Open Badge eCredentials: Good Business for Higher Ed (Part 2)

Higher education institutions face a lot of financial challenges these days: declining enrolment in many programs, uncertain funding, rising costs, external competition, etc. So I thought it made sense to explore business reasons to implement Open Badges.
There’s been a lot written about how Open Badges and Digital (i.e. not Open) Badges can transform teaching and learning, but that just adds them to the end of a very long list. What if Open Badges:

  • Were revenue positive?
  • Helped clearly demonstrate  the value of a higher education and enabled its transfer into the workplace?
  • Became a common currency for collaboration between institutions and employers?
  • Helped show and even accelerated the innovative impact that an institution makes on its surrounding community?

That would transform Open Badge eCredentials from just another distraction or expense into a possible game changer.
Part 1 last week dealt with pathways INTO higher education. In Part 2, I’m going to explore pathways OUT OF higher education – and back in again. And out, and in…

Making that sheepskin “smarter” and more useful


Millermz at English Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

If it were just about digitizing degrees and transcripts for easier sharing , then services such as Parchment and Digitary would have it solved already, maybe with a bit of help from high level degree evaluators such as World Education Services, who can tell you for example whether a BA from another country is worth the same as one in Canada (in addition to telling you if the documentation is forged or if the institution is bogus.)
But what does a degree really tell you? According to a recently published, well-researched and cogent (unfortunately pay-walled) article in The Information Society by Carla Casilli and Dan Hickey, it’s a “long-standing social shorthand” based on a tacit set of trust networks which are not “typically, nor even frequently, tested, investigated or held accountable”. They go on to say that the PSE system has responded by introducing standards for academic content, PD and teaching practices but “there is little in academic degrees themselves that can be used to judge the quality of the learning or of the preparation level” (although I would argue that degree frameworks in many countries outside North America such as EQF, SCQF and AQF do speak to the “preparation level” part at a high level.) In any case, they say, and I agree that “the process of evaluating traditional educational credentials remains murky.” Love that word.
For these reasons, as this article from Contact North says:

…. many significant employers now look less at what the credential is and look more carefully at what an individual can actually do. To help them assess this, more and more employers are looking to proofs of work-based learning, badges, evidence from learner portfolios of projects completed and other forms of evidence of knowledge, skills and competency.

Contact North describes a couple of official responses to this: the UK’s Higher Education Achievement Report and the Post-Secondary Achievement Report in the US.”Both of these developments are in their infancy.”
Not even born yet, but very interesting is IMS Global’s Open Badge Extensions for Education (OBEE) initiative, linked to their efforts to enable Competency Based Education (CBE). According to Mark Leuba, VP Product Management in a recent WCET presentation, this is part of a vision to take student records “out of the lockbox” and provide evidence of “discrete, “pre-degree” attainment” as “individual and bundled units of learning” that are secure, shareable and portable.
This is part of a wider strategy by IMS Global:

  • Open Badge efforts will continue to expand, i.e.
    • For-credit, co-curricular, continuing education units, faculty professional development
  • There will be an increased focus on the rigor and meaning of digital badges for academic institution
    • IMS-led working group on Open Badge Extensions for Education (OBEE)
    • Compliance certification
  • In the future there will be convergence of open technical standards for badges, e-transcripts and secure, portable learner records.

Reading this both excites and scares me. If it works it could be great, but it’s very ambitious and could bog down or lead to unworkably complex standards. It’s also a bit top-down. I suspect that my colleague Serge Ravet would say that it doesn’t speak to more symmetrical recognition scenarios (peer-peer, self-assessment, emergent issuers, etc.) and instead perpetuates the current power structure. But hey, I’m speaking here to a higher education audience, so that’s OK.
I do hope they remember the part about “small pieces, loosely connected.” Thankfully, Badge Alliance ED Nate Otto and other friendlies are involved. If you’re interested, the working group has split into four Taskforces (Specifications,  Analytics, Discoverability, Compliance) and is in the first of three 90-day sprints. I suggest contacting @MarkLeuba directly if you would like to be invited to participate. You should also know that WCET is following up with a summit in June:21st Century Credentials: Learners + Institutions + Workforce. Looks interesting.

In the meantime, we soldiers push forward in the trenches. I just just completed a Train the Trainer engagement at a local college for a Mahara ePortfolio solution to support a Business Technology Management program seeking national accreditation. I was working with faculty and support staff to leverage the affordances of Mahara to enable students to map evidence of their learning to Program Learning Outcomes. Basically, exploring different ways to curate and align artefacts and to connect and integrate them with genuine reflection. And how to get task and grade oriented students to engage with all that. Tools and resources we used included AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics and Serge Ravet’s ePortfolio and Open Badges Maturity Matrix.
I suggested to them that Mahara + Open Badges would be a potent combination. Mahara has an Open Badges displayer, and you can start building  ePortfolio/Open Badge hybrid pages that can leverage each other’s strengths, such as badges + additional evidence for a higher level badge, ongoing currency via reflection and new evidence, etc.
The point is that that Open Badges help you harden those soft skills that are diffused across ePortfolios and present them in more packaged, digestible proxies that can be drilled into if necessary. Employers want to see authentic evidence of those skills, but they don’t want to have to sift through the evidence like archaeologists.
I am a little disturbed by one development this week in Ontario: the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) wants to introduce “soft skills” testing for students entering AND leaving Ontario PSE institutions. According to the story in the Hamilton Spectator,  HEQCO is seeking participants for a pilot that could roll out province-wide. The test, based on PIAAC, assesses literacy, numeracy and “problem solving in technology rich environments”.

“We don’t want to test because we’re interested in ranking institutions. But students spend time and money on post-secondary education, and the public invests in it, so we need to know if students are acquiring the skills that are going to serve them well,” said (Harvey) Weingarten, (president of HEQCO) former president of the University of Calgary. “If we’re not doing as well as we’d like, then we need to do a better job.”

I have a lot  of questions about this, some of which I raised on the STLHE mailing list and also on Carolyn Hoessler’s blog. I hope to find out more at HEQCO’s Transitions conference in a few weeks. I see that Contact North and some others interested in different forms of assessment for a broader range of skills are represented at the conference, so that’s a good thing.
Literacy and numeracy are necessary but not sufficient. How can you help your graduates demonstrate to employers that they have the stuff that will make their organizations live long and prosper?
For example, I suggest that Canadian liberal arts programs who are struggling to demonstrate the value of what they have to offer in the face of declining enrolment may want to have a look at what Deakin and Notre Dame are doing, inspired in part by AAC&U. (See more detail in a previous post in this blog.)

“Sticky alumni”, nano-degrees, community ecosystems


Sean Shapiro CC BY-SA 3.0

According to Grammarist, alma mater means “generous or bountiful mother”. But what happens when Mom changes the locks?
When students graduate from colleges and universities, they often lose the connection with their alma maters. I know I did. Granted, progressive institutions do provide some declining career support after graduation and even some continuing services, such as lifelong portfolios. And then, of course, once they start making some real coin, alumni organizations start hitting them up for money, perhaps to feed Mom’s construction habit.
But I don’t see much evidence of a strategic approach to what I would call “sticky” alumni: institutions deliberately maintaining  mutually beneficial lifelong relationships with their graduates that evolve in character over the career of the graduate, which could play out in the following rough sequence:

  • Career placement & counseling for the student
  • Continuing education and CPD student
  • Mid-career graduate student, including recognition and accreditation of professional practice (a la DeakinDigital)
  • Program advisory committee member
  • Community resource, guest speaker, adjunct instructor
  • Workplace placement partner
  • Research and innovation partner
  • Alumni donor

One size doesn’t fit all, but you get the idea. Graduating students are a great place to start, but this could also be part of a strategy to increase engagement by mid-career adults previously unconnected with your institution. Open Badges can provide the skills and recognition currency to make this happen. Open Badges are increasingly discoverable over networks. LinkedIn profiles are just the start. Let’s start thinking about Lifelong Learning Analytics.
We’re already starting to see fragments of this emerging:

Again, according to Contact North:

More students seeking shorter programs, which are skill-based and work-ready means the demand for micro-credit, nano-degrees and badges, will grow. This is already occurring, with colleges and private providers partnering with firms, professions and industry associations to develop competency assessments which can be used irrespective of whether or not the person being assessed has studied formal programs or courses: it will be skills that matter.

The ecosystem part starts to kick in in these examples:
BCcampus’ 2015 white paper: Competency to Credential:

Competency to Credential was initially conceived through a challenge-driven innovation and iterative design process for the delivery of new “horizontal” competency profiles resulting from changing health care strategies across several “vertical” health care professions (across BC.)

IBM’s Innovation and Growth badges
IBM sees Open Badges as a strategic tool to attract talent and drive innovation, partly in partnership with academic institutions. Here’s a rough transcription from a recent Badge Alliance Community Call :

“We have a real talent problem, so we’re trying to create that talent pipeline… we’re to figure out how to create lifelong learner journeys where we can say “What’s our K-12 strategy?”…and start to get people interested in robotics when they’re do we progress people through 13 years old to 18 year old kids? And then we have (higher education) academic initiatives, the Code Schools… credentials and then how do we speak that same the corporate space. How do we figure out that real progression plan? Honestly, I think that Badges is the perfect common language to connect all those things together.”
David Leaser, Senior Program Manager, Innovation and Growth Initiatives at IBM

Small wonder that Alan Davis, President and Vice-Chancellor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University said in a recent email communication, linking Open Badges to Open Educational Practices:

We see Open Badge eCredentials as a key building block to help us achieve the goals of our Academic Plan. Open Badges can map learning pathways that connect theory to practice. Open Badges can also connect our students to our community as they work with local industries, solving real world problems and driving innovation in our region.

Hmm… what if Open Badges were smart nodes in open networks, a bit like the internet itself?


By the OPTE Project – Originally from the English Wikipedia CC BY 2.5


And my point is…

If we stop thinking about Open Badges and Digital Badges as just another way to engage students inside courses and start thinking about their potential as:

  • smart modular knowledge objects that can be shared across information systems and social networks, based on a common standard;
  • granular evidence of learning outcomes and external impact;
  • digital beacons for branding institutions and marketing courses and programs;
  • communication tools for knowledge transfer and emergent innovation;

… then we have something that can make a serious impact on a higher education institution’s mission AND bottom line… don’tcha think?
CINECA seems to think so. It’s a non profit consortium, made up of 70 Italian universities, four Italian Research Institutions and the Italian Ministry of Education.
That’s why it’s developed Bestr,an Open Badge platform to “valorize competencies and connect them with companies, universities and training institutions”
That’s why it’s co-hosting the ePortfolio and Identity Conference (ePIC 2016) this year in Bologna with conference founder, Serge Ravet of ADPIOS:

Join us!

Open Badge eCredentials: Good Business for Higher Ed (Part 1)

I advocate for Open Badge eCredentials up here in Canada.
And I think I need to up my game in Higher Ed, because there’s really not much going on up here in post-secondary, with a handful of exceptions scattered across the country. (Is there anything going on east of Quebec? Please let me know.)
Compared to other countries such as the US, UK, Ireland, Italy and Australia, we haven’t exactly been early adopters in applying the exciting affordances of Open Badges for the benefit of formative and summative assessment and recognition of learning in higher education. I’m sure there are several course-level experiments that I don’t know about, but at the executive level, overall? As an edtech manager recently reported to me about senior management interest in eCredentials at his college: “Crickets….” This despite early explorations in BC and Quebec and several articles from Contact North’s which I’ll touch on in Part 2 of this post.
I won’t speculate here why this is the case. What I will do is improve what I have the most control over: providing clear business-oriented arguments for institutions to at least dip their toes in the water of micro-credentialing and, together with their colleagues in other countries, begin to explore the synergies between Open Badges and student engagement, graduate employability, research and innovation,  and other issues related to institutional relevance and sustainability.

“Future student” pipelines

Recruitment strategies are becoming more sophisticated as institutions compete for students at home and abroad. The more innovative institutions are actively leveraging the similarities between student recruitment and what large companies do with social media and gamification to engage prospects and build talent pipelines into their organizations. After all, it’s just talent at an earlier stage of development, isn’t it?
For example, Open University in the UK is experimenting with Badged Open Courses.

According to this presentation at OpenEd15 in Vancouver, results in the first eight months were impressive:

  • Over 12,000 new visitors a month to OpenLearn
  • A very high rate click-throughs to make enquiries (~28%) •
  • Completion rates of BOCs are higher than with “traditional”MOOCs
  • Very high satisfaction rates (~98%)
  • 3000 prospectus requests, 400 formal module registrations
  • Up to 57% of survey respondents say that they will be sharing their achievements with an employer or prospective employer

Over in the private sector, IBM is doing some exciting work exploring how Open Badges can have a bottom line impact on eRecruiting and talent development on a global scale. They have issued 100,000’s of Open Badges in  domains such as data analytics. Big Data University, an IBM Canada initiative (!) reports exciting results for their online courses since they were badged:

  • 129% increase in enrollments
  • 226% increase in course completions
  • 694% increase in successful End of Course assessments

Wow. And according to the recent IBM presentation I saw, 85% of the badges claimed have been posted to LinkedIn, which  helps explain the statistics above and makes a good case for Open Badges and social networks.

Open Badges help IBM and its client organizations train people in their products and technology environments. They also generate qualified talent leads and track and nurture workforce talent to improve company performance through an engaged and a measurably continuously improving workforce.
Yes, big data is “so hot right now”, hence the eye-popping numbers. But it seems clear that Open Badges can boost learner engagement and success in large scale online courses, which can have a positive impact on recruitment. And many institutions are in fact experimenting with MOOCs to try to attract future students. Shouldn’t more of these initiatives be looking at badging those courses?
Because IBM is talking about starting in K12 and taking it through post-secondary and beyond (play segment 46:20 – 50:54):

[archiveorg OpenBadgesCommunityCall17February2016 width=640 height=140 frameborder=0 webkitallowfullscreen=true mozallowfullscreen=true]

Enhancing Admissions Criteria

Once students are interested in your institution, evaluating them is next.
Open Badge eCredentials can help with this, but I have to say that the other shoe still needs to drop in admissions officers’ minds, even outside of Canada. I’ll lay out the case for Open Badges here and report back on any emergence, which I do expect in 2016.
Required courses and good marks are the default for admissions assessment in Canada. Thankfully, standardized admissions tests are not popular here, and may even be on the decline  in the US, with hundreds of institutions relegating them to optional status. As for those, according to the Washington Post in 2014:

A three-year national study of colleges that do not require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores found only “trivial” differences in the college graduation rates or the cumulative grade point average of students between those who do and those who do not send in their standardized test results.

Most institutions up here seem to feel that high school grades are the best predictor of student success. At a few institutions, if applicants think their grades will fall marginally below requirements, they can submit something like the University of Western Ontario’s  Extraordinary Extracurricular Activities and Contributions to Citizenship Profile.
According to OUAC’s eINFO site, some programs may have additional admission criteria that could include evaluation forms, reference forms or autobiographical letters. In some instances, applicants must attend an interview or audition, or submit a portfolio.
(As I explored in a previous post, Open Badges can be curated and aligned to requirements in ePortfolios along with other evidence. That’s one place where the shoe could drop…has it? Anybody?)
Currently, some US institutions are looking for ways to go beyond grades to evaluate the whole person. As reported in a recent post by Dan Hickey on his Remediating Assessment blog, a report from a group of Ivy League admission officers is starting to explore ways to evaluate prospective students for ethical engagement:

College admissions can send compelling  messages that both ethical engagement— especially concern for others and  the common good—and intellectual  engagement are highly important.

In his post, Dan explores some interesting ways that Open Badges can authentically demonstrate ethical engagement, primarily through embedding evidence.
I do think that evaluating ethical engagement is a laudable goal, but I’m also interested in intellectual engagement side, which the report really didn’t delve into. But I found at least one institution that does.

Hampshire College is a bit of an outlier, and not just because it’s actually located in Massachusetts. They’ve gone further than most US institutions by dumping standardized admissions testing entirely. Instead, as reported on their website last year:

In our admissions, we review an applicant’s whole academic and lived experience. We consider an applicant’s ability to present themselves in essays and interviews, review their recommendations from mentors, and assess factors such as their community engagement and entrepreneurism. And yes, we look closely at high school academic records, though in an unconventional manner. We look for an overarching narrative that shows motivation, discipline, and the capacity for self-reflection.

The results of their “No SAT/ACT” policy:

  • The quantity of applications went down but the quality went up
  • Enrollment yield (acceptance of invitations) rose from 18% to 26%
  • Class diversity increased from 21% to 31% students of color
  • First-generation students rose from 12% to 18% in this year’s class
  • All the above despite being “kicked off” the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” rankings in 2015

Hampshire College’s focus on evaluating the whole student in order to select the best candidates for success pays off at the other end too. Hampshire is sixth on Forbes’ list of most entrepreneurial colleges: more than a quarter of Hampshire graduates start their own enterprises: social ventures, investment firms, advocacy organizations, or creative mashups of those and more.
Then again, not all students are destined to be entrepreneurs, so how about this:

We are in the top one percent of colleges nationwide in the percentage of our undergraduate alumni who go on to earn advanced degrees—this on the strength of an education where we assess their capabilities narratively, and where we never, not once, subject them to a numerical or letter grade on a test or course.

See more graduate outcomes here.
Imagine this kind of thinking adapted (not copied) to Aboriginal education reform here in Canada, just as an example.
Now, Hampshire College doesn’t  use Open Badges for Admissions that I know of. I cite them because their focus on “narrative assessment” is Open Badge-friendly. This statement on their Admissions page sounds very badgey to me:

Some of these traits manifest themselves in the trends on your transcripts, others in the work you do outside the classroom.

Here’s a shout out: does anybody know about any institutions currently including Open Badges in their admissions processes, explicity or implicitly?
I noticed that someone at the Sprout Fund said in June 2015:

“Right now there are already a limited number of colleges that are considering badges as part of their admissions process.”

… and I’d love to find out who those are and whether any have made the jump. I’ve reached out to the person quoted, but can anybody at Sprout help?
DePaul University in Chicago was supposed to be looking at it back in 2013, according to the Clinton Global Initiative web site:

Nichole Pinkard, associate professor in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media, said DePaul will consider Open Badges that document higher-level learning as part of the application process.
“Badges give you a better idea of who the applicant is. They give you a stronger sense of quality and a stronger sense of context of what that person has done in the real world,” Pinkard said. “While digital badges won’t replace anything we currently require, as they become more prominent and more recognized, we would expect more students to include them in their applications to DePaul. The applicant’s academic record will still be the most important consideration.

But I can’t find any evidence of it on their website. Nichole is keynoting at the June Digital Badge Summit in Colorado:

… so I hope to learn more by then at the latest.
It could be that enhancing Admissions with Open Badges is still too much of stretch for most institutions. But I wouldn’t be surprised if in 2016 we see one of the more innovative colleges or universities either prescribing or endorsing Open Badges which indicate that the earners are ready for success at their institutions. Maybe one of the LearningCounts members that already supports Prior Learning Assessment for credit?

Winding up Part 1

The first part of this monster post has focused on how Open Badge eCredentials can enable the transition TO Higher Ed. Next week’s Part 2 will be focused on how Open Badges the transition FROM Higher Ed to employment.
I’ll be attending a conference in Toronto next month hosted by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) with a very promising title:

Nothing about Open Badge eCredentials in the program information, but I can’t imagine that they won’t emerge as a topic, based on some of the speakers and topics I do see listed.
I’ll be hoping to engage with Ontario Higher Ed professionals on the issues raised in Part 1 today and in Part 2 next week, where I’ll delve into benefits of Open Badges such as:

  • Demonstrating the “soft” value of Higher Ed
  • “Sticky alumni” and nanodegrees
  • Virtuous education/research spirals embedded in communities


Why do K12 teachers like Open Badge eCredentials with their PD?

Interesting things can happen when educators educate educators, especially when they effectively exploit the power of Open Badge eCredentials to encourage and recognize reflective learning and the authentic application of learning to their ongoing professional practice.


The Professional Development Lens – BC Teachers Federation (Depiction does not imply endorsement of Open Badges)

K12 teachers represent a prime early adopter group on the Technology Adoption Life Cycle that I keep on talking about in this blog. eCredentials based on Open Badges are rapidly gaining traction for PD in the US, at national, state and local levels.
There’s still a strong flavour of  ICT skills, (e.g. ISTE), but I’m also seeing plenty about other 21st Century Skills and some really interesting professional learning opportunities are starting to emerge in areas that are totally unrelated to technology, such as ethics and cultural competence.
I haven’t seen a lot up here in Canada yet, though I am piloting badge systems with one teacher support organization in Quebec, and I know of at least one other initiative in that province. (Feel free to comment below if you have news about PD badging in other provinces in Canada or other countries.)
OK, so why are Open Badge eCredentials so popular with this class of professional?

Open Badges can make PD visible

Not all PD is created equal; we know that content is not learning and that attendance is not engagement. The difference between learning inputs and learning outcomes can be pretty significant.
Open Badges contain information that goes beyond title and description: they include criteria, skills framework alignment (soon to become even better) and even evidence. This transparency communicates:

  • new opportunities for  learning
  • recognition of past learning achievements, potentially right down to the level of *how* that learning was achieved by the individual

This means that Open Badges provide a structured language to evaluate new  learning opportunities and assess past learning.
I’m very impressed by the methodologies I see in at least two of the educator PD systems that I’ve researched: Digital Promise and PD Learning Network, both based in the US.
In one, I see that teachers pre-assess to benchmark their starting point, then engage with new content to fill perceived gaps, then prepare targeted evidence packages for assessment that are aligned with skills frameworks. Their evidence packages are evaluated by trained assessors using transparent rubrics. If the first attempt is unsuccessful, teachers are given helpful feedback and encouraged to try again until they are successful.
In another, reflection on content is not enough: teachers are asked to reflect on how they have applied their learning in practice, providing evidence of its impact on their students.
Wow. Can you say Donald Schön?

All this can be learned from badge information on their websites and is reflected in the eCredentials earned.

Open Badges support individualized learning pathways

What makes badge systems so well suited to skills wayfinding?

  • Open Badges are modular
    • Bite-sized chunks of learning can be consumed in smaller sessions, even down to the level of Bernard Bull’s brainstormed 5-minute “micro-training” episodes
    • Smaller chunks of learning can be “stacked”, or combined into larger chunks that have more “weight”. This can be tightly designed by the issuing organization, or looser and more learner driven. Even better, issuers can decide to recognize badges from other issuers, either at par, or maybe in combination with other evidence, if the match is not perfect.
    • Stacked or sequenced badges (mapped pathways) can be recommended, but they can also be created by examining the pathways of one or more role models
  • Open Badges can support multiple levels of depth and engagement
    As an example, Open Badges for PD topic can attest to:

    • Simple consumption (and assessed comprehension?) of information about that topic
    • Better: reflection on the topic, both “in practice” and “on practice”; at the time of the learning episode, or also at various times after
    • Better still: creation of new learning content on the topic
    • Or even: a coaching or mentoring role on the topic
  • Open Badges and Badge Pathways can be learning contracts
    • Learners can explicitly map out “personal quests” or pathways, aligned to standards and outcomes for  more personalized learning. These pathways can be negotiated in advance with a recognition body, or be completely autonomous. This approach moves us away from tightly-scripted LMSs and MOOCS and moves us further into OER/OEP territory. (OER= Open Educational Resources; OEP= Open Educational Practices)


Open Badges can connect expertise and knowledge across networks

Learners can become leaders over time. As Noah Geisel @SenorG said in a Twitter #BadgeChatK12 on Teacher PD last August:

By sharing their Badges, colleagues know who to seek out for help (because they can see who is “expert”)

This is one of the basic tenets of Connectivism: the learning is in the *network*, not in any one resource or person.
And what if that that learner turned leader starts publishing their own learning opportunities and  issuing their own badges? This  could be as simple as adapting an existing badge to a new context, such as a different jurisdiction’s curriculum and creating a learning cluster around that, or it could be something completely new.
The notion of using Open Badges to more effectively disseminate knowledge and capture emergent expertise across networks was explored by Darren Cambridge a few ePICs ago in London:

But an echo came to me from an interesting source:  someone in a Fortune 100 company who is actively exploring better ways to foster expertise in multiple domains across multiple global networks.
The same thinking applies for communities of educators: Open Badges can ease the spread of useful knowledge organically. Top down control of Knowledge Management can be a dragging anchor, especially in rapidly evolving knowledge domains.

Open Badges can support collaboration and collegiality

Open Badges can foster communities of professional learners. This can involve badge groups (such as on the BadgeList platform),  distributed assessment networks (such as #OB101 on P2PU), peer assessment, and more informal learning groups  helping each other achieve their outcomes. Carla Casilli (@carlacasilli) recently mentioned @P2PU’s Learning Circles in this context. These are online course support groups, but could also be organized around books, or even skills frameworks.
In Canada, educator organizations such as the BC Teachers Federation (a union) have published guidance for their members around school inquiry groups and collaborative conversations. Extending this to badge learning challenges and achievements isn’t much of a stretch.

Open Badges are engaging

According to this recent study by the Friday Institute at the University of North Carolina, 97% of teachers who earned credentials in their program wanted to earn more. This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve earned a few myself and I’d like to earn more! Even more addictive is when badges lead in a certain direction, or add up toward a desired goal.

Open Badge eCredentials can help advance careers

PD Learning Network, one of the badging systems I mentioned above will soon be offering university level credits with their badges as a partnership with a particular university (TBA). They’re quick to state that the university does not guarantee units will be accepted by any entity, but I’m starting to see some potential here for laddering “sufficiently weighty” badges into Post Bac and Masters programs.
Certainly, Open Badge eCredentials support reporting requirements for Continuing Competence, even if they do have to report them in “clock hour” terms.
In addition, being recognized for competence in a particular area can qualify you for new job assignments, even promotion.  However, mileage may vary widely by jurisdiction, based on local culture, politics  and union agreements.
I believe that so-called “extrinsic” motivators like these will become more important over time, as Open Badges make their way into the mainstream. Self validation and progress tracking is great, but surely there needs to be some kind of transferable value, otherwise why bother making eCredentials portable? The secret sauce of Open Badges is that they are fundamentally a tool for the Recognition of Prior Learning. In the future, I envision a spectrum of recognition that we can traverse, and we can start today with peer recognition and CPD credits.

Winding up…

Lots of great stuff has been written on badging PD in the US (and probably elsewhere – please share!), but I am after all advocating for Open Badges up here in Canada. That’s partly why I’ve chosen this Canadian Education Association policy document to close off. I do think it does a pretty good job of framing the needs of educator PD (bolding is mine):
According to research, effective teacher professional development:
  • Recognizes that teachers are professionals who should be given an opportunity to select what they would like to learn from a variety of research-based ideas about improving students’ learning.
  • Provides long-term, ongoing opportunities for teachers to reflect upon both their chosen and mandatory PD experiences.
  • Provides opportunities for teachers to coach one another and work together to analyze new teaching techniques, which often connects new teachers with experienced colleagues.
  • Provides opportunities for teachers to study and gather data on the effects of changes in their teaching approach, particularly in response to new ideas or initiatives in education.
One of the clearest findings from modern research is that “one-time” workshops have little long-term impact on how someone teaches.

I hope I’ve made a decent case for how the intelligent application of Open Badge eCredentials can help make this vision for educator PD real, up here in Canada and elsewhere.

A plug for the Digital Badge Summit

Scheduled on the eve of ISTE in June, the 2016 Digital Badge Summit has been organized by the Aurora Public Schools (APS) Badge Initiative who have done such great work connecting employers with their students with badges.
But this event will go well beyond K12 to include higher education, workforce recognition, and even emerging regional badge ecosystems, along with assorted hot topics and new technology trends. I hope to meet you there!


Build your training business with Open Badges eCredentials

This post goes out to a significant group of potential early adopters of eCredentialing with Open Badges: the entrepreneurs in the education and training community. I mean departments or organizations who are explicitly in the business of selling learning opportunities, especially in smaller chunks, such as:

  • Professional and Continuing Education (PACE) and Extension functions in colleges and universities
    These profit units compete with each other and the private sector in providing learning opportunities primarily to adults tweaking their careers and professionals maintaining their currency.
  • Contract Training initiatives
    These trainers want to increase the transferable value of their custom programs by aligning them to skills frameworks, development pathways and certifications. Often part of the ConEd function in colleges and universities, contract trainers can also be private sector organizations, from large consulting firms down to independent trainers.
  • Independent Trainers
    These small to medium-sized operators compete with the above and are often seeking more profile and brand footprint, along with better ways to communicate the quality, impact and transferability of their programs. Unlike their institutional competitors, they often don’t have the the advantage of formal accreditation. They want to boost their “gravitas”.
  • Product Support Trainers
    Product training increases customer retention and is often another revenue stream for private sector companies. There’s lots of early traction in the ICT hardware and software sectors, but other types of products also have great potential: vehicles, pharmaceuticals, food processing, etc.
    Early evidence suggests that product training and its impact on revenue will be the “sharp end” of Open Badges adoption in the private sector, rather than workforce development, with some notable exceptions, such as the Scottish Social Services Council.

All of these groups can benefit from early adoption of eCredentials powered by Mozilla Open Badges.

Note to the committed Open Badges community
Granted, what I’m talking about here is not the core of the original Mozilla dream of Open Badges. But it is a leading edge for technology adoption that will help pull the whole into the mainstream. Once enough practical people see enough business benefit in Open Badges to pay for them and make them part of their business, then you start to have a diversity of sustainable business models that will help build the skills ecosystem that Mozilla did dream about, and help pull the more idealistic elements of the dream into the ecosystem, and build demand for all kinds of credentials.
This can happen without corrupting the original idea of an open skills ecosystem. People *can* make money providing products and services in open systems. That’s called the network effect. That’s called the Internet. That’s why Mark Surman of Mozilla compares Open Badges today to the early days of email. If we can manage even a part of that, we’ll be doing it long after the foundation funding dries up.
I’ll be talking more about the advantages and nuances of staying “open” in future posts.


Top 3 benefits of eCredentialing with Open Badges

1. Your learning is more granular and specific

Udacity showed us the way:

Other industry heavyweights such as IBM, Oracle and Adobe also are now using digital badges to recognize and certify specific “hard” in-demand skills such as:

  • Big Data (“it’s so hot right now”)
  • Java programming
  • Multimedia product expertise

But there are also health and safety compliance examples out there such as annual WHMIS and HAACP certification, and I’m even starting to hear about training programs that credential pharmaceutical logistics skills, because of the bottom line importance of safe and efficient transportation of perishable pharmaceuticals through the supply chain.
Employers want to know the status of these important skills in their talent pipelines and existing workforces. eCredentials make this possible, and the Open Badge standard makes these eCredentials not only portable between systems but also machine readable, for “big data” analytics that can start measuring further up the Kirkpatrick ladder:


2. Your learning is more modular and progressive

How do you eat an elephant? One bite a a time. If you can break a longer certificate program down into bite-sized chunks, you may get more busy adults completing the program, even if they do have to drop it for a while and pick it up later.
Here’s a good illustration from Colorado State University’s Extension Gardener program, showing 3-level laddering (also known as stacking):

CSU Extension Certified Gardener Program

(See also the CSU case study on the Open Badges in Higher Education website.)
Another way to express this is that eCredentials such as Open Badges support Competency Based Education (also very hot right now. And employer friendly.)

3. Your learners promote your brand for you

The Continuing Education department at Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin is a model early adopter of digital badges and is already reaping the benefits on social media such as LinkedIn:
(See this recent Slideshare presentation to learn more.)
But even small trainers up here in Canada are benefiting, such as Camp Tech, a technology skills training firm operating in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver:
and Roy Group, a Vancouver-based organizational leadership training specialist:
This last one is interesting. Roy Group was convinced to get into Open Badges by Sir John Daniel, formerly head of the Commonwealth of Learning, also based in BC. When they did, Sir John wrote Roy Group a letter of commendation for “demonstrating its own leadership by using Open Badges to recognize formally the skills and experience that its clients acquire.” They proudly display this letter on their website.

The top 5 issues and risks

So, with all these benefits, why aren’t more trainers using eCredentials to build their businesses?

1. Lack of awareness, business distractions

“Never heard of it before; interesting. But we have other, more pressing issues we have to attend to.”

Awareness is still an issue, but that’s starting to change. Certainly, if you don’t know about it, then you can’t do anything about it. Once you do know about it and can see the benefit, you may click with it right away if you’re an early majority type.
But if you’re a late majority type, you may need to see it applied specifically to your use case, maybe even in your market, perhaps by a competitor. (See “Lack of a burning platform” below.)

2. Reputation and brand

If we start handing out “badges” like stickers for kids or schwag at conferences it could make us look childish or trivial. Or we could screw it up other ways.  This could damage our reputation as a quality institution.

It’s true, Open Badges are easy to do… badly. This can result from any combination of issues around vision, ignorance, hubris, governance, lack of planning, etc.
See Six Steps to Building High-Quality Open Digital Badges from the folks at the Center for Research on Learning and Technology, Indiana University for some hints on how to do it better. It’s also one of the ways I make a living while I try to make a difference: helping organizations build better badge systems.

3. Fear of unbundling the learning package

Our ability to credential learning is our key differentiator. Why would we want to cheapen that into a commodity?

OK, but we’re talking ConEd and work-related training here. A credential need not be a certification or a diploma in order to advance the learner’s career. Practical utility trumps rigour; private sector trainers already know this. It’s what they liked to call “fit for purpose” in the UK, before the term became over-exposed.

4. Confusion of concepts and terminology

We have digital badges in our courses; are they Open Badges? What’s the difference between a micro-credential and a nano-degree? How many credit hours in a badge? We need to figure this stuff out.

Rather than try to figure all this stuff out in advance, my advice is to pilot in low risk environments using whatever technology is available. Set up a low profile sandbox, immerse yourself exploring concepts and use cases, “fail early”, figure it out iteratively with your colleagues and trusted stakeholders and then go on from there. Many institutions are now at this exploratory stage.
If you try to work it all out in advance before you take your institution forward, you may end up looking like a conclave arguing about the number of angels on the head of a pin inside your castle while barbarian hordes and rival city states are hawking their wares outside your gates.

5. Lack of a “burning platform”

“Why bother with this? What’s the down side if we do nothing?”

Whatever the business, early adopters tend to be drawn by the prospect of new opportunities, whereas late adopters tend to respond to burning platforms, such as the threat of competition when it appears in their market. (Burning platform = a situation that forces you to jump – somewhere.)
LinkedIn seems to be one early adopter that can reach into a lot of markets:

Jobboard Finder: J.B.F. News

According to Ken Steele in an Eduvation blog post in August 2015:

Excerpts from LinkedIn’s announcement video ( ) make it clear that they want to manage profiles for every job, higher ed institution, company, and person in the global workforce. LinkedIn will then allow students to search for desirable jobs and employers, assess the skills required for any given position, and the best places to obtain those skills – including through LinkedIn’s online courses via

Hmm…is this an opportunity or a burning platform?
NB: Join us to explore these ideas and more this fall in Bologna at ePIC 2016! Mairi Anne Macdonald of the Scottish Social Services Council is just one example of a stellar list of keynotes we’re assembling. She’ll talk about how they’re badging a 192,000 strong sectoral workforce with a focuson informal learning. Get your ePIC proposal in now!