Badge Taxonomy – further thoughts

In a post earlier this year I voiced some thoughts on a taxonomy for open badges. In this entry I proposed that open badges needed some categorization to maintain their utility and integrity. To this end I suggested that badges be classified according to genera and species (to steal terms for biology and maintain the taxonomical feel)
I proposed dividing badges into badges based on a competency and those not based on a measurable competency.

Within the non-competency badges we have two species:

  • Encouragement badges are awarded like good work stamps to encourage (mainly) young learners.
  • Social badges are used like friendship cards, or for fun.

Competency based badges divide into three species:

  • Achievement badges are issued to credential demonstration of a specific skill or achievement. An achievement badge might be issued for running 100m in 10 seconds, for being elected class captain etc. The achievement is defined in the badge and evidences attached.
  • Skill badges are issued to credential expertise in an area. They include a series of criteria that need to be met. For example they might be issued to staff who demonstrate effective integration of an ICT package into their teaching. Skill badges differ from achievement badges in that they have more complex criteria and do not apply to a single achievement or event.
  • Mission badges are used where a person (usually a student) has embarked on a series of activities with the aim of achieving a badge. These missions are often cross curricular and involve the development of a skill followed by a culminating achievement. Mission badges occupy the area between skill and achievement badges. Not surprisingly a mission badge might be issued as the culmination of a group of related skill and achievement badges.

Flavio Escribano has since extended this concept of badge taxonomy , including my nascent thoughts and those of Charla Long at Lipscomb University, and developed a more robust classification for badges.

Long describes an excellent badge system implemented at Lipscomb University. They have 7 badges categories further divided into 41 competencies, each measured at 4 levels of achievement, giving rise to 164 badges. The 41 competencies are identified workforce skills and my impression is that the badge ecosystem at Lipscomb is designed to map college education to the  requirements of employers with more granularity than the traditional credentials.

Escribano introduces the idea of the BadgeRank and the BadgeScore. The BadgeRank is a number based on the rank of the badge developed from the rank of the institution, the position of the badge in the institutional ecosystem, the teacher etc. The BadgeScore is based on the BadgeRank, but also takes into account the context in which it will be used. In other words the BadgeScore considers things such as the relevance of a badge to an employer or the desired career path of the earner.

Extending and generalizing the system at Lipscomb, Escribano proposes that badges be categorized according to fields, competencies and categories:

As you can see from this graphic the system proposed also provides for badges to credential a mix of these parameters to varying degrees.

So in summary, a huge amount of work has gone into improved ways to categorize and improve the robustness of digital badges.

My thoughts

As you will gather from the title my objective with this post is not to simply provide an overview of developments in badge taxonomy, but to document how my thinking has developed in response to this work.

I will start by saying that I am very impressed by the work of Long, Escribano and others. It is not my intention to present a critique of their work. These are merely my thoughts in response.

Taxonomy vs. Ecosystem

In my reading it looks to me as if there is some confusion around these terms. I will go out on a limb and say that they are not synonymous and I would define them as follows:


A way of classifying different types of badges into groups. These groups are broad and refer to the general characteristics of the badges. I have suggested taxonomical groups as Skill badges, Achievement badges, etc. Taxonomic classification would be a property of all badges.


A way of defining the interrelationship between badges. How they span the curriculum/competencies and the levels of competence from novice to mastery. In biology, ecology only has meaning in the context of an ecosystem. Similarly, a badge ecology only makes since within an institution or educational system.

The systems proposed by Long and Escribano are very good, but I think that much of what they describe is ecology rather than taxonomy. As such they would be difficult to apply to the secondary school curriculum I follow.

Having said that I believe that badge ecology is a much more interesting problem than taxonomy. Sample ecologys need to be developed and shared so that institutions can easily develop their own robust ecology.

BageRank and BadgeScore

This is a powerful idea. I have written previously about the need to make badges comparable, but this is the first attempt I have seen to quantify badges for comparison across institutions. Having said that, it seems to me that the BadgeRank is quantifying information which is largely already in the metadata. When someone presents a badge I will be able to look at the issuing institution, the competencies and the level of competence in the metadata and make a good assessment of the value of the badge (essentially the BadgeScore). If I am presented with a number I will not know what to make of it without a lot of interpretive documentation anyway.

As a secondary school teacher I am not going to be very interested in the BadgeRank and BadgeScore, but colleges and universities are much more preoccupied with these things.


I have written before that achievement badges are of limited use educationally. Achievement badges allow students to mark milestones, but they don’t support the continued development of skills. In order for students to recognize achievement and also be guided forward through stages in skill development there needs to be a series of levels of skill badges built into the badge ecology.


I am excited by the amount of thought going into open badge development. Some powerful and sophisticated ideas are coming forward, particularly in relation to badge ecology. The work I have discussed here typifies that.

My final observation is that most of this work, for various reasons, is being lead by colleges and universities. Other institutions are deploying badges, but usually (based on my reading) achievement badges with little or no ecological context. I agree that badge ecology is vital, but it might be a pity to find growth and development of badge ecology dominated by higher education institutions.


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