How Everyone Benefits from Badging: A Guide to Mainstreaming Digital CredentialsElisabeth Rees-Johnstone | Executive Director of Continuing Education and Professional Learning at OISE, University of Toronto
Digital badging has been on our radar in one form or another since the mid 2000s. Think about your first Xbox experience years ago, when you’d gleefully collect digital badges for each new level you conquered in your favorite game. Or perhaps you’re currently using fitness trackers with apps that send along encouraging badges and fireworks as you achieve your fitness goals each day. Or maybe you’ve experienced working in the corporate sector for Cisco, Microsoft or IBM, where you’ve earned digital microcredentials for specific work accomplishments.
Whatever your personal and professional scenario, there is a high likelihood that you’ve had some experience with digital badging. And while the idea of digital badging is compelling for higher education, it has yet to achieve the levels of commitment demonstrated for MOOCs and other digital pedagogical practices. In our formal learning and education systems, digital badging continues to be a non-starter.
As a simple definition, a digital badge is an online validation of an achievement, skill or credential. The badge itself is a visual/digital image which a learner can display to represent knowledge or skills acquired and anyone who clicks on the visual image can link to verifiable information about who issued the badge and the learning evidence required to achieve the badge. Digital badges are data rich in ways that paper-based certificates and resumes or PDF transcripts can’t be. So, at one end of the spectrum, digital badges act like online gold star stickers used to reward and motivate, and at the other end of the spectrum, they house rich learner and institutional data which can be used to identify skill sets or competencies.
The increased interest in digital badging is now further reinforced by other broader market dynamics:
- The advancement of global collaborative and shared economies which brings heightened calls for transparency;
- Exponential technologies which are enabling expansive digital environments; and
- The desire to develop and recognize a common suite of global competencies, or 21s-century skills, to promote global talent migration.
Now that we have both a global rationale and advanced technical tools, many employers and learners are expressing not only an interest in digital badging, but are identifying digital badges as a need.
Employers: A Means to Improve Skills-Matching
Globally, employers are adopting virtual and digital practices to engage global talent—specifically, Millennials who are new in the workforce. Big employer brands have made significant investment in technologies—specifically HR platforms—to enhance the employee experience. These platforms include virtual recruitment methods, digital work performance reviews and documentation, collaborative work technologies and actively mining talent data to resolve skills-matching challenges (where the employee’s skills are not readily visible/accessible to correctly identify and match to an employer job role and skills need). Employers want to know that their current talent and prospective talent have the skills and competence they need to develop and excel in their work role, and digital badging is a helpful tool to achieve this.
Learners/Employees: A Means to Present Oneself Digitally
While employers are actively working to source and find talent by effectively matching skills to the work need, employees are actively working to demonstrate their skills as matches for a prospective or current employer. Often the skills we have as employees get lost in translation and missed by prospective or current employers. Digital badging presents a great opportunity for a transparent solution to this—a means to effectively showcase skills and competence while further providing assurance that the skills represented have been validated by a third party. Additionally, in a very practical manner, our physical work space has also changed; we work remotely, we use hoteling stations, and we are increasingly working with virtual teams. Employees no longer have the wall and desk space to showcase learning achievements with framed credentials, nor does the modern learner care to do so. Modern learners wish to present themselves digitally and digital badging is an effective means in which to do so.
Learning and Education Providers: A Means to Lead and Drive Quality Assurance
Digital badging presents the opportunity to meet the credential transparency and quality assurance need for employees and employers while also supporting the quality assurance processes within formal education institutions as well. The process to develop the data rich texts and links required for digital badging ensures that curriculum review processes are kept up to date, and this further supports ease of access and reference to internal curricular data, which in turn, aids in various levels of quality assurance reviews. Beyond the possible internal quality assurance benefits, the underrepresentation of digital badging solutions in higher education inadvertently invites learner and employer criticism that postsecondary institutions are out of touch with the needs of today’s employer and modern learner. This rhetoric is not helpful to the broader aims and goals of the sector.
Much of postsecondary is not operating in a digital world. As a sector, we are making inroads into updating our physical campus, creating new learning space and investing in various learning technologies, yet our own talent continues to use the old standbys of voicemail, in-person meetings, coveted offices with four walls, bookshelves and desks. Our own traditional postsecondary work environments make it challenging to empathize with the needs of today’s global employers and modern learners because their environments and workplace experiences differ so greatly. Digital badging is but one example of a workplace advancement which has developed slowly over the past decade. By technology adoption standards, we appear to be on the verge of a digital badging vertical trajectory in employer and employee technology adoption. Let’s ensure that, at a minimum, we are travelling alongside this vertical so that the rate of change outside does not surpass our rate of change and adoption inside.
Author Perspective: Administrator