Higher education institutions are abuzz with the concept of Open Badges. Defined as a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, quality or interest, Open Badges are not only a hot topic as of late, but are also debated by some critics as the latest threat to higher education.
A closer look at this emerging trend reveals benefits for traditional institutions and alternative learning programs alike. Some advocates have suggested that badges representing learning and skills acquired outside the classroom, or even in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), will soon supplant diplomas and course credits.
For higher education institutions interested in keeping pace, establishing a digital ecosystem around badges to recognize college learning, skill development and achievement is less a threat and more an opportunity. Used properly, Open Badge systems help motivate, connect, articulate and make transparent the learning that happens inside and outside classrooms during a student’s college years.
Badge-based channels must solve issues of identity, verification, validation and ongoing management to enable a secure and trusted ecosystem to emerge around credentials. College-issued badges can respond to the challenges:
Accredited higher education institutions already possess significant advantages. Colleges and universities are in an ideal position to define for the rest of the labor market the difference between serious college achievements and unsubstantiated claims, peer endorsements or gamer achievements acquired elsewhere. Most institutions will use what they already know about accreditation requirements, development and delivery of effective learning design and assessments to establish credibility behind their achievements and build their value to learners and employers.
Learning by design is the first step. Institutions can begin by applying best practices in learning and assessment design principles to their college courses, or by leveraging the design already present in their curricula. Students, parents and employers can easily connect defined outcomes to job requirements, and institutions can more readily demonstrate the ROI and economic impact of their programs.
Implementing achievement-related badge systems can also present new opportunities for colleges and employers to build new partnerships and streamline communications around higher education outcomes. Students can improve their employment prospects while still in school, and employers can benefit from greater transparency around skills and knowledge acquired from higher education.
Articulating benefits from general education and extracurricular activities. For general education courses, colleges can use learning design principles to define “soft skill” outcomes and then measure competency against these objectives. Students who demonstrate they have acquired these critical job-ready soft skills will earn job-relevant badges in areas like critical thinking, research, oral and written communication, collaboration, leadership and teamwork.
Alignment with education reform movements around credit recognition. Educational programs that use learning design to attach badges to educational experiences according to defined outcomes can streamline credit recognition. At the minimum, badged-curricula is transparent in terms of defined learning objectives and outcomes, facilitating easier comparisons between programs.
The badge ecosystem isn’t just a web-enabled transcript, CV, and work portfolio rolled together. It’s also a way to structure the process of education itself. Students will be able to customize learning goals within the larger curricular framework, integrate continuing peer and faculty feedback about their progress toward achieving those goals, and tailor the way badges and the metadata within them are displayed to the outside world.
In the larger context of higher education, it will take a concerted effort to create and implement well-designed college learning experiences that are linked to workplace competencies and skills. Many colleges and universities are already taking steps to increase accountability and demonstrate the value of their learning experiences to students, parents, alumni, employers and others.
By Peter Janzow, Pearson Open Badge Lead