Making learning accessible with Open Badges

The AEMA project will build a trust network for and with learners with disabilities. Open Badges can contribute to increasing participation in adult learning through recognising the talents of people with disabilities and assessing the accessibility of providers as well as credentials of experts.

Empowering people with disabilities by recognising their talents

The original idea of Open Badges, facilitating the recognition of informal learning, fully applies to people with disabilities. Being disabled requires learning many things that are not taught in schools, such as life skills, self-advocacy, negotiating pathways, coping with challenges, resilience and much more.

Certain disabilities can even be understood as the source of special abilities, e.g. concentrating on a task for people on the autism spectrum or advance planning, communicating and problem solving for wheelchair users. Making this learning visible with Open Badges could be highly beneficial to society.

Open Badges go beyond recognizing skills

Open Badges can take into account a range of other relevant information such as individual and collective achievements, goals and values. Moreover, what defines a person is not just her past but also her aspirations, her medium and long term commitments and values. Being able to project oneself into the future is a very useful competency valued by certain employers.

Open Badges have a great potential to make people with disabilities understand how much they can contribute to the society they are living in. The idea of designing an Open Badge ecosystem is a process that should be done with the learners, rather than just for them. In other words, instead of patronizing learners – an approach that is still too common – it empowers them.

Promoting accessibility: the AEMA project

If transport maps can provide information relative to accessibility for people with mobility issues and if sales desks can provide information on the presence of hearing loops, then why not equip learning providers with the means to state their level of accessibility to people with disabilities and learners with special needs?

To make it possible AEMA will work with:

• Adult Learning Providers — AEMA will deliver Open Badges to organisations committed to accessibility. Using the Accessibility Maturity Matrix adult learning providers will receive different Open Badges: one after performing a self assessment, another one after an external review of the self-assessment and yet another one after demonstration of effective improvement over a period of time to an external reviewer.

• Accessibility Experts — AEMA will provide the means for accessibility experts to publicise a portfolio of their achievements in their field of expertise (range of disabilities, technologies, methods and tools) and to collect credentials from their clients.

Eventually, the AEMA portal will facilitate the identification of experts by learning providers and conversely. Through the endorsement mechanism provided by Open Badges, adult learners will have the opportunity to recognise the efforts towards accessibility of adult education providers, while adult education providers will be able to see the achievements of experts supporting their efforts towards accessibility.

By using Open Badges, the AEMA will contribute to building a trust network between adult learning providers, accessibility experts and adult learners with disabilities.

What are Open Badges?

Open Badges were born in 2011 out of the need to improve the recognition of informal learning. Initially supported by the Mozilla Foundation and the Mac Arthur Foundation, the initiative led to the creation of an Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI), a trustworthy space where Open Badges could be issued and consumed with confidence.

Initially thought of as a means to “recognise and verify learning”, Open Badges rapidly became a “symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, quality or interest”. In reality, Open Badges are now understood as open and digital credentials.

Open Badges look like simple pictures filled in with metadata indicating the issuer, the earner, the criteria for awarding and the evidence. In principle, anybody should be able to issue and receive Open Badges. For that one needs a tool to issue Open badges (there are several of them) and a place to store the badges, once earned (originally the Mozilla Backpack and now other platforms such as the Open Badge Passport).

One of the recurrent questions relative to Open Badges is: can you trust them? The answer is yes, as long as you trust the issuer. If you trust the issuer, then you might assume that the information recorded in the badge is trustworthy.

Looking at Open Badges as trust statements provides an interesting perspective: why not use them to create networks of trust, i.e. a network where each node is connected to other nodes through trust links. The combination of chains of trust lead to the creation of networks of trust that the foundations on which we are able to infer the trustworthiness of those who have earned badges as well as those who have issued them, both individuals and organisations.