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”.

Open Badges: Connectors for Open Learning

This post continues an exploration of how Open Badges can support Personal Learning in Open Learning Networks. Open Educational Practices, if you will.
If you’re not interested in the more technical aspects of edtech, please bear with me. I’m laying the groundwork here to set up a wide array of practical applications in areas such as:

  • K12-PSE transition
  • PSE-career transition
  • Immigrant language training and workforce integration
  • Vocational training
  • Talent management and workforce development
  • Meeting the needs of under-served audiences, such as at-risk youth

I’ll be exploring those in future posts.
Today’s post is part of a series that is inspired by #NRC01PL, Stephen Downes’ Personal Learning MOOC. It picks up on my post from last week, which, among other things, said that Open Badges are becoming machine-readable nodes in open networks.
I believe that Open Badges can play a key role in what Stephen Downes calls the Metaversity:

Stephen explains it in his companion video presentation. The metaversity is a modular solution to an issue expressed by Michael Feldstein back in 2005:

“We need a system that is optimized toward slotting in new pieces as they become available, not as an after-thought or an add-on, but as a fundamental characteristic of the system. We need a system that lowers the barrier to innovation of new learning tools.”

So I looked at the pieces in Stephen’s diagram and reflected that Open Badges are pretty modular too. They’re JSON-LD objects, composed of standard fields with links to other information objects and they’re intended to be combined in pathways, stacks and clusters, based on the information they represent.

I decided to make the following diagram of my own as a one-page thinking tool, drawing from the Open Badges Specification, the Badge Alliance 2016 Roadmap, Nate Otto’s March 9 update on the Badge Alliance Standard Working Group, loosely coupled with my own delusions:
Metadata Schematic v02
Apologies for the fine print detail – I’ll eventually make it simpler image to communicate better (you can try “view image” in the meantime). But the having the detail on a single page is helping me think through the following:

Knowledge and Learning Resources are diverse

They can be people, content, metadata, and even badges to name a few. This is what I was trying to get at in my last post about the “Internet of Badge Things”.
Learning doesn’t flow in just one direction. Open Educational Practices talk about knowledge ecosystems with feedback/remix loops. The notion that learners bring value to the equation is something that’s most familiar in adult learning and the college system, but it’s more or less true everywhere. So why can’t a badge earner’s evidence become a learning resource, whether they’re curating and remixing somebody else’s work or coming up with something new?
I actually had a similar thought in the 1990’s while leading the Online Group at TVOntario. But I wasn’t able to do much with it, other than code name it Boswell and make a diagram I can no longer find. Maybe now?

Open Badges develop most of their value after issue

There’s been a lot of attention paid to the value that can be baked into a badge at issuing time, but  that’s really just potential value (I’m talking the summative side here).
It’s when a badge is shared and recognized that its “mint” value hits reality and becomes exchangeable currency. This will happen in social settings: online communities, badge clearinghouses, job and work portals, and also in peer to peer exchanges, via emails, blockchains, personal open ledgers and other methods we haven’t thought of yet. This isn’t just my thought… my colleague Serge Ravet has been saying it for ages.
I’ll add a connectivist point here: it’s not just the resources and nodes that have value, but the way they’re connected through patterns of use – the network cluster.

The Open Badges ecosystem: symmetrical, diverse, emergent

I think that the emerging Open Badges ecosystem is a similar distributed knowledge and learning architecture to the one Stephen describes in his presentation and can indeed supply a lot of the virtual routers and cabling for Stephen’s vision.
It supports Charles Vest’s three key properties of successful networks. It is becoming increasingly:

  • Diverse (supports many objectives)
  • Interwoven (recognizes lifewide activities, networks amplify value)
  • Open (highly permeable, accommodates many minds)

Issuers can be earners, earners can be issuers, and anybody can be an endorser of a kind. Agents, objects and connections can exist at many levels.
This has the makings of an emergent knowledge and innovation ecosystem – the network as a learning thing. There is value in the badge itself and in its relationship to its environment. It’s potentially much more than a top-down credentialing protocol for training and education, though it can certainly do that.

An exciting vision

These last few blog posts that are connected to topics in #NRC01PL have been difficult for me to write, but I think it’s because I’m rewiring my thinking as I write, making my way through a few conceptual thresholds. This rewiring promises to make my future badge system planning more robust and flexible.
All this may seem pretty esoteric, but consider the following possibilities as examples:

  • Badges linked to Open Educational Resources (it’s already happening)
  • Badge recommendations, based on badges you’ve already earned
  • Mixing and matching badges from different issuers using common external standards to build your own learning pathways
  • Personal portfolios that are robust learner-owned resource profiles, identifying you as qualified for a particular role.
  • Badges endorsed by employers in your region that automatically move you up the queue in talent pipelines and Applicant Tracking Systems
  • Regional workforce skills surveys based on badge analytics, attracting new investment to a community

I’ll be coming back soon to focus on current examples out there and more immediately practical concerns for Open Badges in early 2016… blame #NRC01PL in the meantime.

Closing plug: join us at the 2016 Digital Badge Summit

I’m looking forward to participating and speaking at the Digital Badge Summit in June, with badge community luminaries such as Nate Otto, Doug Belshaw, Serge Ravet, Dan Hickey, James Willis and Eric Rousselle… that’s just naming a few!
There’ll be something for everybody: K12, Higher Ed, PD… Nate Otto and I will be curating a “Hot Topics” thread.
I’ll also be sticking around with Eric Rousselle and his colleague Nilü for the ISTE conference afterward to help introduce Open Badge Factory to the US K12 community, along with an exciting new offering for the Canadian K12 community. More on that later.


Personal Learning Ecosystems as an "Internet of Badge Things"

This post is a change of pace for Littoraly. It begins to question the notion of Open Badges as scalable micro-credentials. How modular are they? Are they like lego blocks or are they fractal and chaotic? How far can we push the notion of modularity?
It’s part environmental scan and part thought experiment. I had wanted to explore this anyway, and the fact that #NRC01PL, Stephen Downes’ Personal Learning MOOC is now actively developing the notions of connectivism, emergence and recognition gives me a perfect opportunity.
The point of the post is the Draft Ecosystem Scaling Chart towards the bottom, but it takes me a while to set it up. You may want to cut to the chase and then loop back. But the video alone is worth the price of admission.

Nano, micro… let’s call the whole whole thing soft

Open Badges are often called micro-credentials and I think there are maybe three reasons for this:

  1. Avoiding the word “badge” when first introducing them to adult audiences who may label them as trivial
  2. Making them appear as less than a full credential to credentialing bodies and institutions concerned about devaluing their credentialing mojo
  3. Introducing the notion of modular credentials that can be sequenced, clustered and transformed into Milestone badges (also known as “meta-badges”: badges whose criteria involve the earning of tributary badges)

Today’s post begins to explore the boundaries of the third reason. It goes from nano through micro to giga. But Stephen argues that  learning is not as neatly compartmentalized and nestable as many may think.

The MOOC Ecosystem

I’ve structured the post around Stephen Downes’ Fantastic Voyage exploration of the MOOC Ecosystem, introduced this week as part of the MOOC. It’s based on a talk he gave in Glasgow last year. Stephen zooms up and down from sub-microscopic to global perspectives, which I found quite inspiring:

Some Quick Notes about the MOOC Ecosystem Model

Stephen makes most of these points at the end, but I’ll get them out of  the way now:

  • Connectivism is based on the notion of neural networks.
    Learning happens via “neuro-plasticity”, where connections are made and reinforced with activities. The value is in the patterns of active connections.
  • Zooming up increases complexity
    What is perceived as a node at one level can also be a network of networks
  • Complexity: not just in number, but also  interdependence, interactivity
    It looks like chaos, but in fact it’s just the complex result of simple interactions at different levels.Each level has some degree of both independence and interdependence with peer, sub- and super-nodes and networks.
  • Cognition is bi-directional: Emergence <–>Recognition
    I have some trouble following the distinction Stephen makes with his “video image of Richard Nixon” example, but here’s what I understand:

    • Emergence means patterns and sub-networks being perceived as objects
    • Recognition means objects as perceived activating patterns of learning and behaviour
      … I think.
  • “Levels” are meshed and entwined
    It’s not a neat set of concentric circles or hierarchical hub-spoke system; boundaries are blurred; layers intersect
    (This makes me think of my dim notions of quantum mechanics.)


My (Very) Emergent Thoughts About Scaling Open Badges

Open Badges are becoming machine-readable nodes in trust networks

In moving from version 1 to version 1.1, Open Badges moved from JSON to JSON-LD. LD stands for Linked Data, which enables structured searches, not just crawling unstructured text. JSON-LD enables new descriptive properties to be added to Open Badges that can be mapped to external vocabularies and frameworks.
Geo-location is one example that has been implemented, various competency frameworks should come soon, third-party endorsement is in the works for v2.0, scheduled to come out later this year. In the meantime, according to a recent community call, the Open Badge Network project in Europe is working on an Open Badge extension for competency alignment using InLOC linked data, a JSON-LD framework designed by Jisc to support the sharing of learning information.
And if work with the W3C’s Verifiable Claims Working Group continues to go well, Open Badges will become “payment grade” verifiable claims, linked to owner identities rather than the online service that issued them.

There is a Drive Toward Open Badge Ecosystems

So, imagine if there were millions of Open Badges (there already are) whose various properties were discoverable by both humans and machines, whose aggregation and deconstruction could scale through algorithmic protocols, supplemented by other locally relevant, possibly unstructured information as necessary.
We already see some examples of different issuers and earners displaying badges to earn and badges earned, such as:

  • Open Badge Passport Gallery
    Public badges of earners are discoverable by issuer country, issuer name, badge name, and earner
  • Open Badge Academy
    Displays badges that can be earned and badge assertions that have been endorsed by others online
  • LinkedIn
    414m members, building a business graph of the world. Site searches by country can find badge issuers and badge assertions
  • (please comment to suggest others)

Then we have what Stephen would call Federated Search:

My colleague Serge Ravet envisions trust networks growing up around Open Badges that could scale and he sees Open Personal Ledgers as helping make that possible:


The lack of “standardization” echoes fuzzy neural networks

Although initiatives such as Connecting Credentials and IMS Global’s Open Badge Extensions for Education (OBEE) are trying to find  common ground for exchanging information about skills and learning, people are people and context is context. What’s “grit” for one community is “resilience” for another; what’s level 6 in one framework is level 4 in another; what’s relevant evidence in one context is perceived as opaque or infantile in another. Bits and pieces from different systems are borrowed, mashed up and transformed into new things.
This calls to mind Downes’ Two Dogmas of Educationism which Stephen introduces at 19m00s above (relabeling Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism – intersting that Quine’s holism gets into quantum logic):

  1. Reductionism is False
  2. No Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

Every level is a complex network and functions on its own and has an impact on other peer sub and super networks:

I confess that I need to go through this philosophical stuff a few times more in order to really get what he’s on about. Basically, I take it to mean that things aren’t as simple and modular as many might suppose. A diversity of methods for learning via emergence and recognition will be required, which would include structured and non-structured information.
But I like the word recognition. That’s probably because I like the phrase Recognition of Learning…and not just prior learning, but also emergent learning.

Open Badges have the potential to support emergent learning and innovation ecosystems

Imagine you’re a global services company with half a million employees around the world, scattered over countries, regions, occupations and lines of business. How can you possibly foster learning and innovation across your operation?
One global services company I know is considering Open Badges. The example I was given was to imagine a small shop in Kuala Lumpur  coming up with an innovation, whether it be a cool new method or piece of technology. One way for them to spread the innovations is to offer a badge offering to teach it. This advertises the innovation, provides a method for disseminating it along with a way to track its spread, as earners display their badge instances.
What you start to have here is an Internet of Badge Things. Which is a great segue to the real point of this post:

Draft Ecosystem Scaling Chart

This is a rough first attempt to track the potential scalability of Open Badges against Stephen’s levels of MOOCs and education in general.
I’m not totally happy with how I’ve matched levels, and I’m already thinking I may need to separate issuer/earner/consumer functions in future versions. But I hope readers will recognize enough here to to come up with a few emergent ideas of their own.
NB: Stephen starts at 2000, goes up to the planetary level, then back down to the sub-microscopic level. I’ve chosen to simplify by starting small and going big.

 Size  Stephen:
Level of Complexity
Don: Open Badges Applicability
0.000002 Bit
Change in the neuron
 Learner in the moment
0.00002 Synapse
1-1 connection between neurons
Learning activities (e.g. xAPI)
Evidence artefacts
“Bits of Trust”
(see @szerge)
0.0002 Neural Network
Your personal knowledge, based on connections ; neuroplasticity
Learning Record Stores
Curated collections of evidence
Personal Open Ledger
(see @szerge)
0.002 Touch
Badge Issuers
Badge Classes (what the badge is about)
Badge design: gestalt, semiotics
0.02 Language and Text
Words, images, patterns that have meaning
Badge criteria, evidence, other fields in a badge class
Badge image
0.2 Interfaces
Connection between your hand or eye and an object device or tool
Assessments, badge applications
2 You (and a Friend)
Personal Learning Network: you connecting to others, your social media, resources
Don: my arbitrary median level
Single badges
Formative badges
Badge Assertions (baked badges awarded to individuals)
20 Linked Data
Personal Graph
Don: I have trouble separating this level from above and below
Badge collections
Summative badges
Milestone Badges
200 Dunbar’s number
(really 150)Level where:

  • a village becomes a town,
  • a collaborative group with a common identity and shared purpose becomes
    a cooperative network with communication, interaction, negotiation, cooperation

Don: beyond which a “Learning Tribe” becomes a “Learning Movement”

Badge pathways – prescriptive or descriptive
Badge Passports
Nested Milestone Badges
Badge systems
2,000 Size of the first MOOC
“Small town”; network (don’t know everybody)
Synchronous event – webinar
Don: “Online town hall”
Badge gallery, badge group
Self-awarded badges
Shared badge systems
“Chains of Trust” (@szerge)
20,000 Series of first MOOCs
Don: “Small town circuit”
Community of Practice
Exchange comments, resources, etc.
“After market” badge metadata
Communities of diverse badges
Communities around specific badges and badge types (badges as hubs and rallying points)
Badges as knowledge objects
200,000 The first big xMOOC: Artificial Intelligence
Learning analytics
The quantified self
Data points to provide learners with a dashboard
Indexed badge systems as knowledge patterns (Credmos)
2,000,000 The Early MOOCisphere
Collections and Systems
Learning record stores, learning results to generate an interactive reactive, even predictive system
Badge regions
Federated Backpacks
Badge repositories (Badgepedias, a “smart” Backpack)
“Networks of Trust” (@szerge)
20,000,000 National MOOC Strategy
National Repositories
Open online learning
Badge nations
Googling a badge (W3C)
200,000,000 Overall impact of MOOC on culture and pedagogy
Open Resource Network
e.g. Directory of Open Access Journals
Badge cultures, badge economies
Multi-country movementsBadgechains, aggregated ledgers
2,000,000,000 MOOC world
Knowledge becomes a network
“Badge planet”,
“Internet of Badge Things”Badges as learning agents


Final thoughts

I don’t think I’ve nailed this yet; this is me thinking or learning out loud. I’m still pondering how connectivism affects the notion of badge scalability.
For one thing, I’m still struggling with constructivist modularity vs. connectivist emergence and recognition. As an example, trades have skill sets that are in National Occupational Analyses (NOAs) such as this NOA for Cooks. It’s pretty analytical, but wouldn’t you want to feel confident that you had covered the bases? But maybe it doesn’t cover all the bases, because it’s not holistic enough. Is there a better way of doing this? I do know that my chef friend says that a good test of a cook is how well he/she slices a tomato – that combines several pieces of skill and knowledge into one seemingly simple capability. I think I would fail, but I blame my tools – oops, sharpening knives is one of the skills.
Open Badges do a useful job of filling gaps in our current education and training systems. And I think they can provide useful data points in holistic recognition recognition systems, which is a point I made in my last post.
But all in all, I’m feeling pleased about having joined this mini-MOOC, if only as a way to test my evolving ideas about how Open Badges can recognize learning.

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!


Build your training business with Open Badges eCredentials

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

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

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

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


Top 3 benefits of eCredentialing with Open Badges

1. Your learning is more granular and specific

Udacity showed us the way:

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

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

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


2. Your learning is more modular and progressive

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

CSU Extension Certified Gardener Program

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

3. Your learners promote your brand for you

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

The top 5 issues and risks

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

1. Lack of awareness, business distractions

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

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

2. Reputation and brand

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

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

3. Fear of unbundling the learning package

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

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

4. Confusion of concepts and terminology

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

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

5. Lack of a “burning platform”

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

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

Jobboard Finder: J.B.F. News

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

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

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

Should your LMS be HQ for your Open Badge eCredentials?

I just heard that Discendum, the developers of my favourite eCredentialing solution, have joined the D2L Partner Network in order to develop a Brightspace LMS plugin for Open Badge Factory.
Brightspace has a huge footprint in Canada, so this pleases me no end. It actually pleases me more than last year’s news that Brightspace had introduced their own integrated badging solution, matching Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas.
Why is that? Because your LMS may not be the best platform to run your Open Badge system.


It took me a while to realize this. I’m actually partly responsible for Open Badges coming to Moodle: in late 2011, I connected Totara Learning to the DML competition and the “Moodle as Issuer, Mahara as Displayer” project was born. This brought Open Badges to Totara LMS and Moodle in 2013.*
But I’ve changed, largely from working with Eric Rousselle at Discendum over the past couple of years. (Full disclosure: Learning Agents is launching a Canadian eCredentialing service in early 2016 built on Open Badge Factory and Open Badge Passport technology.)
I love working with Discendum because I find them clear thinking, practical souls. They’re always concerned with finding value that customers will pay for and they look for the simplest technology paths to deliver that value. This is what’s made them the leading edtech provider in Finland (OK, it’s a small market. But still.)
And they know LMSs. They built their own (Optima), which is popular in Finland and they are Totara LMS partners, with clients in several countries. They’re also a Mahara ePortfolio Partner, with a large national multi-site Mahara similar to New Zealand’s MyPortfolio. ePortfolio is why we met at Serge Ravet’s ePIC 2012 conference, when Mozilla took Open Badges on tour in Europe and changed how we think about ePortfolios.
Eric was intrigued by the potential of Open Badges at ePIC and brought the notion back to Discendum in Finland. The Discendum team liked what it discovered in early experiments, but found the Open Badge community a bit anarchic back then. They decided there was a niche for them to fill: a non-US provider focused on the needs of learning organizations seeking to build trustable and sustainable badge systems, flexible enough to integrate with diverse workflows and demonstrate the quality of their learning.

Small pieces, loosely connected

What they’ve developed is a loosely coupled system that works *with* LMSs, but remains independent. Badges are triggered and displayed inside LMSs and other systems, but they’re created and managed inside the external badging platform. They’ve even decoupled issuers from earners, which will provide even more flexibility down the road:

From Open Badge Factory: A Badging Platform for Canada

Note: Salava, the open source Community Edition of Open Badge Passport, has recently been released on GitHub.
What are the benefits of this approach? Well, Discendum and I have developed this matrix comparison with an LMS-centric approach. It’s focused on Moodle and Totara LMS, because that’s what we know best. It’s propaganda, but sincere propaganda:

OpenBadgeswithOpenBadgeFactory_v26_MATRIXFrom Open Badge Factory: A Badging Platform for Canada

We’re in good company

Discendum is not alone in this loosely coupled thinking, although they’ve taken it further than most. If you look at the Badge Alliance list of Badge Issuing Platforms and EduAppCenter’s open LTI app collection, you’ll see lots of flexible connectivity between LMSs and independent badging platforms.
Dan Hickey wrote a really interesting post last year about the increasing complexity of LMSs over time and how they tend to lose touch with their design origins as they keep on bolting on new features in response to customer demand. Phil Hill has labeled the LMS as the Minivan of Education (i.e. convenient, but stodgy and a bit embarrassing.) I think of them more as retro-fitted camper vans, bulging with awkward add-ons that sometimes leak at the seams.
Dan Hickey reported recently that he was meeting engineers at Instructure to “share the wish lists of ten Canvas users regarding badges, outcomes, and ePortfolios.” I do think Canvas is better equipped than many of its LMS competitors for continuing relevance due to its more modular, externally pluggable design. For example, Canvas already has LTI-based connectivity with Canvabadges, Acclaim, Badge Safe, Badger and Open Badge Factory.
Serge Ravet also wrote a great post about his frustrations in making Moodle LMS work together with Mahara ePortfolio to track competencies for a European project (he blames me for luring him into using Mahara). Serge suggested that Mahara ePortfolio have a badge issuer plugin for Open Badge Factory. Now it does. How flexible is that?
So here’s a top 3 summary of why you should think about housing your badge system *outside* the LMS:

  1. Specialized badge systems can focus on doing one thing well, away from the control of integrated omnibus applications
  2. Control and quality
    Trivial things can be badged (“great login, here’s a badge!”) and badge strategies can be scattered and fragmentary.
    – Links inside badges start breaking as courses and accounts are deleted and even LMSs are migrated. This often means they’re no longer valid. (Badge rot is REAL, man…)
  3. Flexibility!

And in conclusion…

So if you’re a learning organization (or a learning unit within one) and concerned about quality,  here are some things for you to think about:

  • Can I issue badges from my different systems and diverse workflows: face to face workshops, synchronous e-learning, within the LMS; and in other assessment and recognition contexts: ePortfolio, online community, testing applications…?
  • How is evidence handled? Is it archived within the LMS, or exportable to a separate location?
  • Where are the issued badges stored and how secure are they?
    • What happens when we delete the course?
    • What happens if we change our LMS?
  • Can I control who creates and issues badges?
  • Are the badges globally accessible and copyable within and across systems?
  • Do I have a global picture of my badge system and can I track how well it’s achieving its goals?

On the other hand…

If it’s just about gamification within a course, then who cares? Fill your boots, as they say Down East in Canada. But think twice before you make these *Digital* Badges into *Open* Badges, i.e. portable into other contexts. Let’s be careful about handing out Open Badges like stickers, because that can degrade them as a skills currency.
* Footnote:  reviewing at a HASTAC interview from that time makes me wonder what happened to the “Mahara as Displayer” part. Totara had ambitious plans to make Mahara part of a federated backpack system, but the only Mahara displayer I know of is made by Discendum.

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