Designing a Pathway for Self-Issuing Open Badges

In previous blog posts, I described an approach for how the Open Badges 2.0 standard, plus a pathway standard, might enable us to reputably self-issue badges. I’ve decided to test the approach by self-issuing badges as part of my professional performance review. I am designing a professional development badge pathway for myself by identifying professional goals that are related to either my job performance review or to job title progression at the University of Wisconsin-Extension. Then I am aligning those professional goals to recognized standards. Then, when I have the opportunity to demonstrate any of those competencies in my professional work, I will gather evidence, issue myself a badge, and seek endorsements from supervisors and colleagues. When all is said and done, I hope to have earned evidence-backed and endorsed badges that I can share with the world. Compare that to the conventional static performance review document that gets filed away and never looked at again. I like the badging way better. I’m using Badgr’s Pathways tool, but I’d be curious to know how self-issuing badges might work on other platforms too.

In this post, I’d like to share some challenges with which I’m grappling in this little quest.

My first step has been planning the framework and overall vision for how I’ll do this. My challenges in this step seem to revolve around the question of how do I design a pathway that is both a comprehensive representation of my professional learning goals and development, and an integration or synthesis of different pathways and competency frameworks?

Branches of my pathway

When I conceived of this experiment, I thought only of how I might self-issue badges as part of a job performance review. I could keep this experiment dead simple by adding only my 2018 professional goals to the pathway since my goals are, as far as I can tell, all that officially matter for my performance review (see image below). 


However, in reality that’s not the only way my organization tracks my performance. UW CEOEL has also defined a set of competencies and behaviors related to job title progression. As I’ve thought more about this experiment, I’ve realized that I’d like my pathway(s) to be a more comprehensive representation of my learning and development goals at CEOEL, so naturally I’d like it to cover title progression as well.


The two pathway branches of 2018 professional goals and title progression competencies spell out goals for me that are fairly constrained and prescriptive. I obviously didn’t write the title progression competencies, and my professional goals needed supervisor approval and were expected to align closely with active CEOEL projects. That said, I have a bit of agency when it comes to what parts of my professional work I decide to offer as evidence of progress toward those goals.

 Of course, we could imagine a third pathway branch that represents, not just Justin’s competencies as an instructional designer at UW CEOEL, but Justin’s competencies as an instructional designer… or even Justin’s competencies as a professional person. This third pathway branch, the one that represents any and all instructional design related competencies or experiences that I choose to identify, really opens up my pathway possibilities to the wild blue yonder. I would be designing a pathway branch for my own professional development and trajectory. Okay, no big deal. Before getting started I would simply have to ask myself: What is my trajectory? Where am I trying go with my professional life?

Anyone else feel the need for a 5-minute panic attack break? Just me?

Perhaps the third branch doesn’t even belong with the first two branches. Maybe it would be better off as its own pathway. The first two branches can be seen as more or less aiming at the same practical goal: succeeding or advancing at my current job. The first two afford successful completion. The third branch seems to aim at a larger goal: me becoming the sort of professional instructional designer that I want to be. That’s the sort of goal I hope never affords successful completion -progress toward, yes, but not completion.  

Why couldn’t one badge pathway support all three branches? Technically it could. But I wonder if enlarging the scope to include the third branch changes the essential character of what I’m trying to do with the pathway.

Am I using the pathway to envision a path to a goal?


Am I using this pathways tool as a way to document all my instructional design related knowledge?

To what extent can Pathways do both? Other folks may have a clearer vision of that. For me, it’s still an open question.

Alignment redundancies

There is additional complexity introduced by my design decisions (1) to include goals and competencies from multiple sources, and (2) to align competencies and goals to recognized standards. Doing so introduces alignment redundancies in my pathway. For instance, let’s imagine I decided to pursue a project management certification from PMI. A lot of my work as an instructional designer requires project management skills, and such a certification might make sense. However, because project management is such an important part of my job, there are already goals and competencies defined as part of job title progression that relate to project management. For example, I might have two competency statements related to “scoping” a project appear in two different branches of my pathway.

Eventually, I expect we’ll be able to use the IMS Global CASE (Competency and Academic Standards Exchange) standard to map such redundancies: In the meantime, I plan to map such redundancies manually -probably with a spreadsheet- so that I’m sure to associate badges I earn with all relevant goals and competencies.

Align to competency statements or whole frameworks?

Finally, there’s a question about how to incorporate existing external competency standards. As I see it, I am faced with two options for incorporating existing standards.

Option 1: I identify goals for myself and design a pathway to connect to those goals. The pathway(s) I design will be composed of individual competencies and/or experiences each of which is aligned to a recognized standard that I have cherry picked. Those standards may come from a variety of sources. For instance, perhaps I’d use competency statements from the Association for Talent Development’s competency model ( for some of my instructional design competencies, but use the Project Management Institute’s knowledge areas and process groups ( for project management related competencies. Stated another way, in this option I take individual competency statements from recognized competency frameworks, but I do not try to incorporate whole frameworks.

This approach offers several advantages. It makes me think about my goals and the concrete steps that might help me achieve those goals. It also offers a fairly straight-forward way to integrate diverse standards frameworks.

Of course, there are also disadvantages. It’s not comprehensive. It doesn’t account for those competencies and experiences that perhaps don’t fit neatly into my plans, but that I might nonetheless wish to document. It also seems to lack an affordance for… serendipity. I have in mind the unexpected leaps and connections that Carla Cassilli so elegantly praised in her blog post (  

Option 2: I somehow try to represent a synthesis of many diverse standards in my pathway. So in this case, I might create an entire branch for ATD, and another branch for PMI. Then, when I demonstrate a given competency or have a noteworthy experience in my professional work, I would issue myself a badge underneath the appropriate branches and competency node(s). I would likely need a way to handle overlaps or synonymy between the standards. Once again, I believe that is where the IMS CASE standard would play a vital role.

At a gut level, I’m drawn to Option 2, but I must admit it’s beyond the scope of what I want to accomplish as an individual doing a little experiment. Plus, I get the sense that Option 2 is perhaps more than a pathway. It’s more like what one would do to create a competency profile, or perhaps as part of a comprehensive learner record ( It would enable me to attach evidence and credentials to as many of my competencies and experiences as is humanly, technologically, and informationally possible. It would also have some interesting potential consequences for thinking about competencies in ways that cut across traditionally siloed domains, e.g. enabling others to see what kind of project manager I might be based on my competencies and experience as an instructional designer.

What are the implications for upside-down badge stacking?

Upside-down badge stacking seems naturally to lead one’s thinking to Option 2 (above). That is, I should just be able to identify recognized competency standards that align to competencies in which I’m interested, then add those standards aligned competencies to my pathway, and then start stacking badges beneath the competencies. If I’m interested in an entire domain, for instance, instructional design, I should be able to identify an appropriate competency framework, then add that framework to my pathway, and then start stacking badges using that framework. The truth is, I’m interested in many domains: project management, systems thinking, marketing, visual design, pedagogy/andragogy, software development, open education, communities of practice, and the list could go on and on. If I’m interested in those domains, I should be able to identify recognized standards, and then add them to my pathway, and then start stacking badges, right? 

Do you see the same challenges I’m seeing? Where does it end? How do I make sense of all those overlapping competency frameworks? 

For the time being, I’m going to stick with Option 1: identify goals for myself and design a pathway to connect to those goals. That’s what Badgr’s Pathways tool seems designed to do, and that’s what fits the scope of my experiment to self-issuing badges as part of my performance review.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment.

One thought on “Designing a Pathway for Self-Issuing Open Badges

  1. Justin, great post. There certainly is a lot to dig into here. This type of thinking is essential to help guide the Badgr Pathways roadmap to where we can beautifully handle the learner self-curation of progress (including self-awarded badges). As you know, we’re collaborating on an Open Pathways standard within IMS Global (I’m actually writing from the face to face meeting where we are kicking off this initiative in Baltimore). These use cases you express here will help inform that standardization effort as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s