Building a regional skills network

What if…

What if Open Badges* were more than digital course stickers or doggie biscuits for the gamification of learning?

What if they were..

  • portable credentials?
  • mobile learning records that could travel with the learner?
  • modular, remixable portfolios of skills and achievement?

What if they recognized learning outside the classroom:

  • extra-curricular activities?
  • community service?
  • individual achievements?
  • workplace experience?

What if they were authentic signals of soft skills?
What if (gasp!) they were owned by 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)
  • Government
  • 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 – recognize and share learning in a digital world
Littoraly, learning across the margins

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