I’m dusting off this Littoraly blog to participate in OERu’s “Digital literacies for online learning” (#LiDA101). I’m hoping to get some insights about digital literacy and digital fluency. Are these just different levels or different in kind? I’m actually interested in digital literacies beyond online learning, but on the other hand learning is lifewide, so the TLA watchword is not ABC but ABL: Always. Be. Learning.
This blog was moved from WordPress.com to Reclaim Hosting – those folks were very helpful in setting me up. Then it languished, I’m afraid. The look of the blog is quite similar to what I originally set up on WordPress.com.
I’m hoping that this course will help me fire up my enthusiasm again for exploring thoughts online and “learning out loud.”
LiDA Photo Challenge
First displayed on Mastodon – this is an embedded link from the Mastodon server. I was in Toronto ahead of a meeting of the Learning Services department of Doctors Without Borders Canada. Not sure if it qualifies for a photo challenge
mobile learning records that could travel with the learner?
modular, remixable portfolios of skills and achievement?
What if they recognized learning outside the classroom:
What if they were authentic signals of soft skills?
What if (gasp!) they were ownedby the learner and could help them build their own human capital and carry it forward? What if Open Badges could help learners and workers build trust and connections across work and learning silos and in new life situations? What if they helped all kinds of people make transitions from secondary to post-secondary education, from education to employment, through career arcs, between careers or even between countries for immigrants and refugees?
What if they were recognized digital tender in regional skills economies? Well: Open Badges are; Open Badges can; Open Badges do.
But, as William Gibson famously said:
The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.
What if it could happen in Canada?
Regional skills networks are already emerging elsewhere: Open Badge Academy in the UK, Cities of LRNG in the US, Bestr in Italy, the exciting Humanitarian Passport and elsewhere.
Not so much in Canada. It’s pretty scattered here: typically institution-based (though some independent trainers are using them, Hive Toronto did something, others are making noises), often just an experiment in course gamification at the instructor level, with or without a research agenda.
There’s little or no evidence of portability beyond the institution other than maybe encouragement to post badges on LinkedIn – which is OK, assuming there’s an audience for the badges produced (are they “resume worthy”?) Almost all the efforts I’ve seen in this country have not actively engaged the key “badge consumer”: employers, who could use serious badges as evidence in a talent pipeline, a hiring process or an internal talent search for projects or future leadership.
Make no mistake: the whole point of *OPEN* Badges is to support careers: academic, vocational, professional. Open Badges are designed to be transferable beyond their original context: they’re portable evidence, support for new goals: they should help you get into higher education, the workplace or a new career.
Yes, they can and do have formative value, but if all you’re doing is setting up a system of course stickers, please don’t bother making them open – you’re just confusing people. Please just make “closed” digital badges that stay inside your learning silo, like Khan Academy does.
Starting the journey
Making Open Badges portable across sectors is more work, but it leads to better chances for sustainable success: to think through what skills employers might want (ask them!), what criteria and evidence might demonstrate those skills and how to package these in a workflow that makes sense for all concerned. And not just default to a big proprietary silo, where “free” means paid for with our own data… the Internet is a network, not a pipe. Let’s use it like one.
How can we build skills networks here in Canada? How can we build on what we already do? How can we learn from what’s already working elsewhere and adapt it here?
We’re starting the process in BC, on Canada’s West Coast next month with a free cross-sectoral design lab to develop alternative credentials for careers in the province: the BC Open Badges Forum.
We’ll be applying practices from similar networks and events, such as:
For example, we’re reaching out as much as we can across sectors in BC:
Education (Higher Ed, Vocational and K12)
Community (After School, Adult Employability, Immigrants and Refugees)
Business and Industry
We’re offering a crash course in Open Badges and how they build careers in other networks. We’re inviting local and external speakers (“Instigators”) to ignite ideas that can be brainstormed in collaborative breakout groups, using design tools that have been tested in action at other venues.
It’s the first step in our journey: bring the players together, present the opportunity and see what happens. It’s picking up momentum (we should have over 100 people from different sectors) and it promises to be a learning experience for all concerned – me included!
Don Presant CanCred.ca– recognize and share learning in a digital world Littoraly, learning across the margins
As someone who tracks the recognition of learning and achievement using Open Badges, I found Learning to be Employable, a report from UK’s City & Guilds a very interesting read, despite its narrow focus on Further Education (FE). Although this report focused on youth in vocational programs, there was lots here that can be adapted to other groups along the spectrum of lifelong learning.
I’m becoming more and more interested in how Open Badges can provide evidence of employability soft skills. I last wrote a blog post on this back in June 2016 and plan to write more on the topic. This post is a further instalment in what I hope will be a series, but is also doing double duty as a submission for the City & Guilds Employability Practitioner CPD ENGAGE Open Badge – eating my own dog food… yum!
First Part: What Are Employability Skills and Which Are Most Important?
I found this section (actually two sections) the most difficult. I guess I was expecting a simplification of an area I’ve found difficult to pin down (I sometimes call soft skills “slippery skills”, because getting them to line up nicely is like trying to nail jello to a wall.)
Instead, I was treated to a historical survey and research summary that emphasized overlaps between terms. I found the definitions interesting, but still had difficulty parsing terms such as perseverance and resilience (NB: “Resilient” capability on page 33 includes “perseveres” and ‘displays grit” – ack!) and the authors’ constructs of “habits of mind” and “transferable skills”. As more of a “lumper” than a “splitter”, I found lots of commonality across categories!
Here in Canada, I’m hoping to bring people to agreement on soft skills, building on frameworks such as:
Canada’s Essential Skills
I have to include this framework here in Canada. Along with the more easily measured and leveled Foundational Skills such as literacy, numeracy and document use, these include less defined skills such as Oral Communication, Working With Others, Thinking Skills, Digital Technology and Continuous Learning
Given all the overlap and the difficulty in getting universal agreement on terminology, I think that for recognition of employability soft skills via Open Badges it makes sense to simply link to individual frameworks as needed or demanded by different audiences, especially badge consumers such as employers. This way, earned badges will be more locally relevant, aligned to employers’ hiring contexts with a minimum of adjustment on their part (“Don’t make me think!”). The technology should be able to accommodate this in version 2 of the Open Badges standard: alignment to skills framework(s), which could be a feature of post-facto third party endorsement.
Moving on from frameworks, it was very useful to read about the need to remove the concept of morality from character and the focus on “performance character”, a useful term gleaned from the Character Education Partnership (CEP) in the US:
‘those qualities needed to realise one’s potential for excellence – to develop one’s talents, work hard and achieve goals’‘those qualities needed to realise one’s potential for excellence – to develop one’s talents, work hard and achieve goals’
In an amoral world, this might make a good Assassin’s Creed, however reprehensible that goal might be. If you must be an assassin, you should find your passion and work on your performance character to be the absolutely best one you can…
Second Part: Pedagogy of Employability Soft Skills
This part is where the report came alive for me. Again, there were no simplified prescriptions to follow, but lots of useful case studies and characteristics of exemplary institutions.A key lesson is that employability must be embedded across the curriculum and beyond it, not shoved into its own curriculum silo, or dumped into student services, to be accessed at the end of the program.
Wearing my Open Badge lens, I picked these effective practices out on page 42:
student-led recording evidence of personal development, accompanying school-led approaches to measure character (note to self: personal learning pathways)
use of reward or award systems schemes (note to self: uh, badges?)
older students working with younger students (note to self: badge the older students)
opportunities to take part in voluntary programmes and social action in school and in the local community (note to self: badges as modular Co-Curricular Records)
The Ofsted case study of the Halton Borough Council on page 43 hammered on the importance of real employer engagement to get the skinny on opportunities for Work Integrated Learning and employment, but also to get their inputon programme design – which skills and what to call them, so that job candidates are speaking the same language as their employers.
Speaking of language, I appreciated this paragraph on page 45, suggesting the notion of developing ingrained work habits rather than ‘learned’ employability skills:
While most employers, colleges and training providers tend to use a language of skills – employability skills, soft skills, NCS, for example – it is important to see the bigger picture. The CBI has clearly grasped this in its various educational initiatives, and we suggest that we follow its lead by using the word ‘habit’ to elevate this debate to an institutional level rather than allowing it to sit within discussions about individual courses. The evolution of thinking about employability exemplified by the CBI also has the benefit of focusing on ‘employability habits’, skills which have become so much second nature that they are also habitually used.
This helped me see how these are soft skills (or habits!) that could be acquired by many, rather than traits to be recognized in a lucky few. The key super-habit being Dweck’s “growth mindset”:
a combination of self-belief, a willingness to give things a go, seeing mistakes as an inevitable part of making progress, being willing and able to take and learn from feedback, being pre-disposed to share emerging ideas with others and look for their input, valuing hard work and effort, and seeing perseverance as an essential part of human activity.
This is an amalgam of skills that have been defined in various ways in this report. An employer might recognize the totality without troubling to check off each component part. (But my ePortfolio background tells me that the employer should seek confirmation of his/her conclusion through triangulation of evidence to avoid the “halo effect” a single impression might create.)
I was interested to learn that non-cognitive skills are still malleable at the adolescent level, so that resilience, persistence, etc. can still be effectively worked on in high school and early college.
The authors report that “GenY” (Millenial?) workers seek more immediate feedback than Boomer, “attributed to their exposure to instant communication and feedback via internet access and social media.” This suggests personalized digital badge development pathways to monomaniacal people like myself.
The chapter on Co-Curricular learning was particularly good. I hadn’t heard of Learning Companies (pg 54) per se, but I see parallels with practice firms or virtual enterprises, out of continental Europe (see Forbes article.)
I also hadn’t heard of UK’s National Citizen Service, which seems to be quite effective and successful and has surprisingly won support across the political spectrum in the country. Something to think about here in Canada, as we emerge from the rubble of the Katimavik and Canada World Youth programs.
One quibble: the assessment section did not even mention badges, though it did talk about ePortfolios and “the use of technology to support the recording and assessing of employability skills.” I suggest that the authors may want to examine the affordances of digital badges and Open Badges, given their discussion of the tension between formative and summative assessment and ePortfolios.
This report joins my library of resources on soft skills and I’ll be following up on many of the references cited in it.
I do like the City & Guilds approach of focusing on PD of instructors using Open Badges for reflective learning. This makes for better change management for one thing, getting instructors to reflect on the changes needed. Also, the Scottish Social Services Council has discovered that the reflections contained in such badges are a great source of feedback and qualitative research. I’m sure that City & Guilds will also find this.
I’ve been volunteering on the Program Committee for the annual ePortfolio and Identity Conference (ePIC) for the last few years, working with Serge Ravet and others to come up with topics, lure speakers and participants, and cook up an interesting stew of ideas.
This year’s conference is being held October 26-28 in Bologna, graciously hosted by our CINECA colleagues, who are behind the Bestr platform. Inspired by the location, Serge had the wonderful idea of coming up with a new kind of Bologna Declaration: one that would focus on the practical recognition of capabilities and achievement rather than the formal delivery and assessment of learning.
This really caught my imagination and I worked with Serge to craft what is now called the Bologna Open Recognition Declaration (that’s BORD, not BORING). Here’s the header:
Support the Bologna Open Recognition Declaration
We’re launching the Bologna Open Recognition Declaration officially at the ePIC conference, but it’s already open for your evaluation. If you have comments or suggestions, please make them on the Google Docs version between now and October 26th.
If you feel that the Declaration aligns with your values, we encourage you to sign it by filling in the form at the bottom of the Declaration. And then share it as widely as you can. A great way of doing this is by claiming and sharing the Bologna Open Recognition Declaration badge, coming soon. (We’ll be following up with a BORD Activator badge for those who can show how they are actively supporting BORD values.)
The Declaration has already been unofficially endorsed by these well-known champions of open education:
Mark Surman, current Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation
… and the list of signatures is growing.
Because OER is not enough
UNESCO’s Paris OER Declaration called on governments worldwide to openly license publicly funded educational materials for public use.That’s a good thing. BCampus’s Open Textbook Project is already saving students tons of money – great ! But resources are not enough. MIT knew this when they started MIT OpenCourseWare. Content is not learning. You need activities, reflection, assessment – that’s assessment typically by a human being, whether it’s formative or summative.
The OER champions are certainly aware of this; they’re choosing to proceed step by step, which makes sense to me. But I also think we need ultimate goals. And it could be that my ultimate goal is not the same of all those who champion open courseware…
Because formal education is not enough
To continue: The Cape Town Open Declaration was great.OERu is great, so is FutureLearn (although I wonder if they talk to each other?)
And the 1999 Bologna Declaration proposed a vision of free student movement between countries that led to a qualification reform process now adopted by 50 countries. Great! But it’s not enough.
As BORD says:
… formal education is not accessible to all citizens and does not meet all needs. Many argue that formal education represents only a small fraction of the learning that takes place across an individual’s lifespan, most of which goes unrecognised.
This diagram about facilitating 70:20:10 from DeakinPrime, the corporate training arm of Deakin University shows how learning outside the classroom can take many forms in the workplace alone – what about communities?
Training organizations, employers, associations and communities can find better ways to help people learn the things they need to learn closer to the time that they need it.
Applied learning in action.
DeakinDigital takes it a step further at that innovative university, providing a way for mid-career professionals to have their work-related learning formally recognized at the Masters level:
Or maybe it’s too much for the purpose at hand. Do I need a Masters degree to be selected to lead that team? Only if the selection criteria say so. Only if the selection criteria don’t include the magic words “…or equivalent”. Sometimes, as in selecting the best candidate for employment, it’s informal recognition of informal learning that’s most appropriate: the reception of signals of performance, the weighing of evidence of past performance focused on the prediction of future performance.
We need an Open Architecture for Open Recognition
Here are the objectives we set out in BORD:
Open recognition for all: First, we encourage everyone—learners, educators, citizens and organisations—to actively participate in and take ownership of the emerging open recognition movement. Participating includes: taking personal responsibility in one’s own learning and in the recognition of others’ achievements, contributing to the design, implementation and/or exploitation of local and/or global systems of recognition.
Open recognition technologies and infrastructure: Second, we call on the community of learning practitioners and technology developers to establish a trustworthy system of human and machine verifiable learning credentials and to adopt open standards facilitating the comparability and transferability of learning credentials.
Open recognition policies: Third, we call on governments, public authorities and educational stakeholders to implement inclusive policies facilitating and encouraging the recognition of learning achievements whether in formal, non-formal and informal settings, with bridges between all three. Those policies should ensure the existence of multiple developmental pathways, increased flexibility and accessibility and the inclusion of socially excluded and disenfranchised groups.
And Open Badges demonstrate Open Recognition
If you’ve been reading this blog before, you probably expected that this post would get around to Open Badges eventually. They may not be the only way, but Open Badges are a great way to show how open recognition can work
Again, lifted from BORD (bolding mine):
Open Badges have demonstrated that we have the means and the opportunity to put an end to the disparities of the recognition landscape. Connecting and informing competency frameworks, they become the building blocks of an open architecture for the recognition of lifelong and life wide learning achievements. They create the conditions for individuals to be in control of their own recognition, to establish their identity and agency, whether formally (within institutions) or informally (across communities).
Personal agency and control over one’s own recognition are important concepts that people like Serge Ravet are keeping alive in our Open Badges community.
Recognition, like learning delivery, is not binary; it ranges from formal to informal, as appropriate to the situation.Quality is as quality does. This relates to the type of issuer just as much as to the type of issue.
Beyond Higher Education, professional associations are already credentialing, both formally (certification) and informally (CPD). Industry associations and large enterprises like IBM are learning the community-building power that open recognition brings.
Word is spreading.
Join us at ePIC in Bologna
Help us launch the Bologna Open Recognition Declaration.
We’ll also be advancing thinking about the intersection of ePortfolios and Open Badges with Rick West, Bernard Bull, Dan Hickey, Connie Yowell, IBM’s David Leaser, Atish Gonsalves of the Humanitarian Leadership Academy and a host of other enthusiasts (see speaker list.)
I may be coming late to this party (Tom Vander Ark mentioned this as early as March 2012), but I’m going to be reading more Clayton Christensen over the next while. Why? Because his theories about disruptive innovation help integrate a lot of the thinking that’s inspiring me about Open Badges and the recognition of learning.
Why are Open Badges a disruptive innovation? In a nutshell: Open Badges don’t have to be as “good” as the high quality diplomas and degrees issued by higher education. Instead, they can be a lesser quality, less costly, less difficult solution that fills unmet needs at the edges of the recognition of learning and achievement, such as for Associations.
There’s nothing wrong with less quality, if it’s appropriate for the need, especiallyif it’s provided at a lower cost and/or has lower barriers to entry. You don’t pour a foundation to build a mobile home. In the same way, Open Badges can be lightweight instead of heavyweight credentials, if those lightweight credentials are good enough to do the job, such as tack a new skill or achievement onto your résumé.
Over time, Open Badges technology and social infrastructure will continue to grow in “quality”and gravitas, with machine-readable taxonomies that enable searching, 3rd party endorsement and other forms of validation, rich extensions, improved post-issuing valorization markets and so on. Eventually they will likely become a more transparent, complete and flexible system than our current high quality diplomas and degrees. Diplomas and degrees will probably be seen more as recognition milestones rather than end points in lifelong learning careers.
This video from 2014’s Globalization of Higher Education conference was the trigger for me. Clayton Christensen was talking more about OER and MOOCs, but his observations apply equally well to Open Badges and the recognition of open learning:
… particularly the section starting at 14 minutes, where he moves on from the classic micro-computer example to talk about how Sony and Panasonic hollowed out the market for vacuum tubes by making transistors for unmet needs: smaller items, such as hearing aids and transistor radios:
gradually making them better and better,
… until by the mid-1980’s you could build pretty big things with solid state electronics. And one by one, it sucked the customers out of the core into the periphery and the periphery then became the core. All of the companies that made vacuum tube products vaporized.(Quoted from above at 19m14s)
This happened despite the vacuum tube industry spending 30 timesthe R&D money that Sony spent, trying to make transistors meet the needs of their currentmarket. So it’s not like they didn’t see it coming, they were just locked into the needs of their current customer base.
Christensen doesn’t do a great job of describing the concept of non-consumption in the video; it’s better here in this interview with Business Innovation Factory:
According to Clay, true disruption occurs when companies compete against non-consumption. “A new-market disruption is an innovation that enables a larger population of people, who previously lacked the money or skill, now to begin buying and using a product and doing the job for themselves,” explains Clay.
If you’re an upstart chasing after the non-consumer, the great news is that your audience is non-discriminating. They want something easy to use and they want it cheap. They’re not expecting that same level of quality and performance. “Because,” says Clay, “something is so much better than nothing.” (bolding mine)
This makes badges a textbook example of a disruptive innovation according to Christensen et al. (2011) as badges are cheap to produce, and are available to a segment of the education market not currently being served(bolding mine).
Enter Associations as a large bloc of non-consumers of high quality, expensive credentials. Let’s leave aside the high stakes certifications of regulated professions for a moment; instead, think about non-regulated professional associations and industry associations.
Here’s a quote from a recent excellent white paper, The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm:
Associations are well known as advocates for our industries and professions. Less well known, but potentially even more important in today’s world, associations create standards, define boundaries between professional spheres, and identify competencies needed in the employment world. We create educational programming designed to fill needs unmet(bolding mine) by more traditional educational institutions and foster social connections and professional opportunity through networking. Where conventional educational curricula come up short, associations provide industry-specific bodies of knowledge. Where diplomas fail to demonstrate specific competencies, credible and well-designed credentialing and certification efforts can fill the gap.
Hmm… “needs unmet”. Unmet needs. Non-consumption as an opportunity.
In the section entitled “Where Do We Start?”, here’s one starting point that stood out for me:
Micro-Credentialing and Badging
Career paths are no longer linear and simple, with students earning a degree in a particular subject, getting a job in that field, progressing smoothly up a defined career ladder at one company, and retiring with the proverbial gold watch after 40 years. Resumes can’t be linear, either, anymore. Qualifications are now about competencies that can be mixed and matched as necessary to meet employer or licensing requirements. Micro-credentialing and badging were created specifically to address this new way of acquiring and demonstrating skills.(pg 30)
Clay suggests shifting responsibility for answering the disruptive threat to an autonomous organization(bolding mine) that can then frame it as an opportunity. A new organization can pursue alternative channels, utilize different suppliers, and employ different services. Most importantly, they can do this without hindering their current, and most likely profitable value network while also giving their new growth ventures a solid foundation for success.
Can you say DeakinDigital, “a wholly owned subsidiary of Deakin University”? They’re now badging Masters level Recognition of Professional Practice for mid-careeer professionals – meeting unmet needs. They’re now run by the same CEO who runs DeakinPrime, Deakin’s corporate business training arm. This is an example of the Innovator’s Solution.
A bit like Madison Area Technical College’s badge approach to PACE/Corporate training. And several university Extension arms, such as Colorado State and Oregon State. (Typically) uncredentialed cash cows for their institutions.
So it’s starting at the edges… but beware of competition from agile upstarts.
Join us at ePIC in Bologna
I’ll be discussing this and other issues with Rick West, Bernard Bull, Dan Hickey, Connie Yowell, IBM’s David Leaser and a host of other enthusiasts (see speaker list.)
We’ll also be launching the Bologna Open Recognition Declaration. Current supporters of this declaration include Sir John Daniel, Stamenka Uvalić-Trumbic and Mark Surman. More to follow. Be one of them! Comments welcome at the Google Doc draft page.
I had a conversation last week with a Canadian colleague, exploring how Open Badges could help youth-serving agencies incorporate “career competencies” into their programming. The ice may finally be breaking up here! I know that we can learn from some exciting initiatives already underway around the world.
Career competencies is her semi-formalized term for what I normally call soft skills: “communication, teamwork, critical thinking etc.” She’s working with a framework that was developed by a Canadian university. There are lots of frameworks out there, which is part of the challenge.
According to my colleague:
These are not easy to accurately assess. But they are necessary!
Boy, is she right – on both counts.
But that’s exactly why I think an “Open Badges aware” solution represents an ideal approach: their simplicity, their modularity, their different degrees of formality, their freedom to traverse contexts… all these make possible a wide array of flexible strategies for the slippery needs of soft skills assessment and recognition.
So I reached out to the Open Badge community asking for leads to the “current state” of Open Badges for soft skills. I got lots and I’ve dug for more.
This blog post starts the discussion.
Why are Soft Skills Important?
The answer is obvious: because employers want them. In fact, they often say they want them more than cognitive and technical skills: “hire for attitude, train for skill.” (Assuming they do train their employees… more later.)
The Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC) contracted a survey of 500 Canadian business leaders who agreed that “ideal” employees have a good blend of technical and soft skills.
When asked which “soft skills” are most important, they provided this prioritized list of the usual suspects:
I like the long tail, which could help people (at least in Canada) who are designing training and assessment programs and, gosh, badge systems.
“Soft Skills are Hard”
This is a cute title for a recent (ongoing?) Canadian social sciences research study, which so far I’ve only been able to see in four page summary form; the full report is likely still unpublished. More information about “Soft Skills are Hard:” The “Skills Gap” and Importance of “Soft Skills”can be found partway down this page on the funder’s website.
But the summary alone is good. It encapsulates the dialogue around soft skills succinctly. I’ve copied the key messages from the first page verbatim because they so closely align with what I want to talk about over the next few blog posts:
There is wide agreement that “soft” skills (often termed “professional” or “generic” skills) are among the skills essential to employment across sectors.
While there is little agreement, however on how specifically these skills are defined.
While much attention is focused on providing Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) graduates with training in soft skills, less attention is focused on Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) graduates because of an assumption, perhaps mistaken, that these graduates will possess soft skills.
Employers report a “skills gap” and generally do not feel graduates possess sufficient “soft” skills to perform effectively.
There are significant differences in the expectations and perceptions of employers and the perceptions of educators and graduates regarding the level of soft skills graduates possess.
While there are some standardized tests for some soft skills – writing and critical reasoning for example, many soft skills can only be assessed in context and just as there is little agreement on definition, there is little agreement on assessment of these skills.
There are many stakeholders involved in the development and assessment of soft skills and most agree a combination of formal and informal or experiential learning are required.
Because of the way in which soft skills are learned, many segments of the population are disadvantaged in access to the coaching, training and role models needed to develop these skills and cultural biases may play a role in the definition and assessment of soft skills. Moreover the boundaries between “skills” and “personality traits or habits” are blurred particularly with respect to interpersonal skills. A diversity lens is critical.
The lack of consistency in definitions and fragmentation of stakeholders involved in soft skills development compounds the problem and more coordination is needed to develop shared expectations and to bridge the gap between supply and demand.
More research is needed to systematically assess empirically the ways in which soft skills can be defined, developed and evaluated.
What a wonderful row to hoe for Open Badges, don’t you think?
I love point 3 about STEM vs Humanities graduates. I definitely agree with point 7 that ” a combination of formal and informal or experiential learning are required. ” Point 8’s discussion of accessibility and diversity adds a lot of value to the conversation and should be interesting to the large scale Cities of LRNG initiative in the US, whose mission is to bridge development gaps for underserved populations.
I have a quibble with point 6, and maybe it’s just a question of emphasis: yes, context is important but soft skills are supposed to be transferable. An employer doesn’t say in a behavioural interview “tell me about a time in my specific context”. That’s fodder for “Badges as conversation topics and boundary objects” – more on that point later in a future post, but follow the link to read that interesting article in the original.
I have another quibble with point 9 and maybe it has to do with what’s meant by “coordination” for shared expectations. Because our society is not a totalitarian one, I’m I’m not sure we’re going to get “one framework to rule them all”, although 21st Century Skills is trying. Fragmentation and what to do about it is being discussed right now in this thread of the Open Badges Google Group. But in a later post I’ll be making the point that the evolving Open Badge technology standard provides effective ways to cross boundaries.
But this study makes a great starting point.
Coming Up in Future Posts
I’m chunking this fascinating topic into instalments in an effort to cut down the length of my blog posts.
Here’s what I’ve planned so far for upcoming posts:
Defining Soft Skills
You want frameworks? We got frameworks. They’re breeding like rabbits.
Assessing and Recognizing Soft Skills
Beyond testing. Authentic forms of recognition.
Education, Training and Development for Soft Skills
How can we teach this and know that we’re teaching it well? What can we teach and what can’t we teach?When do we get out of the way? When does it stop?
Communicating, “Valorizing”, Analyzing Soft Skills
How do we evaluate between different contexts? What’s the impact on career development and productivity? How can we analyze impact across contexts?
Soft Skills and Open Badges: Best Friends Forever. Let’s explore the relationship together.
Closing plug #1: 2016 Digital Badge Summit
I ‘m looking forward to the learning and networking opportunities as I participate and speak at the exciting Digital Badge Summit on June 24th in the greater Denver area, just before the massive ISTE 2016 conference in Denver itself. There’ll be something for everybody there: K12, Higher Ed, Teacher PD, with a stellar group of speakers.
I plan to learn more about Open Badges for soft skills and I’m curating the Hot Topics thread, which will include sessions on Open Badges and ePortfolios, Trust Networks and Digital Badge Futures. If you’re coming, please reach out!
I had the pleasure of presenting at the annual TEAM conference in Winnipeg this week. TEAM stands for “Teaching English as an Additional Language (EAL) to Adults in Manitoba”, a portmanteau term for an inclusive volunteer organization that puts on an ambitious program every year – there were 13 tracks in this year’s conference.
EAL is a key enabler of immigrant integration in Canada and I go way back with immigration: my father served as an immigration officer for 20 years and I spent some time growing up overseas. In my career, I’ve worked on several learning projects related to language learning and settlement at the federal and provincial levels, enough to know a fair bit about the immigration and settlement landscape here.
As usual, I adapted my evolving presentation about Open Badges and ePortfolios to language learning, using additional research. This was also an opportunity to talk about CanCred.ca, the Open Badge eCredential service that my company Learning Agents has recently launched in Canada, in partnership with Discendum, of Open Badge Factory fame:
Here’s the presentation, embedded from SlideShare:
I blogged about the broader landscape of Newcomer settlement back in April: (eCredential Pathways for Immigrants and Refugees). This post is more about the language learning side – my chance to reflect on new and old thoughts that occurred to me getting the presentation out in the context of the TEAM conference.
Migration = transformation
Picking up your life and moving it to another country is a marvelous opportunity to re-invent yourself, especially if the Plan A you arrived with isn’t working out. Maybe you’re having trouble getting your credentials recognized, or your English isn’t as good as you thought it was, or you’re having trouble building a network.
It’s an opportunity to re-think your career, your life purpose, even your identity. This opens the door for transformative learning tools such as ePortfolio, where you can begin to reflect on your life experience, your gifts, your interests and your emerging opportunities. Open Badge eCredentials can work with ePortfolios in mutually supportive, recursive ways: ePortfolio evidence packages that lead to Open Badges that fold into new evidence packages, etc.
Transformation can be a long journey
Learning seldom happens in a straight line: it can take place on multiple fronts at multiple rates at different times. This can be confusing and hard to track. Or it can seem glacial – too slow to track.
In EAL, there’s often a learning plateau around the middle levels of CLB 5-6, where progress seems to slow down. This can be disheartening for people trying to achieve CLB levels 7-8, generally agreed to be the employability level.
Recognizing learning achievements with Open Badges can help language learners visualize their continuing progress as they move through these development doldrums.
Educators of newcomers also need to learn, and in similar ways
Language learners and their professional instructors both qualify as adults with adult learning preferences and needs. Both need a mixture of formal, non-formal, informal and experiential, connected learning opportunities.
The British Council’s English Agenda does a good job of capturing this in their document Going forward: Continuing Professional Development for English Language Teachers in the UK. This slide from my presentation summarizes the approach:
Language learners and their educators are already being credentialed
Learners enrolled in Language Instruction for Newcomers (LINC) programs can earn LINC certificates with sufficient hours of instruction. According to South Eastman English and Literacy Services, these certificates can be used for Citizenship and to register for college or university classes.
I think an Open Badge eCredential could do a more transparent and secure job of sharing this man’s language skills.Even better if it were in an ePortfolio.
Language learning is ripe for digital transformation
I was struck at the conference by the relatively low level of technology usage in the EAL community. There are some notable exceptions, and this was evident in the sessions about leveraging the affordances of mobile and web technologies for teaching. English Online comes to mind, for example.
But a speaker in the opening panel had to make the point that “technology” is not a new “thing”: teachers have always leveraged available technologies to get learning happening. I have a great deal of respect for the passion and dedication of EAL teachers, but I do think that is is an area for improvement.
I suspect that most learners are ready for change… Statista
There was push-back at the conference about an online community portal called Tutela.ca. Community members complained about the difficulty of finding resources by theme. Looking at the incredibly poor user experience of seeking resources using “Browse by Topic”, I’m inclined to agree, though the site promises a better experience in a forthcoming “Tutela 3.0”. I just hope the community has the patience to wait!
But I detected a underlying desire for a single place to go to get a canonical, authoritative, “approved” list of resources that teachers can use. This feels a bit like the passive “teach me” attitude that many of the same teachers complain about in their learners. I don’t think it’s going to happen, at least to the extent that they seem to desire, i.e. for all levels and audiences, centrally approved, constantly updated, permanently maintained… Yes, resource search can and should improve, but many of the resources will come from community peers and from strangers in other communities. Professional learning is a conversation, an ever-evolving stream of emergent and examined practice. This is what it means to be a professional.
Technology can help with crowd-sourcing the development of professional resources, such as in the example I provide in my presentation above about VIF International Education, a global education PD initiative, where teachers who develop robust learning resources are recognized by Open Badge eCredentials, killing two birds with one stone.
But the notion of crowd-sourcing and the culture of autonomous, blended learning in physical and virtual communities needs to be fostered for professionals just as it needs to be fostered for language learners.
Another clue that the community needs to embrace technology more: paper language portfolios. The pushback mentioned above was specifically about lack of tools and resources for Portfolio Based Language Assessment, a primarily formative, “assessment FOR learning” approach to tracking learner progress, ideally based on learner artefacts, but often on instructor “micro-assessments” of learner tasks.
Now I think PBLA is an awesome idea and I’m very proud that it was invented in Manitoba (as Collaborative Language Portfolio Assessment), but the recommended PBLA portfolio is still a 3-ring binder, albeit with some allowance for electronic archiving via CD-ROM. Several sessions at the conference were devoted to PBLA and some shared tools for delivering it, but the default technology was paper.
This seems odd in this day and age, especially when you consider that two of the four skills are Listening and Speaking. It seems to cry out for multimedia in an online Personal Learning Environment.
And this PLE doesn’t have to be a single-purpose language silo: it can later adapt to support employability and career development needs.
I suggest that “Teaching the Teachers”, or at least helping them learn is a natural first step. This could build on development frameworks such as the British Council’s I quoted above, and/or the Competency Dictionary of the BC Settlement and Adaptation Program (despite its past linkage to ELSA):
You could even leverage the Scottish Social Services Council’s Open Badges strategy, which is built on their professional development frameworks:
Early areas for development could include PBLA implementation, technology-enabled language learning and recognition for resource development and mentoring – in addition to the easy stuff like conference/workshop recognition and certification.
We’d be thrilled if the language learning sector in Canada began using our recently launched Canadian eCredentialing solution, because we think it’s ideally suited for the job:
… but we’d be only slightly less thrilled if the EAL sector in Canada showed significant signs of going digital by adapting the global examples provided, using ANY solutions for ePortfolios and eCredentials. We launched our service to help accelerate adoption in this country. After all, it’s 2016!
This post is about a digital badging practice that I think can be damaging to learner motivation and to our badging community in general.
In a recent Twitter chat about badges for K12 I learned that a large school division, who’s been an early adopter for digital badging has now issued over 100,000 digital badges. I thought to myself: “Great!” And then I checked out their website after the chat. I watched the promotional videos about the program and thought to myself: “Yikes, shades of B.F. Skinner!”
I’ve transcribed below significant content from the two videos I watched. I’ll let them speak for themselves first (with a bit of bolding on my part), then discuss below:
Interview with an Assistant Principal
The 9th Graders are automatically enrolled in this (citizenship) program and to exit… they have to meet certain criteria. Some of it is grades, some of it is joining a club or a sport or being involved in a very rigorous program that requires extra time such as band, FFA (Future Farmers of America), ASB (Associated Student Body), things like that. Or, if they choose not to join a club or sport or one of these programs, then they can attend events and we require ten events. Events can be anything from Saturday School to a sporting event, to Open House, any kind of event that may be going on campus that shows that they’re getting involved. Then they are “passported out”, which means they get to sleep in Wednesday morning.
Then of course, with every accomplishment they’ve achieved they earn points and with the points they can redeem for prizes we have in our Points Store….
[How do you populate the inventory for the points store?] We reach out to some of our local supporters, we have good relationships with a lot of our businesses here….. The pizza place that’s down the street, they’re actually fairly new in town and we knew they were looking to market their business, so we got in touch with them and they donated a certain amount per quarter. Subway is another huge supporter…. so far we’re having a pretty steady influx of students redeeming their points and prizes.
Interview clips with students
It was just like shopping online. You just hit ‘Add to Cart’… It helps motivate us because the more badges you get, the more points you get, the more prizes you can get and the more fun you can have.
It’s pretty great because it’s just like a big sticker book. And you get stuff for it.
I see a big problem here. What are the students talking about? Citizenship? Learning? Looks more like programmed compliance to me. Push the lever, get the treat. They’ve gamified a learning program and in doing so have commercialized it. The learning program is rewards-based: it relies on extrinsic motivation.
How will these kids fare when they can no longer cash in badges and points for pizzas and subs? Will they still want to learn and get involved as citizens? What has this transactional approach done to whatever intrinsicmotivation they might have had?
One reason I’m reacting like this is because of an article I read recently in The Atlantic. The author is a family psychologist who describes a similar problem with sticker charts,where kids get stickers for good behaviour and can “spend” them on prizes, based on a system their parents set up for them.
It can be pretty effective in the short term. The problem is:
… reward economies promote a transactional model for good behavior: Children come to expect a reward for good behavior and are hesitant to “give it away for free.”
Studies have shown that offering children tangible rewards in exchange for caring behavior may diminish future helpful behavior and can erode children’s innate tendency to help others….
Insights from behavioral economics help explain this effect. From that perspective, the problematic attitude of children raised in a reward economy—“What’s in it for me?”—is a predictable response to the collision of social norms (the invisible forces that shape how humans act) with market norms (a system of payments, debts, contracts, and customers).
In experiments studying the effects of these two norms, the behavioral economist and Duke University professor Dan Ariely has found that when the two come together in the same situation, market norms tend to overpower social norms, shifting the focus from relationships to commerce.
Here’s an example from the article demonstrating the impact :
One mother who was initially pleased with the results of her sticker-chart system said that when she asked her 8-year-old son to stop what he was doing and help his younger brother clean up a spill, he responded: “What will you give me?”
Is this how we want students to view learning about citizenship? “How many more tasks for an extra slice of pepperoni?”
Alfie Kohn: Punished by Rewards
I’d already been sensitized to this issue in relation to Open Badges a couple of years earlier at ePIC 2014 by Alfie Kohn , author of of Punished by Rewards:
Here’s Alfie’s thesis, from the book blurb from his website:
Promising goodies to children for good behavior can never produce anything more than temporary obedience. In fact, the more we use artificial inducements to motivate people, the more they lose interest in what we’re bribing them to do.
Serge Ravet, organizer of the ePIC conferences, had read the book and was very enthusiastic about Alfie’s point of view. He blogged about it in 2013 and invited Alfie to appear at ePIC 2014. Although Alfie did not have direct experience with Open Badges, Serge had explained how they work and he agreed to present some thoughts designed to help Open Badges avoid being digital “doggie biscuits”.
Here’s a video recording of Alfie’s ePIC presentation via Skype:
I’ve seen plenty of kids who are in awful reading incentive programs, where they get points, or levels, or pizza parties or prizes of various kinds for reading books. And these kids are bragging about it: “Look how great I am. How can I get more of these?” But these kids in a fundamental sense are being lost as learners because their desire to do the learning itself… their interest in reading for its own sake is evaporating before our eyes.
Alfie wound up his remarks with six criteria for reducing harm Open Badges. I should say here that I don’t fully agree with Alfie’s criteria. For example, he rejects gamification as being too controlling and he lumps milestone badges in with that.
Dan Hickey, one of the most active researchers out there in the field of Open Badges, is well aware of Alfie’s work and also has issues with aspects of these criteria. We gave Dan an opportunity to engage Alfie afterwards in a debate over Skype. Unfortunately, that recording is painful to watch due to audio issues, and Dan was not at his best because he was recovering from a mountain biking accident, so you’re probably better off reading the blog post that Dan wrote about the event a few weeks after, which he ran by Alfie before posting.
Mostly, Dan suggested that the field has moved on in the last 40-odd years: learning is now recognized to have social and cultural aspects that go beyond the individual constructivist model and these need to be taken into account, particularly in a social media ecosystem. Open Badges are well positioned to exploit these social and cultural aspects – not necessarily at the expense of learner autonomy and personal pathways.Badges can be gateways to new learning. (I’d add here that they can also be signposts for the recognition of learning, to help learners consolidate their progress and to demonstrate mastery to others)
Dan cited a couple of examples from his Design Principles Documentation Project:
Supporter To Reporter (S2R)
Young people take on the roles of sports journalists, media producers, and mentors, demonstrating their work online, recognized by “medals”
I’d add that Cities of LRNG is also now experimenting with more nuanced approaches learning in social and cultural contexts based on Connie Yowell’s notion of Connected Learning, which seems support Dan’s reference to intentional learning as described by Bereiter and Scardamalia: engaged learning to solve problems, rather than treating the learning itself as the problem.
Alfie makes a good point about working with rather than doing to learners and I think it’s safe to say that Alfie and Dan agreed that behaviourist “rat mazes” populated with incentives like food (“do this, get a slice”) are not conducive to learning.
Alfie Kohn represents a strong point of view that is useful as a reference point when you’re developing badge systems, but as you can see, it’s not the only one.
In order to improve my badge system design skills, I think I may critique Alfie’s list of criteria in a future post. I’ll do that after looking in more detail at the references that Dan makes in his post and after reading Punished by Rewards right through; I’ve got a library copy that I’ve been skimming for this post.
But please, please, please let’s all agree to stay away from this:
… it’s just like a big sticker book. And you get stuff for it.
I’ve been having a lot of fun over the last few weeks re-thinking how Open Badge eCredentials can enhance lifewide learning through the lens of Extended Enterprise Learning.
Although this concept originated as a form of “edu-marketing” for private sector producers of products and services, John Leh of Talented Learning has identified five sectors that significantly employ this kind of learning. These are listed below (the linked listings point to my previous posts on the topic):
Many public sector academic institutions, particularly universities, are uncomfortable with the notion of learner as customer, preferring to think of them as what I would call “targets for transformation”, if teaching is the goal, or “talent pipelines” if research is the goal. OK, sometimes both.
However, Learners do generally pay for their learning, they generally have a choice of suppliers and do vote with their feet if their needs aren’t being met.
Certainly there are dangers inherent in treating undergraduate students too much like customers; ask any instructor whose performance assessment is based on student evaluations. But Gardner Campbell, Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success at Virginia Commonwealth University, warns us that there are also dangers inherent in viewing value only in terms of the institution. Student needs can be conflated with institutional needs and real learning can be compromised.
This can have an impact on about society and the concept of “shared private goods” (i.e. the shared learning of learners) contributing to the public good in what Gardner Campbell calls the “digital media commons”. See this recent interview excerpt from Bryan Alexander’s excellent Future Trends Forum series (watch 3m22s – 7m45):
So maybe the public is a “customer”.
And there are other customers, such as:
Exploring the first element, “learner as customer” , we have the following examples of the “Extended Enterprise”:
“Pre-Sales”: MOOCs as recruitment vehicles
MOOC consortia are proliferating. We’ve heard of edX, Coursera and even Unizin. Over in Europe, Open University’s multi-institutional multi-national FutureLearn platform has over 3.5 million learners. In the words of its CEO, MOOCs will become “one of the most important recruitment grounds…particularly for international students”, adding that their university partners were discovering that offering free online content was “not just about courses” but also about making institutions “more discoverable” online. First sample is free…
“Post-Sales”: Continuing Education, Continuing Professional Development, Alumni Associations It’s useful to maintain contact with graduates (satisfied customers?), who may want to come back for more learning, or may wish to “pay back” their learning in the form of donations. Institutions can encourage this productive relationship by providing services for alumni such as, oh I don’t know, maybe a lifelong ePortfolio?
Implication 2: Competition and Coopetition
Yes, institutions compete with each other and the private sector competes with the public sector; I’ll be exploring Extended Enterprises in private sector education in a future post.
But each institution is part of a larger system whose goal is (should be!) to benefit learners as they move through the (more or less) defined stages of learning: K12, post-secondary, professional/post-graduate, workplace and lifelong. As the learner moves through the stages of their learning, the supplier and other stakeholders inter-operate (again, more or less).
Articulation agreements and dual credit programs: secondary/post-secondary, college/university
Apprenticeship Board agreements with colleges to provide the formal learning component of apprenticeship programs
Agreements with employers for Work Integrated Learning and custom programs aligned to industry needs
Undergraduate programs designed for professional certification
Other external standards and accreditation bodies which help align learning standards and programs and hold providers accountable for quality of delivery. They are themselves accountable to the public and regulated by the governments (who are themselves accountable…)
Recognition of Prior Learning enables learners to carry forward more of the human capital they have earned along the way, via credit transfer and prior learning assessment, including recognition of experiential learning. (It’s not always perfect – I went to three institutions before I got my undergraduate degree, leaving several orphaned credits in my wake…)
Implication 3: Small Pieces, Loosely Joined – Enabled by Portable Credentials
If the components of a system are smaller and based on common standards they can connect with each other more easily. David Weinberger tells us this is why the Internet is so revolutionary: HTTP, FTP, SMTP…
In this way, simplicity and modularity can support the flexible complexity of an ecosystem, rather than the brittle complications of trying to get vertically integrated information siloes to talk to each other.
Portable micro-credentials (small, standards-based) can help enable this. Here are some quick examples by topic:
MOOCs Badged Open Courses on OpenLearn, (Open University’s “Home” MOOC platform) are for “learners who are seeking access to study skills and to have their learning recognised.” According to their report, Badging and Employability at the Open University, “Evaluation of the OU’s pilot badging projects suggests that badging offers a way of reconciling informal learning and the demands of employers, and that badging content for university students and informal learners alike may become a key widening participation activity for HEIs.”
Co-Curricular Records and ePortfolios
Notre Dame’s E2B2 (ePortfolios with Evidence-Based Badges) initiative encourages students to showcase their skills and accomplishments visually on their ePortfolios, while establishing a standard system for verifying and quantifying these formal and informal achievements and skills. As students get involved with badges, the goal is that they start to focus on the co-curricular aspects of their education that is, the learning that happens outside of the classroom.
Open Assessment DeakinDigital‘s modular “Recognition of Professional Practice: micro-credentials for Graduate Learning Outcomes (Communication, etc.) aligned to the Australian Qualification Framework that can add up to 90+% of a Master’s Degree at a fraction of the time and cost. The customers for this “Credential-to-Degree”program can be Employers, who can cherry-pick for Talent Management programs, or individual Learners, who might never have gone back for traditional Masters degree, for reasons of time or expense.
Not only for the learner, but for academic institutions seeking new routes to fiscal sustainability.
Current methods aren’t working too well for many institutions: since 2013, Bryan Alexander has been curating a scary list of institutional examples of what he calls the Queen Sacrifice: “the combination of self-destructive sacrifice and hope for gain” – otherwise known as cutting core programs to make ends meet and stay in business.