It’s Time to Re-think Credentials… Here’s How.

If you have a diploma of some kind, where is it? For some of us this is not an easy question. I found my Bachelor’s degree here (see below). Right next to our toy vault full of laundry quarters and my wife’s Star Wars crochet kit.

I wanted to use my High School diploma, but it is lost somewhere in my parent’s basement.

How could this happen? How could the degree I worked nearly 4 years to earn be stuffed between junk at the top of the closet?

Well….because it’s just a piece of paper.

Here’s a better photo.

Q: Based on this paper, what do you know about me?

A: I went to Brigham Young University. I studied Psychology. I at least passed enough courses to earn my degree.

But what does that mean I have actually done? How well did I do in those classes? Did I participate in anything outside of my classes? In reality, the most certain thing a college degree conveys is time and money spent.

This is not to say that degrees hold no value. In fact, there are many valid reasons employers heavily rely on them to identify potential recruits. But degrees don’t give you the whole picture. That is why we supplement them with résumés and interviews. Unfortunately, however, crafting a deceiving résumé is as easy as typing it up, and interviews tend to favor good interviewers rather than those with the most applicable skills and experience. While this system has brought us far, one thing is certain: there must be a better way.

Introducing Open Badges — A Better Way

Some people cringe when they hear the word “badges” in the same sentence as education. However, we’re not talking about the Boy Scouts or video games. Open Badges are a form of micro-credentials built for the 21st century. Developed first by Mozilla in 2011, Open Badges has evolved into a worldwide movement dedicated to providing verifiable evidence-based credentials for all kinds of learning. Watch the following video for a more in-depth introduction.

A key element of Open Badges is that they put learners in charge of their own credentials. Unlike other digital credentials that lock users within a single system (i.e. Khan Academy), Open Badges can be exported and shared to a variety of platforms or stored on the learner’s device (see Open Backpacks).

So what do Open Badges look like?

On the surface they are what you might expect. A digital image reminiscent of the physical badges you’ve probably seen in scouting and other programs. The secret sauce of an Open Badge, however, is found looking beyond the image into its metadata. Just like how regular photographs can be tagged with metadata such as who is in the image and where it was taken, Open Badges contain a variety of metadata that prove why it was earned.

Thanks Bryan Mathers for all your great badge images.

This metadata also allows potential employers to verify the organization that issued the credential and what specifically was required to earn it. Significantly, it also provides a link to evidence proving the learner actually completed what was required.

Open Badges are already being used by a number of organizations to innovate how learning is credentialed. Openbadges.org specifically lists the following as common types of issuers:

  • After-school programs
  • Communities of practice
  • Educational institutions
  • Employers
  • Event organizers
  • Government agencies
  • International credential assessment agencies
  • Informal learning organizations
  • Online courses and open courseware initiatives
  • Professional associations
  • Teachers, tutors, coaches

Though I used the example of my diploma, I do not see the goal of Open Badges as eliminating older types of credentials. Rather, Open Badges provide an evidence-based method for filling in the gaps.

Expect to see more great images from Bryan Mathers whenever I post on this topic.

What Next? Moving Forward.

Learning is not confined to the classroom, but quality credentials often are. This arrangement is ill-fit for a world where nearly unlimited information is readily accessible. Open Badges present an exciting opportunity to reinvent how we use credentials in the 21st century. Many organizations, groups and individuals are discovering innovative ways to utilize this technology to improve education and learning. Check out how IBM is using Open Badges for a great example. Moving forward, there will surely be hosts of applications we have not yet considered.

If you would like to participate in this movement or simply learn more (even on a casual level) I highly recommend the Badge Bootcamp which delivers 5 quick lessons straight to your email. Study at your own pace and learn how to start earning and issuing Open Badges today.

Now, I am back at BYU, this time for graduate school. And I am looking to focus my options for my upcoming thesis. If reading this post has sparked your interest in utilizing Open Badges, contact me at @Kyle_Clements1 to see how we might bring the benefits of Open Badges to your organization.