Badges: A Community Commitment to Changing the Game for Learning

By Connie Yowell, CEO of LRNG and Collective Shift

Digital badges are a game changer. As we as a nation struggle with how to address the deep inequities plaguing education and workforce opportunity in the 21st century, badges are a critical tool for breaking through institutional barriers that lock too many young people out of traditional paths to success and pursuing what they’re interested in.

But changing the game is never a simple, straightforward task, as Mozilla Executive Director Mark Surman points out in his recent post. Mark and I first teamed up to to work on badging in 2011, launching the Open Badges project while I was at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation overseeing the Digital Media & Learning program. Since then, badges have come a long way — with many lessons learned. As Mark notes:

Perhaps no surprise to some, we learned badges cannot exist in a vacuum — to flourish, they need active communities and compelling educational content. And we learned that building a technical infrastructure for a universal badge network is a complex task.

In the past five years much has evolved, including MacArthur’s spinout of the DML work into Collective Shift, a new nonprofit that is leading the LRNG movement. Badges continue to hold great promise for — and are an essential component of — fulfilling the promise of everywhere, all-the-time learning.

But as Director Nate Otto notes in his recent Badge Alliance post, developing out a robust badging ecosystem will require a collaborative commitment by the international badging community, as well as an ongoing investment of time and resources.

That’s why Collective Shift has joined Mozilla Foundation and IMS Global Learning Consortium to directly push forward the Badge Alliance’s work and to support the global badges community. We are especially grateful to IMS’ commitment to ensure that digital badges have a clear and recognized value through their focus on improved conformance certification.

For LRNG, digital badges that are secure, verifiable, interoperable, and broadly valued are critical to our vision to redesign learning for the 21st century and close the opportunity gap. For the badging community, LRNG represents an unprecedented opportunity to extend the promise of alternative learning paths to a new audience of underserved and disengaged youth. LRNG offers a youth-first and data-driven tech platform, cross-sector learning networks in our LRNG cities, and concrete use cases to inform the growth (or scaling) of the badging ecosystem.

People around the world working in the badge community have long recognized that badging holds the potential to support a collective shift in how we value and recognize learning. Now, thanks to the support of our badge community partners, LRNG is ready to bring that promise to scale. Together, we can change the game so every young person has the opportunity to reach their full potential.