Why do we need the Bologna Open Recognition Declaration?

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:

… 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.


From DeakinPrime

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:

But it’s still not enough.

Because formal recognition is not enough

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

Final words

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.)


A closing word from our sponsor…

Recognize and share learning in a digital world.
Hosted in Canada by Canadians.

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Open Badges and the Innovator's Recognition Dilemma

Open Badges are a Disruptive Innovation

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, especially if 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 times the R&D money that Sony spent, trying to make transistors meet the needs of their current market. 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)

Tom Vander Ark was not the only person to see this before me. Here’s an excerpt from Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due:Designing Open Badges for a Technology Integration Course, written by a team from BYU:

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).

(I’m looking forward to discussing this further with one of the authors,  BYU’s Rick West at the ePortfolio and Identity Conference next month.)

The Unmet Needs of Associations

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)

This is what IBM’s David Leaser was talking about when he said in our recent #openepic chat:

#Certifications limit the pool of talent. #OpenBadges expand the pool of talent

And later, from David in the same chat:

Proposal: Use certifications for credentials which have a shelf life of 2 years or more; use Open Badges for “liquid” skills.

Unmet needs again.

The Innovator’s Solution: Deakin Prime and Deakin Digital

What can academic institutions do? Again, from this interview with Business Innovation Factory:

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.

Recognize and share learning in a digital world. Hosted in Canada by Canadians.

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