Monday, May 16, 2011

Badges of learning

We all learn new things every day. We learn by asking, watching, imitating, practicing, testing and thinking. In fact we learn much more outside formal education than inside it but we don't get any credit for this. What counts are the degrees and certificates you get for attending classes and passing formal exams. However increasing numbers are learning on the net through informal communities, watching TED-lectures, Khan Academy or iTunes U or getting involved in collaborative work designing new open source applications. How do we recognize lifelong learning?

Peer 2 Peer University, the collaborative learning initiative that already runs a wide range of online peer-driven courses, is examining the idea of badges that can be awarded for successful completion of courses. Together with Mozilla they have started the Open Badges project to create a structure for all sorts of adult education institutions and other organisations to award digital badges that can then be shown on your website, social media sites and CV. They can be awarded for completion of courses, demonstrated skills or for significant work in online projects.

All sorts of organisations could issue badges but one issue that will undoubtedly be raised is that the actual badges will be so easy to copy. How will they ensure that you really have deserved that badge on your profile? I would imagine that each badge will link to the issuing organisation who should quickly be able to confirm that you have indeed been awarded it.

P2PU is already piloting open badges in their School of Webcraft courses. By successfully completing course assignments participants can unlock various skills badges that show what they have achieved (see more about the P2PU badge scheme). Badges can be awarded by peers also participating on the course. The framework for tyhe open badge system is outlined more fully in a draft article called An open badge system framework.

This could lead to a whole new landscape in terms of how we demonstrate our skills to future employers. The formal system is not going to be swept away by this development but the new badges offer a way forward to recognizing people's real skills and should complement existing structures. Hopefully the formal system will see this as an opportunity and not a threat. For Open Badges to gain credibility it is vital that some more forward thinking higher education institutions join up with the project.

For more thoughts on this read article by Michael Sean Gallagher, Open Badges and Acknowledging Decentralized Activity in Learning

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