Moodle 2.5 was released a few weeks ago, allowing for Open Badges integration. Quite a few readers have asked me whether there remains a point of using labels for badges, now that Open Badges can easily be integrated with their Moodle courses. In this post, I try and outline why I have been gamifying my courses with labels, and why using labels for badges still makes sense for some users. This is week 11 of my ‘gamified Moodle course vs. non-gamified experiment‘.

What is Open Badges

Mozilla Open Badges

There have been a few great blog posts (1,2) written about Open Badges and Moodle. As explained in this Wikipedia entry, [quote]Open Badges is a program by Mozilla that issues digital badges to recognize skills and achievements. The badge structure allows one to display real-world achievements and skills which may help with future career and education opportunities.[/quote]

Why not simply use Open Badges

Moodle label badges and open badges

I am not stubborn, I think Open Badges is a project full of potential! Timing was the real issue. I started ‘gamifying’ my courses long before Moodle 2.5 was released, about 18 months ago in a bid to increase engagement in my courses. My ‘hack’ was never intended to compete with Open Badges, I only thought it out to bridge a gap. Now that I have used labels for badges for a while, I believe I am going to use both systems in parallel, as they serve a different purpose in my everyday teaching.

1. Works with any version of Moodle 2

Moodle 2 versions

A lot of institutions have upgrade policies that dictate when software can be updated to the latest version. Some institutions even prohibit software to be updated during an academic cycle. I also know quite a few Moodle administrators who refuse to update to the latest major version until all of the major bugs, found post-release, are ironed out. Last but not least, some of us rely on third-party plugins that don’t always get updated promptly for compatibility. All, or some of these reasons will prevent a significant number of Moodle administrators to update to Moodle 2.5 or above for a while yet. My ‘hack’ works with any version of Moodle 2, but doesn’t work on Moodle 1.9.

2. No reliance on the Moodle administrator

enable badges

In Moodle 2.5, the Open Badges integration can be disabled altogether by the system administrator. This may happen in institutions that want to keep complete control over the the ‘certifications’ they award. There is also a useful set of new permissions to granularly allow/prevent users to create, view and manage badges, which means not all teachers may be able to create and issue badges. With my ‘hack’, unless the administrator has disabled labels (more than unusual), nothing should stop teachers from creating their own badges. 

3. More suited to link to existing reward system

Open badges backpack

Once awarded, Open Badges may go into a ‘backpack‘, which makes the whole system appear rather ‘official’. I view Open Badges as a system to show that specific skills have been acquired/mastered by a student. I can see myself using only a few Open Badges per course, for fear to devalue the system. Some of my current ‘badges’ reward some pretty low level achievements, and I do not think they would have their place in student’s Open Badges backpack. I have been able to tie in my ‘badges’ system to our existing whole school reward system, whereas I don’t think Open Badges would work with it. I wouldn’t award enough badges, or at least not regularly enough and it wouldn’t help with my goal of increasing student engagement.

4. Ability to hide badges, per badge

Hidden badges

I may be wrong here but I believe it is only possible to show/hide all available badges with the Open Badges Moodle integration (through this capability). With my system, badges can be hidden/shown until they are unlocked on a per-badge basis, using the ‘Restrict access‘ option. 

5. Checking badges is a passive process

With the Open Badges Moodle integration, a user needs to visit a ‘badges’ page to view their badges, or access their profile page where all badges are shown. There is a block that allows users to see their latest badges, but not all badges are shown at once. With my system, there is no need for a user to visit their user profile to view all of the badges they have been awarded.

6. Open Badges are linked to a user profile

Open Badges Moodle profile

By default, with the Open Badges Moodle integration users can see each others’ badges through profile pages. Whilst this can be changed by editing the permissions, it can be an issue in some school settings. In my system, badges are not tied to a user profile.

7. No design limitations for badges

When a teacher creates an Open Badge in Moodle, there are design restrictions such as the type of image allowed (only .jpg and .png are allowed), and once uploaded badges are cropped and resized if necessary.

With the ‘labels for badges’ system, there are no restrictions as to what badges are, as long as it can be displayed in a label (i.e. any valid HTML). For example, any type of image is accepted .svg for retina ready displays, .gif (animated, for little ones), etc. Badges can be text, videos, etc.

8. Both systems can co-exist

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, both systems can co-exist and even complement each other. I am planning on using Open Badges for more official, assessment linked badges, or skill-based evidence and my system for less official and more frequent rewards. 

Features unique to Open Badges

Here some of the best features of the Open Badges Moodle integration, that are simply not possible to replicate with the ‘labels as badges’ system (bar going into the database).

Manually award badges to users

With the Open Badges integration, teachers (or others with the capability) can award badges manually. My system cannot do that, unless a teacher maitained checklist is created.

See badge recipients

With the Open Badges Moodle integration, a teacher can easily view a list of users who have been awarded a specific badge, along with a timestamp.

Message user when badge is awarded

A notification is sent to users when they have been awarded a badge. This could be useful in other areas than just badges, but that is another debate.

Any/All activity(ies) for completion criteria

The completion criteria to a badge is better than the overall completion criteria for Moodle activities. Badge creators can decide whether a badge is earned when any or all conditions are met in a list of conditions. The normal completion criteria across Moodle is all or nothing.

I can see both systems happily co-exist in my day-to-day teaching. What are your feelings about Open Badges? 

[pulledquote]Most of the Moodle courses I have seen are full of extremely useful and meaningful information/activities. It is not always practical to ensure whether students have interacted with an activity or viewed a resource, as it can be very time consuming to check Moodle logs. Come ‘conditional activities’. In this post, I discuss ways to use this great feature to increase students’ engagement in your courses.[/pulledquote]

What are conditional activities?

Since the introduction of Moodle 2, it has been possible for users to track which activities/resources they have completed. This means that resources/activities are ‘aware’ of their completion status for each course user. This completion status awareness allows a teacher to have activities/resources show up only when certain conditions have been met, for example Resource B will only be shown to users who have completed Activity A. There is a comprehensive explanation of how this feature works on the Moodle HQ website, this post is not a ‘how-to’ for conditional activities.


Gamify your Moodle courses – badges

Younger students seem to respond very well to this strategy. I have ‘gamified’ two of my middle-school courses and I have noticed a sharp increase in student engagement in both (i.e. they complete more activities, more often and to better standards). Moodle should soon benefit from an integration with OpenBadges, but until then here is what you could do.

  • The idea is to create a bunch of badges that students can ‘unlock’ by completing activities or viewing resources. 
  • My ‘badges’ are simple images inserted in labels that are completely hidden until specific conditions have been met (see figure 1). 
  • When students complete activities or view resources, those images will appear on their screen, giving them the impression that they have ‘unlocked’ it. 
  • A student will only see the badges that they have unlocked, thus Moodle course pages look different to all students.
  • There seems to be a bit of healthy competition happening between students as they compare the number of badges when they log on to Moodle in the classroom (see figures 2 and 3). 
  • Some badges are harder to get than others and those students who manage to unlock them tend to keep the tricks and locations to themselves. 
  • I will be conducting a study between 21st March and 7th July to measure the impact of gamifying a Moodle course; I will expose one group to the gamified course, and another group to the un-gamified version and compare. Visit in a few months time if you’re interested in the results. 
Figure 1
Teacher view – some possible badges and the conditions to ‘unlock’ them
Click to zoom in
Figure 2
Student view – Each student only sees the badges they have ‘unlocked’
This student has collected 2 badges
Figure 3
Student view – Note that students do not see the conditions to unlock badges. This can be changed in the settings
This student has collected 4 badges

Tips & tricks


School reward system

If your school rewards effort through house points, or other, you could link your ‘badges’ mentioned above with the actual school reward system. For example, with my 11 year old students 2 badges = 1 house point.


Orphaned activities

This actually started out as a bug in Moodle, but now has become a feature. It is possible to have resources/activities hidden from students but still accessible through the URL. Consider the following example:

  • You create a course with 10 sections and you have activities/resources in every section.
  • You want the activities/resources in section 10 to be accessible by URL but invisible on the course page.
  • Cut down your course to 9 sections, but you do not remove the activities/resources in section 10.
  • The activities/resources in section 10 become invisible to students, but can still be accessed through the URL, as they are not hidden as such.
  • This means that you can now add ‘Easter eggs’ to your course by linking directly to the orphaned activities.
Example of an ‘Easter egg’
  • I want my students to spot 10 subject specific words in my course and click on each to read the definitions.
  • Those 10 words can be anywhere in the course e.g. webpage, quiz question, lesson, etc.
  • Each word is linked to a popup webpage, where the definition for that word is available.
  • The webpages are in the section that is invisible to students e.g. orphaned activities
  • When a student finds a word and clicks on it, the linked webpage opens in a popup.
  • That webpage automatically gets marked as ‘completed’ and remains invisible on the course page.
  • When a student has found and seen all words, he/she unlocks the ‘Vocabulary’ badge.

‘Must not be marked complete’

This is slightly difficult to get your head around but the idea is simple,

  • Setup activities/resources
  • They will show up as default e.g. a student new to your course will see it on their course page
  • Some activities will ‘disappear’ when a user has completed specific activities. 


  • Course with 4 activities, A, B, C and D.
  • Activity A (easy activity) – Set to be marked complete if viewed & to show only if Activity B is not marked complete.
  • Activity B  (difficult activity) – Set to be marked complete if viewed & to show only if Activity A is not marked complete.
  • Activity C  (easy activity) – Set to only show if Activity A is marked complete.
  • Activity D (difficult activity) – Set to only show if Activity B is marked complete.
  • If a student clicks on Activity A, then Activity B will ‘disappear’ from their course and Activity C will become available.
  • If a student clicks on Activity B, then Activity A will ‘disappear’ from their course and Activity D will become available.
  • This is great to gamify your courses, or to differentiate your courses.


Conditional sections

Since Moodle 2.3, it has been possible to make entire sections of a course appear when certain conditions have been met. This can greatly reduce your workload as you won’t have to go and set the conditional status of each activity/resource.


Please share your creative uses of conditional activities to increase students engagement in your Moodle course by writing a comment.