The vast benefits of online education for both teachers and students is well documented. As a result the eLearning industry is currently experiencing explosive growth, which is having impacts far greater than we could have ever imagined. We are currently witnessing the democratization of education as we know it.
However, with online education dramatically gaining in popularity, new methods of keeping track of credits and accomplishments are required. In the past, this process was fairly straightforward. A student enrols in a school, undergoes their training for a set duration of time, and is required to achieve a certain grade before being awarded a certificate, diploma or degree.
The “piece of paper” was meant to confirm that the student did in fact complete the course and show competency in the course material.
Beyond showing competency it was also meant to give the student additional “value” depending on who issued the piece of paper to them. Students are generally willing to invest more in their education if the standards and/or brand behind the issuing institution is recognized and looked upon favorably.
This information is important for potential clients, customers, employers and post graduate schools. In a lot of ways these people and institutions are looking for schools to help them “filter” candidates, and this piece of paper helped validated student learning and teacher training standards.
However, times are changing quickly. Very quickly. There are countless MOOCs online now, and others are using a mashup of various WordPress educational plugins to offer their courses online. This has changed the educational landscape and has forced us to reconsider how we validate learning and teaching. As we’ll discuss below, the use of digital badges as micro-credentials are a great way to achieve this goal.
There are many parties involved who want to be able to validate learning. The learner him or herself will want to ensure that learning actually took place (as we discuss in this podcast here). The more evidence they have to suggest whether their educational investment paid off, the better.
Similarly, instructors will want to create an educational system that is undergoing constant improvement. For instance, they can start with student outcomes in mind and then from there, they can monitor their own progress as educators, keeping their finger on the pulse of how close their students came to reaching their educational objectives. They can use the data from the validation process as a way to re-think and improve their educational methods.
Lastly, employers, clients, customers, grad schools and potential business partners all have an interest in being able to validate the learning of the people who they are considering working with.
Validating teaching is as important as validating learning. For example, imagine you want to hire an designer to design a logo for your company or a computer programer to create a hyper-specialized app for you. When you start hunting for candidates for this position there are methods you will want to use to find the most suitable person. Wouldn’t it be great to have access to their test scores, portfolios, school reputation grades and so on? The great news is, with online learning this is totally possible.
THIS IS WHERE MICRO-CREDENTIALS AND DIGITAL BADGES COME IN
This is an exciting time for students and teachers alike, because we’re now entering into a time where the linear “start here and end here” approach to education is being replaced by lifelong learning which draws on different educational experiences from different places (online courses, continuing education courses, blended learning, libraries, colleges, personal consulting and so on).
The trick is trying to find a way to validate this “mash up” of these various educational platforms. The good news is that there are people, organizations and companies working on this right now. For example, Mozilla Open Badges project is working to introduce a micr-credential / digital badge system that helps with the online educational verification process. On their website they describe a badge as:
A digital badge is an online representation of a skill you’ve earned. Open Badges take that concept one step further, and allows you to verify your skills, interests and achievements through credible organizations. And because the system is based on an open standard, you can combine multiple badges from different issuers to tell the complete story of your achievements — both online and off. Display your badges wherever you want them on the web, and share them for employment, education or lifelong learning.
To add onto the potential of this system, in a related Forbes Article it was stated that:
These digital credentials are not mere images. Rather, the badge image links back to verification information on servers that enable anyone looking at the badge to quickly verify the issuing institution, the person to whom the badge was issued, the criteria for receiving the badge, and even evidence and testimonials related to the credential.
Pretty amazing isn’t it? This is a step in the right direction for all parties involved who are interested in having learning verified.
Now of course, not all learning needs to be verified. However, what I like about this is that it gives credit for lifelong learners engaged in the practice of self-learning and it helps validate great teachers who want to work outside of the traditional school system.
It will be interesting to see how this technology is adopted by learners, teachers and employers. What do you think about micro-credentials and badges? Are you currently using this technology to teach or to display your badges as students? How helpful has this technology been to you? Let us know in the comments section below.