Our economy is faced with a debilitating paradox. Unemployment in the US stands at 6.7%, yet almost 4 million jobs remain unfilled. While some of these jobs may be at inaccessible locations and others may not pay enough to attract applicants, the biggest issue comes down to identifying candidates with the required skills. The employers seeking to fill these jobs simply do not have an efficient means to find applicants possessing the required skills.
The emerging concept of digital badges may help solve this societal problem. Digital badges have a wide range of applications, but none is more important than associating people with the knowledge and skills they possess. The short definition of a digital badge is “a validated indicator of accomplishment”. Today a number of emerging developments in this field are paving the way for broad adoption.
Everyone is familiar with the general concept of awarding badges to acknowledge individual accomplishment. Merit badges have been part of scouting since 1907. Badges related to law enforcement go back to medieval knights who wore badges bearing their coat of arms to identify their allegiance. Today, smart phone apps like Foursquare incorporate the concept of badges to spur game competition and reward certain types of behavior.
Badges awarded for academic accomplishment take the concept from the realm of gaming into the professional world. Schools like Carnegie Mellon, MITx and edX, Kahn Academy, Purdue University, Seton Hall, and Yale are pioneering the use of badges in higher education. Private companies including Basno have introduced platforms for creating, awarding and collecting digital badges associated with professional development classes. An important breakthrough came in 2012 when Mozilla Open Badges developed a common open system for representing and displaying badges across the web and social media, thanks to a major grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
The early and most active uses of digital badges has been with online courses, including massively open online courses (MOOCs) and professional development. This follows the pattern of disruptive technologies which tend to establish themselves just outside the mainstream, before they grow to supplant the established technology or tradition. As a new generation of users takes over, they bring with them the emerging technologies they grew up with. One step toward becoming mainstream that has is already occurring with digital badges is their incorporation into learning management systems (LMS) like Blackboard Learn and Moodle.
Digital badges have the potential to replace or at least augment the often-ineffective, and always time-consuming processes used today to assess skills and knowledge. Specifically:
- Resumés, which are often more about writing skills than professional skills
- Interviews, which are a skill in themselves that may not be related to job skills
- Pre-employment tests, which due to nervousness may not accurately reflect skills
- Personal recommendations, which may reflect the selling skills of the recommender rather than the skills of the candidate
What Exactly Is A Digital Badge?
A digital badge is a graphic accompanied by a description awarded to a person who has demonstrated specific skills or knowledge. Like cash currency, it has an intrinsic, easily-recognizable value. Also like cash, digital badges are portable and readily verifiable.
This property of being instantly verifiable, is an advantage that digital badges have over college degrees, simple resumes, and even transcripts. Digital technology is now replacing the process of personally contacting an issuing entity such as a university, society, or state agency.
This concept of instant digital verification is analogous to the process at work whenever you make an online purchase or divulge personal information to an online entity. In those cases, the identity of the online entity has been verified by a security authority. Mozilla’s Open Badge Infrastructure forms the basis for a similar verification mechanism for digital badges.
Give It A Try!
Want to try the concept and earn your first badge? Go to http://openbadges.org/earn/. I tried it; only takes a minute. When you get the handful of test questions correct, you are awarded “Badges 101”, which you can save in a collection and either keep private or display publicly and share via Twitter, Facebook or Google+. Feel free to take a look at my first two badges. You can see how easy it is to organize and share your verified skills and knowledge through your own online badge collection, which can also be emailed or posted to a web site.
June 25, 2020 – As Eric prepares for his day, a high priority message on his smart device catches his eye. It’s from the Adams-Commerce Insurance Company (ACIC). Yesterday, Eric had uploaded the badge he earned for passing the Level 4 Casualty Actuarial Society exam and opened his backpack to public access. Résumés, a necessity of the last century, have completely disappeared. They were first displaced by Twitter and Google, and are now completely supplanted by digital badge backpacks.
ACIC needed to hire an actuary for their booming resort property and casualty insurance division which was experiencing an uptick in claims related to swimming venues. Eric’s newly posted actuarial badge, along with his badges in civil engineering, swimming, and coaching made him a perfect candidate. His professional development badge for the course he took on the Federal Tax Reform Act of 2019 showed ACIC that he understands the impact of the IRS code changes on insurance-related investments.
The message from ACIC asked Eric to grant them access to his recent performance review summary. The summary includes a recap of his projects along with manager and peer ratings in the style of eBay and Uber, as well as his own comments on the ratings.
Eric ponders waiting a day to see if another competing request will come in and give him some negotiating leverage. In the end, he realizes that the system that ACIC used to find him also provides an accurate idea what his skills are worth, so Eric responds promptly.
Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of digital badges.
- Effective way to award recognizable credit for special skills and knowledge
- More precise indicator of knowledge compared with a college degree
- Third-party validated, unlike items on a resume
- Easier to confirm than exam records
- Encourages professional development, since badges provide quick rewards
- Already in use at Carnegie Mellon, MITx and edX, and Kahn Academy, among many others
- Professional organizations and licensing boards are using (including HR Certification Institute, Project Management Institute, and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards)
- Usage of digital badges in gaming might give the concept a less-than-serious image and detract from their serious professional usage; it may be hard to distinguish serious badges from fun ones.
- Credibility of badge issuers may not be immediately evident; similar to the issue that not all online retailers have the same credibility.
- Meaning of badges not always clear; dependent on the issuing party to clearly state the meaning and value of each badge.
- The concept of digital badges will need to achieve sufficient mass to take hold.
- Digital badges depreciate the value of a diploma or degree
- 235,100 total badges have been issued through Open Badge Initiative (OBI)
- 1,915 total issuers
- Over 1400% growth rate from Dec 2012
- 52,395 total backpacks
- Over 265 companies across a variety of sectors (workforce development, higher education, informal learning, k-12, etc.) are committed to exploring how open badges can be used within their sectors as a means to successfully accomplish the 2 Million Better Futures goal.
Upcoming Blogs In This Digital Badges Series
In upcoming blogs, we’ll share the ways we use badges at Extreme Networks. We’ll also take a look at the most difficult obstacles digital badges must overcome and offer a detailed view of their future.
For Further Reading
- Expanding Education and Workforce Opportunities Through Digital Badges
- There’s a Badge For That
- How badges lead to jobs, career advancement and new learning opportunities
- Out With the Degree, In With the Badge: How Badges Motivate Learning And 7 Tips To Use It Right
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