Digital badges are a popular and versatile reward that are used to recognize and validate skills and achievements. Issuers combine digital badges in different ways to create badging systems that their learners follow to achieve a specific outcome. 

Types of Badging Pathways

Badging pathways can be described in a number of different ways, but the core definition was developed during the ‘Discover Open Badges’ research project run by Mozilla in 2013-2014. After carrying out research to identify how badging pathways could better an individual’s access to employment opportunities, they interviewed employees within three chosen sectors, Technology, Healthcare, and Hospitality. 

The interviews were used to identify the skills and attributes that led them to their current role, and once determined, these skills and attributes were recorded as ‘badgeable moments’. As the interviews began to uncover patterns in the individual’s learning journeys, the project team were able to develop the wireframes that would become the foundation for these pathway types.

The Discover Open Badges project team identified the following badging pathways through their research:

  • Linear - The simplest and easiest to follow pathways. They follow a sequential order and individuals progress through badges one after the other.
  • Tiered - Tiered badging pathways accommodate ‘natural stopping points’ at the end of a linear pathway. For example, middle school, high school, college, first job, promotion, and so on.
  • Freeform - The least restrictive pathways. A freeform badging pathway describes badges that can be taken in no particular order or on any specific topic. 
  • Cluster - Cluster pathways create structure within freeform pathways by grouping similar badges together by theme. 
  • Hybrid - Hybrid pathways use a combination of the above pathway types.
A visual representation of a linear badging pathway showing four digital badges that are earned in the given order
Linear badging pathway example
A visual representation of a tiered badging pathway with two clear tiers that represent natural stopping points on a learner's journey
Tiered badging pathway example
A visual representation of a freeform badging pathway showing badges of different stages and levels
Freeform badging pathway example
A visual representation of a cluster badging pathway in which badges of similar topics are grouped together
Cluster badging pathway example

Other terms for describing different badging pathways used in the space include:

  • Standalone - A digital badge that doesn’t specifically connect to any other digital badges through increasing levels or relevance.
  • Descriptive - Digital badges that enable individuals to choose their own learning paths that can be linear or nonlinear.
  • Prescriptive - Digital badges that follow a linear sequential pathway of achievement and are usually set by the issuer, for example Microsoft Word levels 1, 2, and 3.
A visual representation of a standalone digital badge
Standalone digital badge
A visual representation of a descriptive badging pathway in which learners have the choice to earn badges in a linear or nonlinear format
Descriptive digital badging pathway example
A visual representation of a prescriptive badging pathway in which learners follow a linear pathway of badges
Prescriptive badging pathway example

These terms are then expanded upon into the following definitions:

  • Stepping Stones - A sequential, prescriptive path of learning that candidates follow step-by-step as determined by the issuer. Examples of use for a ‘stepping stone’ type pathway include: compliance training, onboarding/induction, and process-driven environments.
  • Collection - A nonlinear, prescriptive learning path that leads candidates to a specific collection of awards or achievements. Examples of use for a ‘collection’ type pathway include: academic courses/modules, early specialization, and gamification of content.
  • Constellation - A nonlinear, descriptive learning pathway that puts control in the hands of the candidate and enables them to build a custom portfolio of ability. Examples of use for a ‘constellation’ type pathway include: self-driven or interest-based learning, lifelong learning, and industry/role specific learning. 

The above terms were workshopped between Dr Ian O’Byrne, Doug Belshaw, and contributors within the Mozilla Open Badges community. 

A visual representation of a stepping stone badging pathway in which learners follow a sequential, prescriptive learning pathway
Example of a stepping stone badging pathway
A visual representation of a collection badging pathway where learners have the option to earn all badges within the pathway in an order determined by their needs
Example of a collection badging pathway
A visual representation of a constellation badging pathway in which learners choose which path they take
Example of a constellation badging pathway

Why Use Badging Pathways?

Digital badges are extremely versatile in their use and enable issuing organizations to recognize achievement, illustrate growth, and incentivize progress both in and out of a traditional learning environment. For recipients, digital badges are a long-term, verifiable record of their competencies or commitments that they carry with them between jobs or learning opportunities. Badging pathways take the versatility and value of digital badges and enable the creation of engaging learning pathways that inspire, motivate, and reward learners as they progress.

Sometimes the intended outcome of a badging pathway is not directly related to the specific digital badges being offered. Instead, the pathway has an overall goal that the individual badge awards contribute towards. Additionally, some badging pathways may be designed to achieve multiple goals. 

Examples of badging pathway use cases include:

  • Rewarding achievements or contributions
  • Recognizing attendance or participation in events
  • Building and showcasing learner skill sets
  • Accrediting guidance or mentoring
  • Certification for professional development
  • Specific skill recognition within a certain institution/field

The type of badging pathway to use depends on a number of factors including the target personas, the badging system goal, and the intended use case. By understanding and defining these prior to the badge system design, the process of creating and launching the badging pathway is more efficient. 

Building Badging Pathways with Accredible

Accredible’s Pathways feature enables issuing organizations to create clear, engaging learning pathways using digital badges and digital certificates. It simplifies the process of creating pathways, tracking and rewarding learners who progress through a learning pathway, and removes the need for manual calculation and award issuance. Pathways flexibility accommodates varying levels of complexity, enabling issuers to represent everything from micro-credentialing programs to higher education degrees.

Issuers use Pathways to deliver improved communication around the completion requirements, including the ability to:

  • Create pathways with both mandatory and optional requirements
  • Establish optional pathway completion criteria, e.g. complete 2 out 5 options or complete 4 low-tier modules before progressing to a higher-level module
  • Specify different option pool requirements, e.g. finish any of section 1, 2 or 3, and any of 4, 5, or 6
  • Offer pathways with optional completion credentials that learners progress towards
  • Offer pathways with milestone credentials for learners to gain as they progress

For the learners, Pathways automatically calculates and displays their progress, making it easy to understand what steps have been completed and what steps they should take next. They are incentivized through auto-issue milestone credentials that motivate them to continue progressing. Prior to enrollment, the visual communication of a program structure helps learners to better understand the requirements of a target pathway and the expectations for completion. 

Learn more about Pathways, the benefits, and what issuers can do with the feature in our Pathways Feature Release Article

In Summary

Digital credentials, digital certificates, open badges, and badging pathways are here to stay. They are powerful tools that recognize achievement, illustrate growth, incentivize learning, award participation, and benefit both issuers and their recipients in many ways. The utilization of badging pathways and badge systems improves communication around program requirements. While the versatility of badging pathways means their use cases expand beyond the traditional learning environment to recognize participation, assist in onboarding, and represent broad or specific skill acquisition.

To learn more about launching your own badging pathways, Accredible’s Pathways feature, or digital credentials in general, book a platform demo with Accredible today.

Further Reading

Learn more about digital badges in our free to download Comprehensive Guide to Digital Badges. This guide provides an overview of what digital badges are, how they are used, how they benefit issuers and recipients, and how to get started with digital badging. Download the guide now.

Get the Guide