REVIEW: BCcampus Micro-credential Toolkit for B.C.

I’m looking forward to the September 19 launch of this Toolkit. This personal review is my way of making sense of it… and getting a word in edgewise before the event!
Download the toolkit for free from

Image adapted for this blog

This is a big sprawling review to match a big sprawling document, so a quick summary:


Huge kudos to Annie Prud’homme-Généreux, who poured herself into this cornucopia of a resource that’s a vast improvement on its inspiration, the eCampusOntario Micro-credential Toolkit. More of a maker warehouse than a simple toolbox.

That said, putting on my badge nerd specs, it’s not all perfect from my perspective, which is to be expected from a first edition, especially one whose ambition grew so far beyond its initial scope (400+ pages, more or less, depending on format), delivered by one author who had to deal with so many inputs and competing interests. The focus of her single vision, combined with her deep knowledge of ConEd and her gift for curiosity are some of the reasons why I like this gold mine of specific tools and prompts so much better than the often generic groupthink of the Ontario offering.

My humble summary review: 70% awesome, 20% so-so, 10% questionable or wrong

Caveats and full disclosure

I was a volunteer member of what became known as the Competency Working Group that helped guide this BCcampus-led project, providing advice, feedback and several resources from Canadian and international practice, within and beyond PSE. As part of my contribution, I reviewed a section of the report (although it was only the Introduction; that’s part of why I’m reviewing the whole document here!) I also previously volunteered for the eCampusOntario Micro-credential toolkit.

As a professional in the space of badges and micro-credentials since 2011, I wear three hats:

  • Open Recognition advocate, working on multiple fronts to open up the recognition of lifelong and lifewide learning, often, but not necessarily, with Open Badges. See my Open Recognition Ambassador badge. “Them’s me colours”, as Brendan Behan was wont to say.
  • Consultant and advisor on digital credentialing systems using Open Badges, in Canada and abroad. Typically on Open Badge Factory or CanCred platforms, but also occasionally on other platforms or just working on frameworks, focusing on recognition concepts rather than specific technology solutions.
  • Service provider via the platform, a specific digital credentialing solution built on Open Badge Factory technology that obviously I think is a pretty good way to share lifewide narratives of emergent identity, learning and achievement.

My remarks in this post are offered wearing the first two hats, using the lens of Open Badges as a way to open up the recognition of lifelong and lifewide learning. And my bias is that I think micro-credentials, at the formal end of the recognition spectrum, often take up too much oxygen in discussions about lifelong learning, performance development and the evolution of effective practices in the world of work and other communities. My brother in open recognition, Serge Ravet, has declared more than once that micro-credentials have colonized Open Badges. I have to say I often see them as the cuckoo in the badge nest, diverting recognition sustenance from other deserving chicks. It doesn’t have to be that way – there’s room for different types of recognition, as I’ve previously mentioned in the past in this blog:

Latest version, from a CanCred demo deck. Also used for consulting by Learning Agents. CC BY

(As a service provider, it’s more often: “Micro-credentials? Sure! You want blockchain with that?”)

A lot of the points I make here about micro-credentials will remind my friends in the international open recognition community of heated discussions about how many angels can fit on the end of a pin. And I wouldn’t blame them, but here I am in Canada, where micro-credentials have taken hold as micro-diplomas, whereas in the US for example, “digital badges” is a more inclusive term and registrars in AACRAO are able to think in terms of “alternative credentials” and can even suggest effective practices for them (the AACRAO document is cited by Annie in this toolbox.)

So why did I bother to volunteer for this initiative? Why so detailed in this review? I like to think it’s a little more than enlightened self-interest, but helping build a Creative Commons resource that I can later harvest and adapt across sectors is pretty appealing. I don’t have to keep things as formal in my adaptations! Annie has delivered a harvestable resource in spades with this Toolkit, and it should only get better over time. Plus, I learned lots lots in the process and am relearning more now, as I review it in detail.

It’s also me trying to live up to this kind acknowledgement:

Don went above and beyond to share his wealth of expertise on micro-credentials. He rapidly responded to requests for information, shared documents and figures, and answered questions. We are particularly grateful to Don for his eagerness to share his extensive micro-credential knowledge.

Acknowledgements: Competency working group

Eagerness is an interesting word (“Does he ever shut up?”) and likely some will welcome my further contributions in this post like those of a skunk at a garden party, but I feel obligated to make them, as I work to “open up” recognition across sectors north of the border, trying to remain true to Mozilla’s original vision in 2011, before the Counter Reformation of micro-credentials in 2014. Open Badges were not invented to become Lego micro-diplomas, but to provide more flexible, inclusive alternatives to formal types of recognition and I can’t stop reminding people of that.

So, for those who are more focused on micro-credentials alone, take all this with a grain of salt. Or just pass on by.

70:20:10 as an organizing principle

[REMOVED: reference to Sturgeon’s Law, following the writer’s adage, “Murder your darlings.”]

I thought it might be useful to organize my remarks in a proportional 70:20:10 pattern, connected in a way to my previously published views on the often misplaced focus of micro-credentials on training courses:

70:20:10 – a useful organizing principle CC BY

70%: Awesome! Some highlights..

  • Sheer scope and detail. I plan on dipping back into this sprawling document on a regular basis, citing specific sections for people that I’m helping.
  • Survey of practice, frameworks, toolkits, current status, etc. This is where the Introduction actually starts to get interesting – I learned a lot, and contributed some.
  • ADDIE as an organizing principle for the lifecycle section, even though there are other ways to approach the life cycle (e.g. AGILE which Annie does provide..again, such a gift.)
    I have point improvement suggestions, such as thinking beyond training courses, and explicitly linking out to other sections for detail (e.g. Critical Information Summary in 9. Recognition of Learning), but overall this is great!
  • Practitioner War Stories, summarized into Top Tips. Not so much the pontificating “I anticipate that..”, which is a bit like pre-teens speculating about what sex is like, more along the lines of “I thought it was this, but it turned out to be that.” and “Here’s what we learned along the way..” and “these were unexpected benefits of our journey.” By B.C. practitioners – invaluable.
  • Marketing and Launch section – just read it.. great prompts, tools, etc.
  • Campus Collaborations, especially the parts that go into detail about CE..
  • Collaboration with Employers, Indigenous and Community Partners. It’s great that it goes beyond employers to include community partners and including Indigenous partners was an explicit part of the Toolkit’s mandate. I’m hoping this section can grow over time, as it feels a bit brief. I plan to dig further into the Pulling Together Indigenization Guides for an Indigenization track I’m working with Susan Forseille and others to develop for the ePIC 2023 conference in Vienna this December.
    [POST SCRIPT: At the Sep 19 launch, it was announced that there would be a new distinct chapter on Indigenous community engagement added to the Toolkit, to be researched by an Indigenous consultant – RFP coming in Q4 2023. Good stuff!]

    Starting early is definitely an effective practice, and I thought the discussion of MoUs vs. GSAs was useful, bearing in mind that these agreements can take time to develop, adding friction to Proofs of Concept and Pilots. Why not scope the territory a bit first, and let experience lead policy?

    Another caveat probably comes with the fact that this document is intended for a PSE audience: it’s all about PSIs driving the bus and leading the initiatives, there is little or nothing on how to be a non-lead partner, and how to recognize and articulate micro-credentials created outside the sector, perhaps by big private sector providers like IBM, but also by professional and industry associations, for example, or even an “OPX”. Other models are out there, as Brown’s recent improvement on my 2020 table developed for eCampusOntario shows:
8 micro-credential business models
8 micro-credential business models (Brown et al, 2023)
  • Financial matters, especially the Market Research part, leveraging Annie’s deep ConEd background. This section should be invaluable for 20-something newbies getting their feet wet, though it needs to be built out a bit more, including what to do when the public funding runs out and in parsing ConEd from Contract Training; see Brown again above (based on Presant, ahem).

    It’s good to mention Vicinity Jobs as a Canadian LMI story, though I need to say that EMSI is NOT Lightcast’s database created using Canadian data. Lightcast is the result of a merger of EMSI and Burning Glass, a competitor to Vicinity Jobs in Canada, which does provide data sliced for us (and the UK and other jurisdictions like the UK, as used by Navigatr micro-credentials). One benefit of Vicinity Jobs is that you can drill down via deep links to see terms for Job Requirements used in the context of individual job ads. On the topic of researching occupations, I’ll say that’s one of the knocks against the NOC – roles, not occupations can be a more useful organizing molecule, because roles can can stack into but also span across jobs and occupations and speak directly to the performance (not skills) objectives of employers.
  • The Quality Assurance section is also useful, doing a better job than the Ontario’s recent “Ontario Micro-Credential” paper from PEQAB in looking beyond its borders across Canada and the US, for example, though it could it could be better mapped to the notion of the Critical Information Summary, described elsewhere as “micro-credenital manifest”, linked to recent work at TRU.

    (Aside: Is no-one else in Ontario planning on commenting on the PEQAB paper besides ContactNorth?)
  • The Collaborate with Learners section is also good, though it could use more about autonomous learning and recognition beyond micro-credentials as training courses (a regular part of my “opening up recognition” rant..)
  • Design considerations – all good: ADDIE vs SAM, DACUM, ABC. etc. I’ll be back here for more..

> 20: Less awesome

  • First part of the Introduction. The opening is pretty boring, especially for a document of this size – I’m not sure why a somebody who’s far enough along the engagement path to consult a toolkit needs to be further convinced. Maybe move some of this stuff to an ammunition section you can use to convince internal or external stakeholders? But then, as I said above, it gets more interesting in the survey of practice, etc.
  • Definitions should be built into a full Glossary of terms and concepts, IMO, clearly described for B.C. usage, with citations and variations as needed. Let’s get into the difference between a certificate and a certification, a competency and a level of competence, stacking versus laddering (is it really just stacking for credit?), volume of learning vs scope of competency, and.. digital badge vs. Open Badge vs. micro-credential – Annie does get into the latter, but I think we need something more citeable.
  • Institutional governance. I think there needs to be a better discussion of the competing approaches, which play out differently at different PSIs: waterfall, “policy-first” approach first vs. action research, “pilot first”. Some of this is implicit in the war stories, but more could be made of this. I lean to the latter, but there can be reasons for the former, and even a middle ground.

Educational pathways… partly because I remain unconvinced that academic stacking of micro-credentials into macro-credentials like diplomas and degrees is worth the friction and baggage that it generates. One of my blog posts on the topic is linked in the toolkit, but the point is not made that the articulation of micro-credentials into macro-credentials is a far different kettle of fish from the articulation of programs into larger programs and diplomas.

That said, the notion of on-ramps (micro-credentials as “baited credits” for advanced standing, and UFV’s useful modularization of a multimedia certificate into “try one” pieces) seems a promising tack, and the idea of extracting recognition of skills (especially vertical skills) from larger programs is also good, as suggested by Penn State years ago (see below).

A menu of badging options
Adapted from Penn State

And, by the way, the concept of employer relevant stacking is unaddressed: what if they don’t care about your stacks? What would make stacks valuable for them? Not academic credit, based on research we conducted in B.C. last year… probably something more to do with workplace roles. See the diagram below from my post Stacking micro-credentials: the joy, the horror, which includes my addition of “Industry recognition clusters”:

The new credential ecology
Adapted from Brown, M., Nic Giolla Mhichíl, M., Beirne, E., & Mac Lochlainn, C. (2021). The Global Micro-Credential Landscape: Charting a New Credential Ecology for Lifelong Learning.
  • Recognition of Learning. The PLAR section is great – I particularly like the NAIT model, but I think the more comprehensive concept of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) needs to be applied as an organizing principle in this section – Susan Forseille (or someone else at BCPLAN) could do this in their sleep: PLAR, credit transfer, Credit Bank, etc.

    It would be worth adding more here about Deakin and other Australian institutions (and RTOs), particularly Deakin’s “Recognition of Professional Practices” which are lean, authentic evidence-based ways to recognize transferable practice at different levels (mapped to the AQF), coupled with a top-ups of domain-specific knowledge.

    There should also be more about what what the Credential as You Go (CAYG) multi-state initiative in the US calls “external learning“, uncoupled from academic programs: not just prior, but current and future: WIL, autonomous learning journeys, etc.
    In this document “Recognition” seems to be about the digital credential or Credit Articulation and Transfer (CAT) or even Micro-credential Recognition, Articulation and Transfer (McRAT – my coinage, not sure it will stick…)

Open Badges. It’s great that this dominant credentialing technology standard features explicitly, unlike in other Canadian documents, but in my view this should have been done much earlier in the document, as was the case in the AACRAO paper, which is riddled with references to Open Badges. If the term can be used openly by US registrars, maybe we should be more open about its use up here.

In addition, there are several questionable statements made about Open Badges and no discussion of how the standard is evolving (Open Badges v3.0). I suggest someone with a strong technical background vet this section in the context of the published versions of the standard.

Critical Information Summary. It’s good to see this, but I think it needs to be introduced earlier, maybe in the Quality Assurance section.

Micro-credential Typology. This section feels short and a bit vague about different kinds and sizes of micro-credentials that might be certificates or certifications, and can be delivered and assessed in different ways.

Wearing my ” opening up recognition” hat, I might point people to the IDB Taxonomy slide and Learning Agents’ Meta Framework slide from my CAUCE 2023 presentation in May for examples of typologies.

Links provided throughout the document are great, awesome in fact, but they are scattered all over the place – the document could use a curated summary References section, or even a database, similar to DCU’s Micro-credential Observatory (perhaps a BC/CA annex to that Observatory? I understand they’re looking for ways to make that effort more sustainable..) Link rot will be an issue..

External learning: beyond training courses. There should be more about Work Integrated Learning and Learning Integrated Work, as envisioned by Beverley Oliver :

I would like to see learning integrated work, industry coming up with its own micro-credentials, where education provides advice and expertise so that actually industry is educating its own – that’s one of the really exciting possibilities.

from a video Interview pre-recorded by learning Agents for a regional micro-credential event in Hamilton, Ontario in 2021

Not to mention Communities of Practice and Self-Directed Learning: not self-paced, automated Rise courses, but truly autonomous self-navigated learning journeys relevant to learners and employers alike, that can be authentically recognized.

And while we’re at it, why not join Inter-American Development Bank and others in leveraging badges for learning organizations?

> 10: Not awesome

Micro-credentials as a monoculture. There are other types of digital badges besides micro-credentials, non-formal and informal – many of them can be quite useful and even more authentic than their more “rigorous” counterparts. I’m not sure how Annie feels about this topic, but I doubt she had much choice in the matter – micro-credentials was her remit.

To quote myself from an earlier post:

What about less formal types of recognition, that might be just as useful and valuable, if not more so than an assessed course credential? The various webinars and MOOCs that didn’t require a summative assessment – useless? Not really. Even better, that employer testimonial, or that evidence package you assembled to support your self-claimed badge, or those endorsements you got from your co-workers? Or the Guru badge you were crowned with in your community of practice? Maybe that award you won in the hackfest at the makerspace? Or the heartfelt “Thank you” badge from the community association that actually tells the story of how you made a difference last summer? These are all different types of recognition, calling for different types of badges with different requirements to make them fit for their respective purposes. The authentic power of badged recognition often comes out of the specific context: the story that the badge can tell about you as an individual that other people might want to know and work with.

  • Micro-credentials as training certificates. As mentioned above many times, there’s way too much about micro-credentials and training courses, even a conflation of course and credential. As Tony Bates said, if that’s all they are, why all the fuss? Again, it’s the current zeitgeist in Canada.
  • Micro-credentials as Lego for macro-diplomas. See my remarks above.
  • Misquotations and missing citations – UPDATED
    I’m very pleased to say that the concerns I outlined in this section were fully addressed by a very responsive BCcampus within 24 hours of publishing this post.

In conclusion…

Niggling issues aside and despite my never-ending rants about opening up recognition, this is a big beautiful sprawl of a resource, with a broad integrated vision, great sources, usefully encapsulated captures of practice, recipes, tools, etc., etc. A “broth of a book”, as the Irish might say. It’s a first edition, needs a second one soon and there will be an ongoing need for care and feeding, but oh, so well worth it.. assuming that micro-credentials are your thing… 8->

As a final note, it would be great if it were easier to flag typos, inaccuracies and new suggestions in the context of the document. I find the current system for input not very usable.. it would be great to do something with or similar.

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

Employability Skills Can Be Learned

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!


Jill Dawson CC 2.0 BY

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:

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 input on 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.

Recognizing Soft Skills is Hard Work


Luigi Mengato CC-BY 2.0

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:

  1. There is wide agreement that “soft” skills (often termed “professional” or “generic” skills) are among the skills essential to employment across sectors.
  2. While there is little agreement, however on how specifically these skills are defined.
  3. 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.
  4. Employers report a “skills gap” and generally do not feel graduates possess sufficient “soft” skills to perform effectively.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!


Closing plug #2: Recognize and share learning in a digital world

CanCred logo_RGB_640 is hosted in Canada

eCredential Pathways for Immigrants and Refugees

I was an Immigration brat: my dad served for 20 years, much of it overseas. So I have a soft spot for this topic.


A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…with my German Wookie friend

As an adult, I’ve also worked on immigration projects over the years at the community, provincial and federal level.
So naturally I speculate how Open Badges and ePortfolios can help immigrants and refugees gain traction in this country Canada, where we depend so much on immigration and where our new government has taken such dramatic steps to welcome refugees from Syria.
Why Open Badge eCredentials and ePortfolios? Well, for me they go together like pictures and galleries, medals and showcases, stamps and passports, evidence and arguments. Together, they support the mapping, emergence and recognition of learning.
I hope to be presenting a version of these ideas at a conference in May, so consider this as a draft.

The Transition Penalty for Newcomers

I’m borrowing this term from a 2004 Canadian Labor and Business Centre handbook, which found that it took more than ten years before the unemployment level for immigrants dropped below that of the Canadian-born population. Many remedial steps have been taken since, but many of the barriers persist.
Newcomers are at a disadvantage when they arrive in Canada:

  • They may lack sufficient language skills
    Needs in this area have increased with the increasing diversity of our newcomers. Language is often the most obvious deficit and there are many programs in place to improve language skills, increasingly starting overseas.
  • Their learning and professional qualifications are often not fully recognized
    Immigrants with academic credentials and professional qualifications must have their documents examined and evaluated by third party services. Where there are gaps in documentation, it’s often difficult to resolve back in their home country.In many cases their qualifications are devalued compared to their home country and they must work to fill the gap. This is particularly true for regulated professions.
  • Their work experience is often not recognized
    Canadian employers often have no knowledge of the organizations that the immigrants and refugees may have worked for. Guess whose problem that is? Canadian employers often specify 1-2 years Canadian work experience in their postings, which makes it hard to get started back in your field. Many are forced to take service jobs just to get Canadian experience (and make a living) and risk losing touch with their field of expertise. This is called “skills fossilization”.
  • They lack social capital
    In a new country they lack the social connections that can often lead to good jobs. They must build these over again. If they find support in a community from their home country, that can have both positive and negative effects on their adaptation.
  • Their soft skills may not fit Canadian norms
    I call it “meta-social skills” and it’s a big issue, related to language skills and the lack of social capital. The implicit language of interpersonal relations can vary a lot between countries. For example, most Canadians don’t jump to their feet when their boss walks into the room. Self-awareness is part of the learning. Many language programs are actually “language and culture” programs.
  • It’s a long, difficult journey to full integration
    It takes determination and often a bit of luck to succeed: get the language, get the first Canadian job, get the first job in your field, advance up the ladder to your previous level….
    Many give up along the way, resigning themselves to preparing the way for the next generation, whose education can be completed here in Canada, with no transition penalty. Others transfer skills into alternative occupations related to their original field, and this can be a good strategy.
    Regardless, it can be a long multi-year slog, and it’s sometimes difficult to feel that you’re making progress. In language training for example, progress through the lower skill levels can be steep, but it flattens in the mid-high skill levels, frustrating those who need that final 10-20% to get into their target occupation. They often feel stuck.
  • The journey needs a more personal approach with better mapping and recognition of progress
    Migrants have individualized assets and gaps, but they are typically trained in cohorts. If tracking of learning occurs, it’s typically tracking of inputs not outcomes. There are sometimes hand-off gaps between service providers. Employers can be  at a loss in evaluating the skills of immigrants and can reactively add unfair criteria that increase the barriers.


How Can Open Badge eCredentials and ePortfolios help?

Have a quick look at these examples which I’ll summarize below:

ePortfolios for Newcomers at ISSofBC

ISSofBC is a large immigrant serving agency in BC’s Lower Mainland.
This very short (1m40s) video does a good job of describing how ePortfolios enhance their Language Instruction for Newcomers (LINC) for Employment Program:

I helped ISSofBC set up this ePortfolio program with a Train the Trainer series of workshops that leveraged effective practices from projects around the world and showed them how to get the most out of Mahara ePortfolio.
This is an example of an immigrant ePortfolio, following ISSofBC’s method:


Open Badges for Migrant Professionals at Beuth University

This presentation from a Nordplus adult educators project webinar last November discusses approaches to improving the soft employability skills of professional migrants in Germany:



Open Badges for ESL/EAL Professionals

English Online is a nonprofit service English e-learning service based in Winnipeg.  Since 2014, they’ve hosted an annual virtual conference for English teachers. They recognize different forms of participation with different Open Badges, each with its own distinct criteria and evidence:

In a similar way, TESOL Arabia’s Education Technology Special Interest Group (TAEDTECH sig) “aims to promote good practice in the use of technology in EFL instruction throughout the Arab Gulf Region.”

Reasons why ePortfolios and Open Badge eCredentials Can Help Newcomers

  • ePortfolios and Open Badges Support Personal Learning Pathways
    These pathways can be modular, flexible, diverse, portable and shareable.  They can visualize goals and progress toward those goals,  building confidence for newcomers and providing formative information for their advisors.
    Learning from multiple sources can be aggregated and blended in skills passports & ePortfolios, with holistic curation and reflection. For example, I’m currently exploring with others how Kiron Open Higher Education’s innovative MOOC-to-University-Degree strategy for refugees can be enhanced with Recognition of Prior Learning for academic credit through ePortfolios and Open Badges.
    eCredentials can support personalized learning, learning contracts and recognition of learning and performance achievements.
    Recognizing progress and achievement with Open Badge eCredentials can dramatically increase learner retention, as IBM has found out to its delight:

    (see details in my post: Open Badge eCredentials: Good Business for Higher Ed (Part 1)) .
  • ePortfolios and Open Badge eCredentials Provide Transparent Evidence of Skills and Abilities
    Higher level, more summative “milestone” badges can validate  language skills, technical skills or even soft skills and “work readiness”, if they’re backed by rigorous criteria and assessment from reputable issuers. Embedded evidence can add to authenticity. These can become skills currency for employers and academic institutions.
  • Newcomers are social media savvy
    According to this 2009 study, newcomers have decent ICT skills and tend to be more engaged with social media than native-born Canadians. Even many refugees, which proved controversial last year, according to the CBC story below:

    The CBC story is worth a read: examples of smartphone use by savvy refugees include relaying important survival information to others following behind,  language learning and orientation to their new environment.
    Once they arrive here, newcomers are also often trained in ICT applications (e.g. Office, AutoCAD) and how to use LinkedIn for networking. LinkedIn can be a great destination for your more impressive Open Badges, or you may want to consider an ePortfolio. An ePortfolio is a bit like LinkedIn, but with better storage, more flexible display, better alignment to specific criteria and gosh, your data still belongs to you, not LinkedIn. If you can make a LinkedIn profile, you can make an ePortfolio.


Reasons why ePortfolios and Open Badge eCredentials Can Help Other Stakeholders

  • Enhanced Online Profile Using Social Media
    IBM reports significant social media benefit with thousands of IBM-branded eCredentials making their way onto LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and company websites. OK, IBM is a global enterprise and its training has great cachet, but smaller software and leadership trainers are already seeing benefits also. I have examples from Canada, like this one:

    Demonstration of Impact
    Just as IBM can report their outcomes, so too can immigrant service providers better enumerate and communicate the impact of their services to their funders by counting badges issued, accepted, displayed, endorsed, etc.
  • Talent Pipelines, Candidate Assessment and Employee Development
    We’re already starting to see this happen, not only with IBM, but with the Belgian public service, the US Manufacturing Institute and a multi-stakeholder regional initiative in Colorado.
  • Professional Development for Service Providers
    In addition to the ESL examples above, I’ve previously blogged about the Scottish Social Services Council’s early steps with Open Badges to recognize the informal learning of its 200,000 care workers.Here in Canada, I’m exploring how we might adapt that model with a  non-profit sector council which includes immigrant service providers.


Where to start?


  • Employers
    Employer awareness is still a limit to the growth of eCredentials, but I’d say it’s mostly due to lack of engagement on the part of most issuers. When employers are approached to participate in the process they can become quite enthusiastic, as the Manufacturing Institute and Colorado experiences show, as does this one from a Wisconsin College:

    But you actually need to pick up the phone and reach out to them, to build their awareness and give them a chance to endorse the ideas and even some of the eCredentials themselves. It doesn’t take long – a breakfast meeting, maybe?
    In the meantime, immigrant serving organizations are employers too, and that fits with the PD suggestion. As employers, what skills and behaviours do they want to encourage? The Scottish Social Services Council model can help here.
  • Newcomer Learners
    As you work the channels above, It’s worthwhile to experiment with informal, low-risk forms of recognition with your learners, such as completion of a collections of tasks such as resume/cover preparation, employer research, language tasks, etc. This will give you a chance to test the idea with them and see what works and doesn’t work.


Final Word

I do hope to find some traction in this area over the coming months. I think it’s ripe, particularly on the PD side.
If anyone has ideas and wants to work with me, please let me know.

Enhancing Aboriginal PD with Open Badge eCredentials

This post explores the potential for developing a micro-credentialing system based on Mozilla Open Badges (* see Footnote 1) for Professional Development in Aboriginal Education (**  see Footnote 2) and increased awareness of Aboriginal Canada in the broader education system.

To some extent, it builds on my earlier post: Why do K12 teachers like Open Badge eCredentials with their PD? But it also applies the principles of Global Education to a better understanding of Aboriginal Canada. The idea is to start with teacher PD but the ultimate goal is to take it to students.
As a current Winnipegger originally from Toronto, these ideas are based on my knowledge of Manitoba and Ontario and the Aboriginal projects I’ve worked on. Aboriginal Education is an important issue here in Canada. According to the Globe and Mail, “Canada’s national newspaper”:

Only 40 per cent of First Nations students living on reserves graduate from high school. They score far below other students on standardized tests. And their numbers are about to explode.

Outcomes for the vastly greater numbers of Aboriginal students in off-reserve schools are somewhat better, but still poor, compared to the rest of the population. Maamaawisiiwin Education Research Centre asks:

What are our children and youth experiencing in the classrooms…? And what is the experience doing to them?

Have we come far enough from the bad old days of residential schools whose wounding impact the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to help heal?

Can eCredentialing with Open Badges help bridge gaps in Aboriginal Education, starting with transforming the knowledge, attitudes and capabilities of teachers?
It would be just one element among many others trying to help solve a huge issue, fraught with controversy and past failure. But I believe it could help and I’m beginning to see a willingness to try new ideas in the emerging policies of our new federal government.

Educator PD: Early Traction for Open Badges

Why start badging with educators? Well, I like what VIF International Education has to say about it:

We believe that education has the power to change the world. And we see teachers as force multipliers with the potential to reach and affect huge numbers of young minds. So we start with teachers.

And educators seem to really like having their PD recognized with micro-credentials. I’ve blogged previously about PD badging initiatives such as Digital Promise and PD Learning Network. I like the self-directed, evidence-based approach I often see  in educator PD. It’s not just about rewarding attendance at conferences and workshops.
I recently came across this October 2015 EdSurge article, written by the Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) about their global learning initiative: “So You Want to Drive Instruction With Digital Badges? Start With the Teacher.”
This edited excerpt nails the case for inquiry-based, knowledge-building, badge-recognized PD:

What makes the digital badging system different from more traditional forms of professional development are five key features that taken together increase significantly the likelihood that the learning experience for a teacher will lead to results in the classroom for students — which, after all, is the point of professional development. The five features:

  1. Badging requires demonstrating understanding and implementation of a target content or skill.
  2. Badging provides recognition and motivation.
  3. Badging allows for knowledge circulation among teachers.
  4. Badging can be tracked and assessed.
  5. Badging is a scalable enterprise.


Global Education for Teachers and Students

Houston’s badging initiative is a partnership with VIF International Education, mentioned above who was one of the winners of the DML Trust Challenge with their proposal “Global Gateway: Building Trust Through Peer Review”.
Their approach:

We support teachers in developing and applying global competence in their classrooms through focused and measurable professional training, flexible resources and peer-to-peer collaborations.

Have a look a this short video explaining the process:


Aboriginal Education in Canada – In Transition

Although I’ve been speculating about badges for Aboriginal education for some time, the trigger for this post was a Teacher PD panel at the HEQCO Transitions conference last week. The panel focused a lot on  Aboriginal Education due to participation by John Hodson of Maamaawisiiwin Education Research Centre and Kyle Hill of Teach for Canada.
Here in Canada, Aboriginal Education is getting lots more play recently, due to the December 2015 release of the  Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its acceptance by Justin Trudeau, leader of the new federal government which in its historic 2016 budget allocated $2.6 billion of new funding over the next five years for primary and secondary schooling on reserves.
One common thread is teacher capacity, particularly in terms of knowledge and attitude. This is very important for schools on reserves but also for the more than 80% of Aboriginal kids educated off-reserve (at least in Ontario) – and for the rest of our population to better understand Aboriginal Canada and our relationship to it.

Some Ideas for Recognizing Aboriginal PD with Open Badges

These ideas are exploratory and in no way exhaustive. They range from easy to more ambitious. They can be said to have formative, summative and transformative elements in different degrees.
Some of these ideas attempt to transfer VIF’s approach to Global Education to a notion “Inter-Nation” education, between Aboriginal Canada and the rest of our population.
Naturally, these ideas would need to be realistically evaluated in light of the needs and choices of Aboriginal stakeholders, political realities of federal-provincial relations and labour relations with teachers.

IDEA 1: Recognize in-service workshops

This can be fairly straightforward, merely digital recognition of current practice, but care should be taken in introducing it, to test engagement and take up. Small-scale pilots and proofs of concept may be the way to start, so that assumptions can be tested and adjustments can be made early on.
Micro-credentials awarded should be aligned to familiar PD frameworks and enhanced Aboriginal curriculum frameworks such as:

  • The grade-leveled themes in the Ontario FNMI Toolkit:
    • Aboriginal Peoples and Organizations
    • Culture, Tradition, and Language
    • Cross-Cultural Perspectives
    • Celebration
    • Current and Historical Issues
  • Themes in Manitoba’s Native Studies S1-S4 curriculum:
    • Aboriginal Identity
    • Environmental Harmony
    • Aboriginal Contributions
    • World Issues


IDEA 2: Recognize self-directed learning

As with Digital Promise and PD Learning Network, teachers could engage with resources independently, reflecting forward on how their new learning may affect their practice and reflecting backward on its actual impact. They may also develop other evidence of their learning for evaluation when challenging for badges.
This is still not much of a stretch, merely applying a well- tested PD approach to a new domain and different standards. But it should fit in with our PD practices up here.

IDEA 3: Recognize new contributions to shared knowledge

My idea here is to adapt the VIF International Global Gateway model, as described by a participating school superintendent:

Participating teachers advance through a series of inquiry-based professional development modules. Teachers are awarded a digital badge for the successful completion of each 10-hour module. To accomplish this, they must complete the following steps: 1) study module content, 2) participate in a focused discussion with peers working on the same module, 3) create an original inquiry-based global lesson plan that incorporates new learning, 4) implement the original lesson plan in the classroom, 5) provide evidence of classroom implementation and 6) reflect on and revise the lesson created.
The final product of every module is a tested, global lesson plan that articulates learning objectives, activities, assessments, and resources for each stage of inquiry. Upon completion, teachers may publish finalized lessons in a resource library where they can be accessed by other educators.

Imagine this global learning model applied to “inter-nation” learning for Aboriginal Canada. It would take a lot more effort to set up, but there is exciting potential here.

Benefits: formative, summative, transformative

In her introduction to Making Professional Learning Count, a research report on teacher attitudes to micro-credentials, Karen Cator of Digital Promise had this to say:

How can we clearly articulate existing and emerging competencies and support and recognize the accomplishments of educators as they develop throughout their careers? How can we better connect educators with peers so they can share and more quickly adopt best practices? And, what are ways teachers can be supported while driving their own learning? As an emerging professional learning strategy for educators, micro-credentials show great promise.

Other initiatives have shown that  recognizing the learning of teachers is a great way to seed ideas for recognizing the learning of students.
We also have the Manitoba example of Igniting the Power Within, which also started with professionals, in this case community advisors and counsellors. The project developed and tested curriculum and resources about workplace Essential Skills and RPL. Using a portfolio framework, this richly metaphorical authentically appreciative learning model has been used in Aboriginal communities to recognize and document the skills, knowledge and gifts we all have. It has made an impact on the lives of thousands of people.

Teachers and other professionals who have earned micro-credentials can think of creative ways to transfer their own experience to their students and clients.
In the spirit of appreciative inquiry, this kind of modular recognition can build learning pathways based on small positive steps, starting from where each person is at. This could be a Western teacher unaware of Aboriginal Perspectives or a student unaware of the Western scientific method.
This illustration from a Manitoba curriculum document draws on work from Alaska to describe the similarities and differences between Aboriginal and Western Ways of Knowing.
I see it as a map indicating how to bring communities together to find shared values through connected learning.
I see Open Badges all over it.


FOOTNOTE: Mozilla Open Badges*

Open Badges were originally developed to recognize learning anywhere, reaching out to at-risk populations with connected learning and appreciative recognition opportunities, as the Cities of LRNG website states:

There is a disconnect in today’s traditional education system, which leaves many youth disengaged in school and unprepared for the workplace and community. Now more than ever, young people need access, inspiration and guidance.

Here’s a brief intro to Open Badges that may help those new to the topic:


FOOTNOTE: Aboriginal**

In Canada, when we say Aboriginal, it’s an inclusive term that means First Nations (mostly treaty-based, on reserve and off), Métis (mixed race, with a distinct culture, recently achieved official status) and Inuit (also incorrectly called Eskimo) populations. People in the US might just say “Native Americans”.

Recognizing Self-Directed Learners with Open Badge eCredentials

This post is a response to a post on cogdogblog where Alan Levine was questioning the value of Open Badges as a credential system: Seeking Evidence of Badge Evidence. Although the post was mostly about the crappy evidence practices of many badge issuers and the need for evidence (I say sometimes yes, sometimes no), one of Alan’s thoughts struck me all the more when it was endorsed by Stephen Downes in OLDaily:

“being badged is a passive act, even with blockchain secure authority, it is done to you. As important is what you do yourself, in active tense, to demonstrate your own evidence. Get badged, yes, that’s one part of showing what you have done. But get out there, get a domain, and show the world what you can do. That is evidence.”

Alan’s post has sparked an interesting series of comments that will culminate in Alan joining a Badge Alliance Community Call on Wednesday March 9 at 12pm ET. This is my contribution ahead of time.
My post is also doing double duty as an assignment for #NRC01PL, the Personal Learning cMOOC now underway led by Stephen Downes and linked to NRC’s multi-year Learning and Performance Support Systems initiative.
At this point, the MOOC is about to move on from blasting the poor LMS for its preoccupations with highly-controlled instructional design, over-reliance on content delivery with tied assessment, and limited options for deeper learning through practice, experience and reflection. Interesting not just for its timing, Donald Clark’s latest blog post hits a lot of these points but also talks about the benefits of the LMS, helping make the case for Phil Hill’s Minivan of Education.
As a new blogger but longtime user of Slideshare, my post builds on a presentation about PLEs that I delivered at ePIC 2015 on behalf of MSF Canada with Dominique Giguère of Currents Group:
[slideshare id=49221246&doc=badgeenabledplev21epicforupload-150610131519-lva1-app6892]
The key slide (39) is here – my idealized vision for a badged humanitarian career:personal-learning-environments-for-humanitarian-learning-and-development-39-638
The point I want to make in this post is that sometimes even self-directed learners need to be recognized in order to build their professional identity and achieve their goals. And it doesn’t always have to mean bowing down to The Man, whether that be an employer or your nearest institution.I think this is important in the context of #NRC01PL, MOOCs in general and Open Educational Practices as a mindset. As eLearning Provocateur put it so succinctly in a post about 70:20:10 (Personal Learning applied to the workplace),

I’m an advocate of informalising the learning, and formalising the assessment. eCredentials have an important part to play in the latter.

I should emphasize here that my interest goes way beyond higher education and well into the workplace. And while blogs can be a great way to learn out loud, hone your wits in public and build a connected body of work in certain fields, I don’t think a blog can do it all for everybody, and it may be wholly inappropriate to some recognition contexts.
How many blogging industrial welders do you know, for example?
 UPDATE: Alan Levine has found two… see comment

Open Badges Don’t Have to Suck

Yes, many badges do suck – cue the military metaphors:


Carpet Badging @kyledbowen CC BY-SA


But that’s like saying WordPress sucks because so many people use it poorly, or for things you hate. Sturgeon’s law: 90% of everything is crap. Focus on the 10%.
An Open Badge is a tool for recognizing and communicating learning. Like any tool it can be used poorly, imperfectly or, as I like to say, “in the spirit of continuous improvement.”

Badge Earners Aren’t Passive

I’m not even sure that passive is the right word. I think what Alan and Stephen mean is dependent, as in not independent or self-directed; what Serge Ravet referred to in his comment to Alan’s post as an asymmetrical power relationship where:

“authorities” (have) the “right to trust” while the average punter has only the right to beg to be trusted by an “authority.”

(I love it when Serge talks Cockney.)
It’s not passive because badges are owned by the earner. Yes, a badge “victim” may be sent a badge for being randomly awesome, for showing up at a conference, or for completing some algorithmic idiocy (you logged in!).
But he/she can refuse the badge – that’s at least passive-aggressive. And they can decide to actively share the badge to further their goals if the badge has transferable meaning for them and the audience they are sharing with, such as employers. And then there are other ways to earn and use badges that I go into below.
Attaching a label to a person that the person has no control over – that’s passive.

My Premises

Open Badges are more than Digital Badges

Like many, I make a big distinction between Open Badges and Digital Badges, although the former is technically a subset of the latter, and I’ll cite Doug Belshaw again here:

For me, Open Badge = eCredential = micro-credential = modular credential = a technically portable, potentially socially transferable statement of learning or achievement.
When I say digital badges I generally mean the kind that are not technically portable or socially transferable. They can have localized merit, but are not the focus here. The problem is when badge issuers mindlessly use Open Badges for digital badge purposes, i.e. issue Open Badges with no thought to how they could have transferable value and how to make that happen.

People want to be recognized in different ways at different times

There are times when even self-directed learners need to have their learning and capabilities formally or semi-formally assessed and recognized for specific purposes, such as a mid-careerist transitioning to back to education or to a new occupation, or a skilled immigrant transitioning to a new workforce.
The phrase Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL, also PLAR or PLA) will likely leave behind most of the university sector (colleges support it), but the notion behind it is what first brought me to Open Badges via ePortfolios: recognizing what someone knows and can do, based on assessing authentic evidence that can be selected from lifewide learning (formal, nonformal, informal/experiential) and has been curated, annotated and aligned for a particular purpose(s).
It’s an important set of processes and values for adult learning. It’s all about fairness: recognizing learning, no matter where it was gained.
AAEEBL will tell you that you can also have formative portfolios FOR emergent learning, but I’m speaking here mostly about summative portfolios OF past learning that are designed for recognition for a specific reason: academic credit, admission, professional registration, hiring, promotion, etc. These are increasingly known as “Targeted Evidence Packages” to avoid the word “portfolio”, which has baggage in some circles as being synonymous with sprawling life stories in loose-leaf binders (or piled up in a blog, or scattered across the Internet).
I’d  call them micro-portfolios, because their curated content is typically a subset of a larger portfolio that can have many ongoing purposes, including learning: front display case vs. back workshop.

Assessing Self-Directed Learners

Assessment is not just about tests

Up here in Canada, we’ve done a lot of work improving and clarifying our RPL practices, especially for regulated professions. One reason for this is to make things fairer for immigrants and refugees. A lot of it is about getting away from high stakes exams as the weapon of choice and thinking about more authentic and fairer ways to assess capabilities.
According to this 2012 guideline for assessing skilled immigrants from the Canadian Association for Prior Learning Assessment (CAPLA), there are five main kinds of assessment, each with pros and cons, which are often used together in varying combinations:

  1. Self-Assessments
    Typically formative, can be self-directed or interpretive, i.e. shared with others
  2. Written Examinations
    Criterion referenced (simple cut score) or norm-referenced (Bell curved)
  3. Oral Questioning
    Formal/informal, structured/unstructured. Can even be a collaboratively structured “professional conversation”, an interesting practice which I’m going to follow up on later.
  4. Demonstrations and Observations
    Workplace assessments over time and event-based simulations, such as the medical Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE)
  5. Portfolios and ePortfolios
    Portfolios FOR learning and/or Portfolios OF learning (Formative and/or Summative)

I don’t know about you, but I could drive an Open Badges recognition truck through all this – or is that a B-2?


Meet me in St. Louis, Louis…   Public Domain

For example:

  1. Self-Assessments
    a) Declarations of interest and belief, such as Serge Ravet’s example of Je suis Charlie. These can begin to get at soft skills, but can obviously be gamed.
    b) Self-issued, self-regulated badges, aligned to clear standards, linked to examinable evidence, based on models such as Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in several professions and program review in academic institutions. Use for both continuous improvement and evaluation by others. Evidence and badge issue can be evaluated and endorsed after issue by standards bodies and other stakeholders, which adds value over time. Currency maintained by a stream of continuing evidence, with or without additional external recognition. I recently suggested this as a model to an impoverished professional body seeking sustainable ways to improve its CPD.
  2. Written Examinations
    a) Career Readiness badges.
    Employers already test for literacy, numeracy and document use for front line candidates. NOCTI’s Job Ready and College Ready Assessment badges can save time and money for candidates and employers and reduce the waste of lost assessments that could be transferred from the immediate hiring or admissions context (testing, re-testing…)
    b) Language testing
    MSF Brussels’ evolving competency model includes the leveled Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. This and other language frameworks are testable and displayable and can be used for  recruiting in the workplace or for HE admissions.
    c) Health and Safety compliance testing – not a biggie for most of the audience reading this post, but useful for candidates who need them to be recruited or retained. And for the employer.
  3. Oral Questioning
    a) DeakinDigital’s video interview as triangulation for their portfolio assessment (see below)
    b) Language testing, perhaps for Canada’s Portfolio Based Language Assessment (PBLA) for immigrants. When is PBLA going to make the transition to ePortfolio anyway?
    c) Audio/video recordings could be supporting evidence for  “professional conversations” badges, or even asynchronous behavioural interviews.
  4. Demonstrations and Observations
    a) The best example I have at the moment is Lipscomb University’s OSCE for Business Leaders (my term – maybe it should be OSLE), where leadership-related soft skills are evaluated in workplace simulations within a controlled environment.
    b) Vocational Training. There is huge potential for more authentic, modular, progressive, experience and practice-based alternatives to the dysfunctional national Red Seal apprenticeship system in Canada, with its isolated and often disruptive formal learning semesters, opaque experiential timecard logbook and multiple choice exam as a final hoop capstone. The logbook could be a beautiful digital thing made of many badges with linked evidence. But there are barriers… sadly, few of them related to learner needs. The Manufacturing Institute in the US is working on this, but I also advise keeping an eye on City & Guilds in the UK. Their TecBac is a good start.
  5. Portfolios and ePortfolios
    DeakinDigital formally badges Masters level Recognition of Professional Practice, based mostly on ePortfolios (Targeted Evidence Packages), supplemented by other assessment as needed (known as triangulation in RPL parlance). It’s my fond hope that MSF will support something like this for its leadership pipeline.


Blogs are not enough

Alan Levine and Stephen Downes both say that the evidence of their capabilities is in their output. Well, they’re blogging rock stars with thousands of followers who appear to blog as easily as they breathe. They’ve built their credibility through their output over time and that gets them work and speaking engagements in the post-secondary edtech community. They have huge social capital. They don’t need no stinkin’ badges.
But what if they were going through a career transition and needed to re-establish themselves in another community that doesn’t know them and doesn’t have the time to read all their blog posts? That’s essentially what happens to immigrants, for example. (Think about all those Americans fleeing to Cape Breton if Trump Wins.) What if they were BAs just graduating?
And not all of us are bloggers. I’m a recently hatched blogger and I’m finding that it takes significant effort to maintain the channel.
Also, blogs aren’t equally useful across sectors, however great a fit they are for the post-secondary edtech community. The industrial welder is just an extreme example.
Personal learning implies personal evidence that’s appropriate to context. It takes a ton of effort to assemble an ePortfolio or a blog. It takes a ton of effort to evaluate one, which is a key barrier to their acceptance. Trustable proxies like Open Badges can help. They can include direct evidence or BE indirect evidence nuggets (more RPL parlance), with trust. More on that in future posts.

Open Badges can help structure and reinforce blogs and ePortfolios

If we’re talking about past learning, I see a person’s body of work and the sum of their experience as similar to a swampy archaelogical site or an unexploited mine. For ongoing work and learning, maybe an abundant wetland estuary.
It requires investigation, cooperation with others, triage, channeling, sifting, extraction,  refinement, construction and packaging before you can develop transferable value from the raw materials that different audiences will recognize in environments where you want to build your social capital.
So I say that Open Badges can be like structural supports for a person’s body of work, like gabions for an embankment or corduroy roads in a wetland. Signposts, like localized GIS markers or 3D beacons helping you map and leverage your assets.

These hardened pieces of validated (and ideally aligned) evidence can support other kinds of evidence to tell your learning story.
So I’m going to be asking Stephen for a badge if I complete this MOOC. But I want a good one that I can use somewhere else…hmm, maybe at DeakinDigital?

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!