Dr. Julie Keane | Cultivating Recognition Systems for Social Learning

Badge Summit
Published in
8 min readJul 31, 2023

“Working together is the only way to ensure that the future [of learning] and workforce development will be responsive, innovative, and sustainable in a rapidly changing world.” — Julie Keane, Ph.D.

The community around a recognition program or experience is what makes it both successful and impactful. Recognition doesn’t occur in a vacuum. No one knows this better than Dr. Julie Keane, the Chief Learning Officer at Participate, an open recognition platform dedicated to cultivating authentic communities of practice (CoP) for learning and community recognition of skills, competencies, and the ways people show up and support their communities.

We caught up with Julie at the 2023 Badge Summit, where she co-led a Long Panel and Unconference on Open Recognition. She also shared about a project with Black Girl Ventures she is working on focused on making visible founder skills and competencies for powering entrepreneurship.

A Leader in Learning Research and Communities of Practice!

Dr. Julie Keane leads research and evaluation, supports online professional development and community co-design at Participate, a platform focused on knowledge creation and the crowdsourcing of ideas within a community space, not just content dissemination.

“At Participate, we believe people work better when they do it together. Our platform enables an organization’s learning and development, promoting collaboration, boosting productivity, and certifying achievements with Participate Communities of Practice.” — Julie Keane, Ph.D.

Prior to Participate, Julie was Associate Project Director at the Center for Children and Technology, EDC, Inc. in New York. She has conducted research and evaluation examining blended and online professional development, global education, dual language immersion, and STEM curriculum initiatives for over 20 years, including analysis of international, U.S. federal, and state education policy. She holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Master in Political Science from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

At Participate, Julie and her team are working toward building robust CoPs that support all adult learners to collaborate, learn, design, experiment, and reflect.

A Community of Practice (CoP) approach enables us to build collaborative and social tools that encourage people to connect with one another, experts, and content areas of their choice.” — Julie Keane, Ph.D.

What is a Community of Practice in Education? | Teaching Online Masterclass (Adobe for Education).

What is incredibly special about Julie, and why she is such an asset to our badging community, is her gift of inclusivity. There is not an event or gathering I’ve been to with Julie, where I haven’t seen her inviting new people to sit and join at the table. She is always in a space of “how might we learn together!”

“Working together is the only way to ensure that the future of workforce development will be responsive, innovative, and sustainable in a rapidly changing world.” — — Julie Keane, Ph.D.

Julie’s approach to inclusivity translates directly to Participate’s culture as a learner-centered organization constantly innovating to meet changing individual and societal demands and cross-sector collaboration with all stakeholders. Participate is an inclusive and accessible organization serving professionals ranging from educators and higher ed administrators to chief learning officers, nonprofit leaders and more helping people work and learn better through communities of practice and open recognition.

What is Participate?

The Power in Trust and Inclusion

I caught up with Julie this past week and asked her a few questions about the open recognition and digital credential community, and some of the key themes she sees emerging in the space. She also shared about a project with Black Girl Ventures.

What is it about badges, micro-, and digital credentials that drew you to this space?

I was part of the digital media and learning community when the first badging competition was ever launched. It was led by Sheryl Grant and Kathy Davidson. I was doing my doctoral research around digital media learning. It was before any initiative for teacher badging.

One use case that was incredibly popular was for educators, from teacher organizations, because teachers are invisible. We were constantly struggling with losing teachers and … their competencies were largely hidden. They’re in a classroom, they’re a third-grade or a ninth-grade teacher. They’re a biology teacher and had all these amazing talents. They’re incredible with neurodiverse kids, innovation, and mentoring. All of those things were not visible. And teachers have almost no agency in their own professional learning.

I was helping this organization transition to an online community of practice as they were supporting a really large and diverse group of international teachers. I was introduced to all these amazing Jamaican teachers, Colombian teachers, and the badging was this amazing technology to actually do the reputation building, and allow people to package up all of the things they did. So we jumped in and we started because we were doing a lot of global professional learning around the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Inspiring Next-Gen Teachers | IntraHealth International

So, the idea was Open Badges for educators could be a vehicle for folks to package up and curate not only their competence but also connect to different learning pathways that they curated, in a portfolio.

What is one theme you see emerging this year in the skills and credentialing space that is really important for us as a community to focus on and discuss?

Anybody working in this space knows that there are huge communities of people that are permanently excluded [from the workforce]. We have this workforce need, you have people struggling to find people for all kinds of jobs. But then you have all of this untapped social capital, human capital, sitting in communities across the US that have been discarded from formal institutions in recognizing their skills and competencies.

It’s revealed we need to be more collaborative to address these forces in the labor market, 1) all these people excluded from the marketplace that shouldn’t be, 2) our higher ed partners that really need to shift to better serve them, and employers that need to change core systems to recognize their diverse unique skills and competencies.

What is one project you learned more about at Badge Summit?

Dr. Sheryl Grant and Dr. Rupert Ward, in collaboration with ASU Trusted Learner Network (TLN), have been working on a series of design patterns for micro-credentials, and mapping these design patterns with different institutions. It is a fascinating project and I’m looking forward to learning more about it, and seeing how the community adopts and uses them in their work.

What is one misconception or assumption you see people having about digital credentials that you’d love the community to talk more about?

This issue of trust. I think it is a very difficult thing for folks to get around this question: How am I going to trust the badge? This idea of how you trust those signifiers is an interesting one that we have to continue to deal with because then it becomes down to why trust X University or a smaller organization that may not have that brand recognition. Why wouldn’t we trust them?

There are lots of technologies like Credential Engine trusted registries, but I think there’s a larger issue that’s really around equity and inclusion. Trust is about a power relationship and we only trust these powerful institutions that have driven this conversation historically and currently, so I think we have to continue to challenge the trust x power relationship.

When you consider where we are as a community today, compared to where we were about 5 years ago, what is one development that really gets you excited?

I think the excitement excites me. I think five years ago there were folks that were still doing open badges and micro-credentialing with little support. Participate was supporting Badge Summit, and with Noah Geisel, the Founding Chair, we bootstrapped a way to bring the community together, especially after all the changes with Mozilla Foundation transferring stewardship of the standard to 1EdTech . We just needed to keep doing the work.

The last two years we’ve seen a lot of emphasis on Workforce Development. This has spawned these other projects such as Credential As You Go. Finally, the formal organizations are really seeing how it can be used. Some organizations like Microsoft and Walmart had kept doing internal employee badges. But there wasn’t a ton of adoption. We knew that it had the power to do the kinds of things we wanted to see it do and I think we are now seeing different ways of using digital and micro-credentialing as part of lifelong learning.

I think there’s a lot of excitement. It just needs a larger ecosystem, and now it’s getting more attention.

Is Recognition the Key to Access and Inclusion?

A project Julie was involved in shared at this year’s Badge Summit is about a project in collaboration with Participate, Black Girl Ventures, and Jobs for the Future (JFF).

Black Girl Ventures

“Black Girl Ventures is working to solve the specific problem of access to capital, and the inclusion of Black and brown women at the venture capital table. Black and brown women are starting businesses at a higher rate than any other groups in the United States. Yet, they have literally no access to capital. Black Girl Ventures is trying to bridge that gap. Using existing relationships with tech accelerators and angel investors, they are building learning modules for women founders to be recognized for skills and competencies they need and earn.“ — Julie Keane, Ph.D.

Julie shared in more detail about how being recognized for skills in “Creating a Pitch,” “Creating a Social Ecosystem,” “Understanding Sustainable Business Models” and so on and earning a credential might impact the founder’s access to capital. They’re testing whether getting these credentials into wallets is actually going to change adoption on the earner side, in addition to figuring out the consumption side — are they sharing them; and impact — is it helping them get access to capital.

“This brings us back to trust, relationships, and what is valued.” — Julie Keane, Ph.D.

It was truly wonderful to learn with Dr. Julie Keane at this year’s Badge Summit about the Black Girl Ventures project, and the work her company, Participate is contributing to the community.

To learn more and connect with Dr. Keane visit her LinkedIn Profile, follow her on Twitter, or join the Participate Community. Julie also blogs regularly on the Participate Blog with articles such as Open Recognition: Coming Home, Guide to Communities of Practice amongst others.



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Researcher. Facilitator. Speaker. Inclusive Experience (IX) Design. Learning, Earning & Social Innovations. Building with care and from stories. 💗 @LWYLStudios