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Delivering free digital badges

Through the development of a suite of assessed badged open courses (BOCs). The Open University (OU) is augmenting its employability and outreach offering for both informal learners and its students via the OpenLearn platform. The project aligns with the Open University’s priorities and core values in that it:
  • Aligns with the Open University's strategies to support the employability of its students and the academic success of its students.
  • Helps to provide accessible routes into education for students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate.
  • Supports The OU Charter: … to promote the educational well-being of the community generally.

The OU is building on years of knowledge, experience and research in Open Educational Resources (OER) as these particular courses have been developed in response to the needs of informal learners who are seeking recognition for their informal learning. BOCs are different from MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) because they are perpetual (enabling students to return to them at any time to refresh their knowledge) unlike MOOCs which have a set start and finish date. 

Taylor (2017) in his report on modern working practices for the UK Government, notes that “It is very obvious to us that many of the skills that employers are demanding are cross-cutting and will not be developed in full in a purely academic setting” (p.87) and that a way of “…enabling individuals to easily demonstrate their skills and experience could be through the use of digital badges, a form of flexible online accreditation, which employers and education providers can award to individuals” (p.88). Taylor’s particular view of modern working in a ‘gig’ economy has particular resonance to the ongoing delivery of digital badges in core ‘soft skills’ for employability on OpenLearn. He goes on to state “It’s clear therefore that individuals will expect to carry on learning throughout their working life, whether continuously or periodically. We know also that there are significant barriers to them doing this and that this disproportionately affects those at the bottom of the labour market” (p.88).

The OU's digitally badged courses address the issue of skills development required for a modern digital economy. They complement the OU’s extensive existing and growing portfolio of free learning on OpenLearn and reward successful learners (for free) with an OU digital badge and Statement of Participation. A range of the OU's BOCs are funded by, co-branded with or endorsed by other organisations. 

Open University Badged Open Courses

Subject and study skills mastery

Career development


Scottish Law

Coming soon:

Career development and skills mastery

  • A sports coaching focus on motivation and burn-out 
  • Communication 
  • Developing inspirational sports coaches 
  • Learning disability 
  • Professional development in the primary school 
  • Risk management [Co-written with Rolls Royce]
  • The psychological aspects of sports injury 
  • Youth justice


  • Astronomy with an online telescope (2019) [Sponsored by Dangoor Education] 
  • Climate change (2019) [Sponsored by Dangoor Education] 
  • Digital thinking tools (2019)
  • Maths for science and technology (2019)
  • What we cannot know (2019) [Sponsored by Dangoor Education]

Recognition of, and motivation for, learning

Currently, learners enrolled on any of the hundreds of short courses on OpenLearn can keep track of their learning on an individual course via their MyOpenLearn profile. Each course carries an Activity Record to print or to share online and a free, downloadable Statement of Participation for completed courses. Digital badges issued with each BOC and accompanying Statement of Participation are a different marker of achievement: learners will have not only read full online courses but will have passed online quizzes to earn their digital badge and OU Statement of Participation. 

Our research has shown that this:

  • helps learners build confidence
  • delivers key skills and knowledge
  • provides motivation for learning
  • enables learners to obtain a record of achievement which they can share. 

Learners can display their completed badges publicly or privately in their My OpenLearn profile and link to other platforms, such as LinkedIn, WordPress, Twitter and Facebook. OU students will shortly also be able to see these particular achievements on their Student Record. Digital badges are a form of so-called 'micro-credential', that can be used to augment formal qualifications.

Open University Badged Open Courses have received the following awards:

  1. Nomination for the Times Higher Education Award for Widening Participation Initiative for the Year (2015).
  2. Winner Open Education Consortium: Creative Innovation Award (2016).
  3. Finalist Learning Technology Awards (2017) 'Excellence in design of learning content'.

More information / References

For more information, please contact Patrina Law, Head of OpenLearn, The Open University.

All OpenLearn free courses

Follow OU Free Learning on Twitter @OUfreelearning

'Old school learning' image courtesy of Bryan M. Mathers CC-BY-ND.

Taylor, M. (2017). Good work: the Taylor review of modern working practices. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 11 July 2017