of that.

I think badges awarded for different levels of participation or perhaps for contribution to the wider knowledge of the learning community through blog posts, contributions to discussions etc could have worked really well here. I participated in the MOOC for my own personal development, to gain knowledge useful for my job and out of interest to experience a MOOC so I wasn’t really looking for a qualification from it. Looking back though, it would be useful to have some kind of recognition of my increased understanding of mobile learning but it could also have been a good motivator if there had been some tangible way of acknowledging if my peers had valued my contributions or spotted a particular attribute in me. It would also have been good to be able to separate the assessment for a badge from the timeline of the actual course, so that I could still for example, present evidence for assessment after the course had finished (I was still learning at that point by reviewing course materials), which could perhaps be judged by those who had participated and who still formed a loosely connected community through social media sites such as twitter, Google+ etc.

Developing and Recognising Lifelong Learning

MOOCs enable learners to gain knowledge that is current and informed by perspectives influenced by different experiences, cultures and backgrounds. I think this type of course lends itself to helping learners deal with the “shrinking half-life of knowledge”, (Siemens quoting Gonzalez, 2004) – to keep up with knowledge and ideas that are moving on more quickly now than they ever have before. However while theories for learning, such as Connectivism, help us to consider how we can keep up with the speed at which developments are occurring and knowledge needs updating, a framework for assessing and accrediting that fast learning or recognising a range of skills and attributes in a transferable and verifiable way, hasn’t really been established.
Current methods of accrediting learning can take months or years. It seems to me that accrediting interest driven learning in an agile way and incorporating review, assessment and recognition from peers would be a highly motivating scenario for adding to one’s skill set as well as encouraging active contribution to the knowledge of a wider community. I think it could contribute to forming the kind of self-directing learners and the development of skills in self-evaluation, (which could be developed through assessing others as a member of a community of practice but also through deciding work is at a level to present for assessment), that are desired attributes for lifelong learning, (Nicol, 2006Boud, 2011Carless, 2007Sadler, 1989).
Assessment needs to be able to match the pace of change that is happening now and enable new concepts and skills to be recognized and valued in time. Recognition of learning also has the power to motivate and engage. Could the Mozilla Badge System Framework, or similar models, demonstrate a means for assessment to encourage lifelong learning and keep up?


BOUD, D. 2012. Assessment Futures. Accessed 10 January 2012. Available online at:
CARLESS, D. 2007. Learning-oriented assessment: conceptual bases and practical implications. Innovations in Education and Teaching International. 44(1), 57–66. Accessed 10 January 2012. Available online at:
NICOL, D.J. and MACFARLANE-DICK, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218. Accessed 10 January 2012. Available online at:
Gonzalez, C., (2004). The Role of Blended Learning in the World of Technology. Accessed 10 January 2012. Available online at:
Sadler, D.R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18, 119-144. Accessed  10 January 2012. Available online at:
SIEMENS, G. 2004. Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Accessed 10 January 2012. Available online at:

3 thoughts on “Open Badges, MOOCs and Recognising Lifelong Learning

  1. Hi Grainne, We have created an open, non-profit calendar blog called ONE CHANGE A DAY
    which will feature 365 blog posts from around education and mooc worlds As thousands of people are choosing to learn through massive open online courses in and around the web, this blog will tell a story of how new ways of connecting with each other online are irreversibly changing education. It will also be published as a shared artifact of everyone’s experiences in print and digital calendar format at the end of the year.
    We would love to include your post
    with your kind permission. The calendar blog is using the licence. Would this cause any conflicts with your current publishing permissions?

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