Note: The information provided here refers to past Digital Media and Learning Competitions, and is provided for archival and reference purposes only. If you are seeking the current Digital Media and Learning Competition, please navigate to

The Badges Competition is now closed. Click here to view the winners.


Learning can happen anytime, anyplace, at any age.

Learning happens in K-12 and college classrooms, adult education and in professional development programs. Learning also happens in an array of other online and in-person environments: in afterschool programs and online tutorials, through mentoring, playing games, interacting with peers in person and in social networks, with smart phone apps, in volunteer workshops, at sports camps, during military training, and in countless other ways and other places.


A badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in any of these learning environments. Badges can support learning, validate education, help build reputation, and confirm the acquisition of knowledge. They can signal traditional academic attainment or the acquisition of skills such collaboration, teamwork, leadership, and other 21st century skills.

Badges are used successfully in games, social network sites, and interest-driven programs to set goals, represent achievements and communicate success. A digital badge is an online record of achievements, the work required, and information about the organization, individual or other entity that issued the badge. Badges make the accomplishments and experiences of individuals, in online and offline spaces, visible to anyone and everyone, including potential employers, teachers, and peer communities.

In addition to representing a wide range of skills, competencies, and achievements, badges can play a critical role in supporting participation in a community, encouraging broader learning goals, and enabling identity and reputation building. For a learner, a sequence of badges can be a path to gaining expertise and new competencies. Badges can capture and display that path, providing information about, and visualizations of, needed skills and competencies. They can acknowledge achievement, and encourage collaboration and teamwork.  Finally, badges can foster kinship and mentorship, encourage persistence, and provide access to ever-higher levels of challenge and reward.  

Digital Media and Learning Competition

The Fourth Digital Media and Learning Competition focuses on building digital badges for lifelong learning. The Competition is designed to encourage individuals and organizations to create badges – digital tools that support, identify, recognize, measure, and account for new skills, competencies, knowledge, and achievements for 21st century learners regardless of where and when learning takes place.

The success of badges as an alternative path to accreditation and credentialing for learners relies on a significant “ecosystem” of badge issuers, badge seekers, and badge displayers. The Competition aims to spur the development of that ecosystem through the creation of high quality, valuable individual badges and sets of badges. The Mozilla Foundation, with support from the MacArthur Foundation, is building an Open Badge Infrastructure to enable the interoperability and collection of badges. The infrastructure will support badges from any issuer across the Internet. It will allow learners to collect, carry, and display their badges across websites and experiences and from youth through adulthood. All badges and sets of badges developed through the Competition will be designed to plug into the Mozilla infrastructure—which will contribute, in turn, to the development of the larger badge ecosystem. In this ecosystem, each digital badge or collection of badges can inspire learning and translate “anytime, anyplace, any age” learning into a powerful tool for getting jobs, finding communities of interest, and demonstrating skills, competencies and achievements. For more on the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure, please see

An Open Conversation about Badges

As part of the Competition, HASTAC will also host a year-long open conversation about possible standards and protocols for a credible, coherent badge ecosystem. Throughout the year, open meetings will be convened, research conducted, and online conversations hosted to discuss topics related to the functioning of a badge ecosystem. Topics will include the validation and credibility of badges, as well as the elements of and best practices for creating badges.

Types of Badges

A typology of badges does not yet exist, nor does an agreed-on list of their elements. Several kinds of badges, however, have begun to emerge.

  1. Training badges or leveling systems. These badges and systems are often skill-based, have clear criteria for award, which often involve an assessment or proof of skill to achieve, assume multiple levels of advancement along a trajectory, and provide different resources, materials and support for learning at each level of expertise. These badges may expire and require additional assessments to update and maintain the achieved levels. Examples include systems used in scuba diving certification and first aid training.
  2. Dynamic dossier systems. These systems track ongoing performance linked to sets of merits and achievements. They are first and foremost computationally based, data-rich systems that are updated in an ongoing fashion. They often provide rich visualizations, in the form of dashboards, of progress—updating both the individual and the community of interest. This is the model many digital games use, both in a single game and across a set of games. An example is Giant Bomb, which is a game wiki and gamer community website; it creates player dossiers by visually combining achievement data from a number of gaming platforms. Achievements are broken down by game, used to rank players against the average player's achievements and aggregated to reveal the frequency or rarity of achievement within the community of interest. Giant Bomb's dossier system is essentially a visual achievement catalog for its members to see achievements from a different perspective. Examples also include sites like TopCoder and stackoverflow.
  3. Social system badges. These are badges that are designed to support community interaction. The emphasis within these systems is on peer connection, social signaling, and reinforcement of community values. Examples include Habbo, foursquare, and Gowalla.
  4. Ranking badge systems. There are badge-like systems that are used in sports to determine access, identity, and reputation in an area of expertise. Examples include tennis, swimming and chess.

Badge Characteristics

Badges and sets of badges might include different characteristics. Considering answers to the following illustrative questions may help in organizing content or activities for, and in the design of, badges and sets of badges.
  1. Content.  What content will be the central domain of the badge?
  2. Skills. What skills will be identified and tracked?
  3. Discrete vs. dynamic. Will the badge represent a discrete set of skills, competencies or activities (e.g., training and ranking badges) or will it track ongoing performance (e.g., dossier systems)?
  4. Scarcity and granularity. How often will achievements or actions be tracked and represented, and how specific will the merits or achievements be that are recognized?
  5. Qualifications. What qualifications will the badge convey? What prerequisites are required for individual badges or groups of badges? Are badges linked or independent of other badges in a system?
  6. Role and identity. What roles or identities will be represented by the badge? How does a badge allow individuals to take on roles or build identity?
  7. Level. Will there be levels or hierarchies of badges and achievements? How will the badge track and represent increasing levels of expertise?
  8. Qualifications. What qualifications will the badge convey? What prerequisites are required for individual badges or groups of badges? Are badges linked or independent of other badges in a system?
  9. Opportunities and privileges. Will the badge confer opportunities and privileges as it is earned? When the final badge in a series is earned, what new opportunity does it create?
  10. Performance. Will there be a performance rating? How will it be assessed? Will there be peer rating? How will it be supported?
  11. Portability. Will the badge exist permanently? Will it expire and/or will there be an opportunity to update or renew the badge?
  12. Design. What does the badge look like? What information is presented on the badge versus behind the badge in the metadata? What branding elements are included on the badge?
  13. Transparency. How do those not familiar with the badge or the community in which it was earned view or understand what it represents or signifies? How is achievement made visible and what is the process by which the badge is earned or awarded?
  14. Protection. How does the design of the badge ensure that it cannot be “gamed?” The goal of any badge system should not be the earning of badges, but rather learning. Poorly designed badges encourage users to seek badges without attention to what they signify about learning and not just about status, reputation, or opportunity.
  15. Endorsement. Does the badge need to be endorsed by a third party to carry more value? Who might that third party be and what criteria would they require to endorse the badge?
  16. Issuing. How will the issuing web site deliver assessments and award badges? Will learners manage badges locally, or only off site using the Open Badge Infrastructure?
  17. Interoperability. How does this badge fit into the broader ecosystem? Is the badge being issued in a manner that meets the specifications for the Open Badge Infrastructure?

These characteristics and related questions are intended to help build a common language and understanding among those who seek to collaborate in building badges. Much will be learned in the next year, as the types of badges and their elements are developed further.