I, like many others it seems, have developed an interest in badges as a method for valuing learning that might otherwise go unrecognized (or unvalidated). I was spurred to look at badges as I began structuring a learning program around issues of digital literacy. I wanted something that would recognize learning and accomplishments without having to buy into a formal structured certificate program (such as those offered by Microsoft). There is a rigidity to some of the structured certificate programs, as well as cost (and the added factor of potentially locking a learner into one specific product line when we are discussing learning tech). And while we can issue a certificate there are steps and milestones along the way that merit acknowledgement and signify significant learning. Badges certainly seem like an appropriate solution here.
Yesterday I sat in on the weekly Mozilla Open Badges community call. It was a good experience and opportunity to connect with folks who are seriously exploring all of the issue around badges. Somewhat unfortunately yesterdays call was focused on higher ed and, though my office sits on campus at an Ivy League institution I am tied to the extension system, I experienced some frustration (self inflicted frustration, no doubt). It might be cool for a university to deliver badges, but until there is a radical change they will always hover in the background with the given grade being primary measure of worth.
Without a doubt, having universities adopt badges and infuse them with the full weight of their reputation and acknowledge them as valid indicators of achievement could lead to radical change in the educational landscape. But I am skeptical because that would open the door to alternative learning pathways achieving equivalent value using a badge based system that was structured to match the validity of those issued by formal educational institutions. Such a process would threaten the economics of formal education and degree granting institutions.
Opening alternative pathways to equivalent validation seems like a reasonable move. And it could be the impetus to creating a true learning culture.
Just a preliminary thought or two….