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Learning happens everywhere and at every age. Traditional measures of achievement, like high school diplomas, GEDs and college degrees, cannot convey the full range of knowledge and skills that students and workers master. To address this issue, the MacArthur Foundation, HASTAC and Mozilla today announced a $2 million Digital Media and Learning Competition for leading organizations, learning and assessment specialists, designers and technologists to create and test badges and badge systems. The competition will explore ways digital badges can be used to help people learn; demonstrate their skills and knowledge; unlock job, educational and civic opportunities; and open new pipelines to talent.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and high-level business, technology, civic engagement, philanthropic and other leaders participated in the announcement at the Hirshhorn Museum this morning. "I'm excited to be here to celebrate the launch of the 2011 competition, and its potential to propel a quantum leap forward in education reform," Secretary Duncan said. "Badges can help engage students in learning, and broaden the avenues for learners of all ages to acquire and demonstrate—as well as document and display—their skills. By promoting badges and the open education infrastructure that supports them, the federal government can contribute to the climate of change that the education, business and foundation sectors are generating. We can build new avenues for entrepreneurship and collaboration, and spark economic development at home and around the world."

Calling badges a "game-changing strategy," Secretary Duncan announced that the Department of Education is joining the Department of Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative (VAi2) in making a commitment to award a $25,000 prize for the best badge concept and prototype that serves veterans seeking good-paying jobs in today's economy. The VA will join Mozilla, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Departments of Education and Labor, he said, to support and sponsor this part of the Digital Media and Lifelong Learning Competition. It will be called "Badges for Heroes Challenge."

"Digital technologies are helping to re-imagine learning, and badges are emerging as a new way to both encourage and demonstrate the acquisition of knowledge and skills of all kinds—in formal and informal settings," said Julia Stasch, Vice President of U.S. Programs at the MacArthur Foundation. "Badges are simple, easy and, if done well, can present a more nuanced picture of what an individual knows and can do. There is much more to learn and we expect that this competition will contribute to developing a badge system that could change the way people share information about themselves, businesses make hiring decisions, and organizations support the acquisition of skills important to their mission or to the larger society."

Supported by a MacArthur grant to the University of California at Irvine and administered by HASTAC, the competition will fund designers, inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers and others who develop badges and badging systems. The competition is part of MacArthur's digital media and learning initiative that is designed to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize and participate in civic life. To help advance and encourage this new use of technology, Mozilla is creating an Open Badge Infrastructure—a decentralized online platform that will house digital badges and can be used across operating platforms and by any organization or user. This approach will help to make digital badges a coherent, portable and meaningful way to demonstrate capabilities. It will also encourage the creation of "digital backpacks" of badges that people will carry to showcase the skills, knowledge and competencies they have gained.

"The web is revolutionizing how we learn. But until now, it's been too difficult to get recognition for the skills and achievements people are getting online or out of school," said Mozilla's Executive Director, Mark Surman. "Our Open Badges project is working to solve that problem, giving leaders in informal education a free and open way to recognize new learning and 21st century skills—leading to real world results like jobs or formal credit. Mozilla believes that's the key to making education work like the web."

At today's announcement, Mozilla, Remix Learning and TopCoder demonstrated badge systems that validate skills and competencies gained on-the-job, online, in the classroom and in other settings. Mozilla's School of Webcraft—an open education provider with free, peer-based courses on web development—is offering badges for hard skills and social skills that people learn and exhibit in their environments, which then could be leveraged for jobs and formal credits. iRemix, a youth development platform, is offering youth badges for digital literacies and 21st century skills cultivated in their after school programs and the youth could carry with them back to schools. Top Coder, a science, math and programming competition website, is offering badges for achievements and skills to competitors to extend the value of their participation and accomplishments.

"This Digital Media and Learning Competition seeks to test the effectiveness of digital badges and badge systems as a fine-grained way for assessing learning pathways and learning outcomes," said David Theo Goldberg, director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, who co-administers the DML Competition with Cathy Davidson of Duke University. "We are excited by the collaborative interest this focus has generated across a broad swath of constituencies, and we are looking both to generate creative badging systems and to learn a great deal ourselves about badging as effective assessment tools."

Since 2007, the Digital Media and Learning competition has inspired designers, inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers and others to build digital media experiences that advance learning in the U.S. and around the world. More information about the Badges for Lifelong Learning competition, including information on entering the competition, is available at

NOTE: To watch archived video of the event, visit

Mozilla is a global, nonprofit organization dedicated to making the Web better. We emphasize principle over profit, and believe that the Web is a shared public resource to be cared for, not a commodity to be sold. We work with a worldwide community to create open source products like Mozilla Firefox, and to innovate for the benefit of the individual and the betterment of the Web. The result is great products built by passionate people and better choices for everyone

HASTAC (the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) is an international network of educators and digital visionaries committed to the creative development and critical understanding of new technologies in life, learning, and society. HASTAC is committed to innovative design, participatory learning, and critical thinking.

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