Open Badges at CIPD

As CIPD increasingly experiments with free and low cost digital learning (see the forthcoming Future of Learning course – developed with Home Learning College, and our first MOOC: Working Digitally: Social Media and HR),  we’ve been thinking about how we incentivise and accredit those courses. Hence this week’s musings on Open Badges.

Analogue badges

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I loved badges. In fact one of the (few!) things I liked about being a brownie was all those badges sewn on to my uniform. (Although I never did get the Needleworker or the Hostess badges!) We children of the late 70s/early 80s were spoiled for badges: my Adidas tracksuit fairly bristled with various BAGA gymnastics badges and International STA swimming badges.

brownie badges

Digital badges

That analogue yearning to earn, collect and display badges for participation and achievement is no less acute in our digital lives. Particularly in the spheres of learning (for example Kahn Academy) and collaboration, and especially in order to ‘gamify’ online activities: the pre-eminent example being Microsoft Xbox’s 360 Gamescorer system. But digital badges appear all over the internet, two great examples are TripAdvisor (contributions) and FourSquare (check ins).

Khan Academy's digital badges

What’s wrong with digital badges?

Kahn Academy, Xbox’s Gamescorer, FourSquare and TripAdvisor are all examples of closed badging systems, meaning you can’t display badges you’ve earned within a particular platform elsewhere on the web. Digital badges just aren’t interoperable, they’re not transferable between systems.

Another issue with digital badges is their validity and credibility: how can an pixel-generated icon represent a ‘trusted credential’?

Open badges to the rescue

Open badges are similar to, but not to be confused with digital badges. In 2011 Mozilla (the chaps behind the FireFox internet browser) started work on an open source framework that supports web-based badges to solve the issues of validity and interoperability.


Valid and credible badges

Open badges aren’t just icons. Embedded within each badge image is a set of metadata that describes (amongst other things) how, where and when it was earned, who earned it, and who issued it.

What’s metadata you might ask?

Metadata is structured information that describes, explains, locates, or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use, or manage an information resource. Metadata is often called data about data or information about information. (Niso)

This wonderful illustration by Kyle Bowen neatly strips back the metadata that sits behind an open badge.

Image illustrating the metadata baked in to an open badge

The metadata can then be viewed by anyone wishing to check up on a person’s credentials, or just to find out more about the badge.

badge metadata displayed

Image courtesy of Open Badges 101 course

Interoperable badges

Mozilla’s open badge infrastructure is an open standard. Essentially this means open badges are:

  • Free and open: Mozilla Open Badges is not proprietary. It’s free software and an open technical standard any organization can use to create, issue and verify digital badges.
  • Transferable: Collect badges from multiple sources, online and off, into a single backpack. Then display your skills and achievements on social networking profiles, job sites, websites and more.
  • Stackable: Whether they’re issued by one organization or many, badges can build upon each other and be stacked to tell the full story of your skills and achievements.
    From Mozilla’s Open Badge Wiki.

On the issuer side of things Mozilla’s BadgeKit includes all the tools an organisation or an individual needs to create, design, assess and issue badges.

For the earners, their badges are can be stored anywhere, even your own computer, but it’s most practical to collect them up in a ‘backpack’. (Why not an adidas tracksuit I couldn’t say.)

Mozilla’s backpack is a repository for the collection, management and display of your badges. (And because it’s a federated, open ecosystem, Mozilla have made the source code for both BadgeKit and Backpack publicly available, so other providers can develop their own versions.)

From your backpack badges can be embedded and displayed across numerous platforms (including Moodle, Mahara and WordPress) and social media sites. (A little like videos can be embedded across different sites, but are hosted on YouTube.)

Badge thinking at CIPD

We’ve a way to go yet before we work out our (open) badge strategy at CIPD. Although we’ll be starting out by issuing badges for various activities on the Future of Learning course, for example for curating great content and writing insightful blogs and posts.

But some of the things we might issue badges for are:

  • Participation in CIPD’s community platform
  • Completion of a MOOC
  • Participation in a webinar
  • Speaking at a CIPD conference or event
  • Completion of CPD

We’re going to need to think carefully about our badge taxonomy and learning pathways, and things like how we might reward and integrate offline activities such as participation in programmes such as Steps Ahead Mentoring or volunteering at Branch events.

So this is all work in progress, and I’ll be blogging more about the Open Badges initiative at CIPD in the coming months.

And finally, a confession

I’m part way through the Think Out Loud club‘s excellent Open Badges 101 course. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to find out more about open badges.

With this blog, I’m hoping to earn my first digital badge with the 101 Course, to put it in my backpack, and display it on my LinkedIn page. Whaddyathink: should I get my badge?


Building a new website at CIPD

There’s a general understanding amongst colleagues that CIPD’s current website is no longer fit for purpose. That it no longer meets our users’ requirements, doesn’t deliver the kind of web experience we’ve all come to expect over the past couple of years. I think many of us would even go as far as to say that it falls well short of delivering an online experience that aligns to the new CIPD, its brand, its ambitions and its purpose.

It is, as my silver surfer mum, who’s a keen observer of web trends, dryly puts it, ‘like it’s 1999’. (She also wants to know what I’m going to do about it!)

Things have moved on a lot since the last big website project in 2011. Not least the rise of mobile. Earlier this year Google announced that the volume of search queries from mobile overtook that from desktop for the first time.

We expect to be able to access and interact with a site and its content across different screen sizes – it should be just as compelling and intuitive on a huge SmartTV as on a mobile phone screen (or even a Smart Watch). We expect to continue tasks across different devices. We expect websites to remember us and to deliver up content and offers that reflect our previous interactions.

The current site, the underlying architecture, but also the way we’ve constructed and governed it, means that we just can’t do any of those things presently. And as a consequence, we’re letting ourselves down and our community down.

To tackle that we are embarked on a programme of work to develop a new, modern website. And in December 2015 the website redesign project team met two early stage but major milestones that aim to address the issues on the current site and shift CIPD to a much more customer-centric online experience.

Joe Philips, our Web Content Strategist, presented a review of the content and structure of the current site and recommendations for the new site. And Holly Spice, Online Dvelopment Manager, presented recommendations for the Information Architecture for the new site – particularly the navigation structure.

The main findings of Joe’s content strategy audit and discovery work were that

  • content on the site is not ‘web-friendly’, generally not very engaging, not customer centric and not aligned to CIPD’s brand values and messaging
  • There is no governance of the content on the site; content is published to the site before evaluating how it addresses CIPD’s and our users’ needs
  • We have lots of inaccurate, outdated, even irrelevant content
  • Content is difficult to find,
  • Content is difficult to use and to understand – and by extension (in our customers’ minds) so is CIPD
  • The structure and organisation of the site is illogical and confusing
    • based on internal business divisions (sometimes jokingly referred to as ‘showing your corporate underwear’)* and a print-centric mindset
    • rather than being structured around users’ requirements

* If you don’t believe me, Joe shared the ‘Customer Focus Calculator’ to the team the other day. According to the calculator, is 73% self focused and 27% user focused. Sobering stuff. (Try it with your site. Go on! I dare you!)

Information Architects, according to Peter Morville, father of IA, ‘help our users to understand where they are, what they’ve found, what to expect and what’s around’, the organisation of and the orientation within a website. When it’s good it’s intuitive, when it’s bad it’s confusing and disorienting.

My colleague Holly Spice is leading the IA work. The current site suffers from a very flat navigation structure, choice overload in fact, rather than a navigation structure that reflects user requirements (and works better on smaller screens)

Holly’s recommendations are to

  • Create a site that’s broadly organised according to the needs of our key audiences
  • Build user- and task- specific sub-sections
  • Build an IA that facilitates customer and segment-specific messaging, calls to action and user journeys

The proposed new navigation structure addresses all of those recommendations and has been extensively tested across wide and representative customer group using optimal sort and TreeJack. Broadly speaking the recommendation is that we develop a site architecture that represents a person’s career/development journey.

  • For those early in their career there’s a ‘starting out’ section, housing all the resources they would need
  • For those at mid-level career there’s a ‘learn, develop and connect’ area, and a
  • Knowledge base’ – where users can go for practical advice and commentary on trends and insights
  • organised and delivered thematically, not by content type – because people don’t think ‘I need a ‘factsheet’ or I need an ‘FAQ’ but rather ‘I’m looking for something to help me with the recruitment process, what have you got for me?’
  • For HR and business leaders and the media there’s a fourth area of the site devoted to news, views and latest thinking – where we can present a strong and compelling voice on current and emerging issues

CIPD also have a large CRM (Customer Relationship Management) project underway. And once that CRM system is in place we’ll start to be able to deliver the kinds of personalised customer experiences we’re familiar with on other sites where content is served up according to users’ previous interactions. But for now we will personalise at a relatively straightforward level. Being a membership organisation, that personalization will focus around whether – or not – someone is logged in as a member. Membership options and content (how to become, or how to manage your membership) will then be tailored to whether you’re logged in or not.

The team had our first workshop with Building Blocks – our friendly Mancunian development partners – this week. And it was clear that the thinking that’s already been done on customer personas, the navigation structure, content strategy and user experience mapping dovetailed nicely with their approach and made the second stage of the workshop – choosing the components and templates we will need – pretty straightforward. And lots of fun! Christmas came early as we chose the wizards and heroes, montages and content cards we wanted for the new site.

We’ve a hard journey ahead of us, but as the year comes to a close, I’m confident that the team have the solid foundations in place to build a modern, customer-centric and compelling website.