5 Common Misconceptions about Open Badges

There is a lot of excitement about the potential benefits of Open Badges (and for good reason!). However, even in the academic literature surrounding this subject, there are several common misconceptions. Designing an effective Open Badge system is aided by a clear understanding of what Open Badges are and what they are not. This post presents and clarifies five of these misconceptions.

1. Open Badges are a form of assessment

This misconception and its dangers are summed up perfectly in David Wiley’s blog post, “Badges Are NOT Assessments”.

A badge is something you receive after you successfully complete an assessment. The actual assessment could take the form of generic multiple-choice questions, a performance assessment, a portfolio evaluation, a construct-aligned bundle of context-dependent items, or whatever. If the person successfully completes this assessment, then they receive the credential. Badges are not assessments; badges are credentials — badges are things we award to people who pass assessments.

Several articles on Open Badges make this claim in the title. The truth is, assessments are an entirely different beast than Open Badges. When designing an Open Badge system, one of the most important questions you need to answer is, “How will I assess that someone has qualified for this badge?”

2. Open Badges Represent Discrete Skills

Open Badges are typically described as “micro-credentials”. While this phrasing is accurate in most use cases, there is nothing about Open Badges that functionally limits them to a “micro” capacity. The scope of a badge is completely dependent on how the issuer designs it.

Credentials big and small… by @bryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND

A university could start issuing Open Badges in place of paper degrees today and nothing would change about what that credential represents. Doug Belshaw has shared some interesting thoughts on how Open Badges combined with the power of Blockchain technology could be used to represent these high-stake (non-micro) credentials.

3. Open Badges = Competency Based Learning

Competency Based Learning (CBL) is a well-researched educational strategy that allows students to proceed from one subject to the next as soon as they have demonstrated mastery of certain criteria. The embedded evidence within Open Badges makes them well suited for CBL strategies; however, Open Badges themselves can be issued for any number of reasons.

4. Open Badges Are Useful to Employers

Bryan Mathers artwork summarizes this one perfectly:

Chicken and Egg… by @bryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND

The truth is, the vast majority of employers have no idea what Open Badges are. The best way to ensure the badges you create are valuable to any stakeholder is to include that stakeholder in the badge design process. Much has been said regarding the benefits Open Badges will bring to the employment and hiring process. At this point, however, most of these claims are theoretical.

5. Open Badges Increase Learners’ Motivation

Motivation is complex. Critics of Open Badges raise this point frequently. For example, an abundance of research indicates that while incentives and rewards enhance a learner’s “extrinsic” motivation, they do so at the expense of the learner’s “intrinsic” motivation.

If this topic interests you (and you have 45 minutes), I recommend watching the following debate between Alfie Kohn and Daniel Hickey. The key takeaway here is that motivation is complex.


Open Badges have the potential to revolutionize how we recognize accomplishments and skills. By acknowledging these misconceptions, I hope to make it clear that any badge system must be intentionally designed to bring the greatest benefits to those involved.

Let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter at @Kyle_Clements1.