Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials
Session 10: Badges & Alternative Credentialing
This week on the #openbadgesMOOC, New Currency for Professional Credentials, we explored the world of alternative credentials with Anne Derryberry, and heard from Lipscomb University’s Dean of Continuing Studies Charla Long about how Lipscomb has been using badges to reimagine credentialing and prior learning assessment for their liberal arts college.
Anne Derryberry kicked off the session with an overview of the credentialing landscape today, looking at a number of alternative methods and how badges might play an increasing role in these methods in the near future.
In June 2011, Georgetown University released a study titled “The Undereducated American” that held some “grim predictions” for the future of employment, pointing to the declining college completion rate and the impact on workforce and wages this has had. The national demand for college-educated youth has outpaced supply - leading to a proposed solution of simply putting more students through higher education - 20 million, to be precise, on top of those already headed for college.
Although this goal aligns with President Obama’s goal of having more college graduates than any other country by 2020, it’s certainly not the only solution. The chart below, from a 2012 survey of Census Bureau data, shows that any form of further education can help increase monthly earnings for those aged 18 and over, whether it’s a professional certification or formal education:
Fewer and fewer students in higher education are entering college immediately following secondary education; 85% of undergraduates are non-traditional or “post-traditional” learners that have had years of professional and personal experience before pursuing post-secondary education.
These kinds of students come with a unique set of needs and goals. Many are employed full-time, and/or parents, and need flexible learning environments; others are seeking supplementary courses to build on professional or industry training they have completed in the workplace.
To help these students reach their goals, the range of credentials being offered has to adjust, and two projects aim to find solutions, one from the US Department of Education, another from the Labor Department.
In 2012, the Dept. of Education launched the “Experimental Sites Initiative" to improve post-secondary student outcomes, exploring alternative assessment and credentialing methods including competency-based education and prior learning assessment. Only a handful of institutions will be invited to become experimental sites, but the results will affect wide-reaching policy.
The Dept. of Labor launched the TAACCCT (Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training) grant program in 2009, to help institutions of further education prepare participants for “high-wage, high-skill occupations.” This program aims to increase the number of certified skilled workers through traditional and alternative credentialing methods that match employer needs and industry standards. Positive results have been seen in the first three rounds of TAACCCT in a variety of formal and alternative learning and training environments.
Examples of Traditional and Alternative Credentials
A credential is broadly defined as a “verification of qualification or competence” issued to an individual “by a third party with relevant authority.” Examples include degrees and diplomas, as well as professional certifications, apprenticeships, licenses - and yes, badges.
There are a number of alternative approaches, including:
- Latticed credentials: cross-disciplinary credentials indicating basic entry-level knowledge and the potential for advancement / specialization along a number of pathways
- Stackable credentials: part of a sequence of accumulated credentials that build up over time, helping the individual progress along a career or educational path
- Modules for fractional credit: breaking down existing courses into granular modules that can be completed at the learner’s own pace
- Embedded industry certifications: partnerships between industry certification bodies and educational institutions allow learners to meet industry standards while simultaneously earning college credit
- Prior learning credit: acknowledging and giving credit for previous experiences and gained skills, such as those who attended college but didn’t obtain a degree, veterans with military training, or those int he domestic workforce
- Dual enrollment: allows learners to work towards a number of credentials (or levels of credentials) concurrently
The basic attributes of alternative credentials are that they are transparent, valid, reliable, and portable (that sounds familiar - those are fundamental attributes of open badges!)
Anne pointed out that, although these alternative credentialing methods, including badges, can help recognize the knowledge, skills, and abilities of workers and learners in a more complete and flexible way, most credentialing methods currently do not make use of badges as a part of their offerings.
There are a number of institutions working to change that, however. Anne highlighted the work being done at Brigham Young University, where badges are being used for their IPT Educaitonal Technologist program. Badges allow BYU to recognize students who went “above and beyond” in their studies, capturing much more than the transcript of course lists and grades.
Lipscomb University Badges
Another example of badges being used in post-secondary education is Lipscomb University, where a push towards competency-based education led Director of Continuing Education Charla Long to explore badges as a way to capture and showcase learners’ full range of knowledge, skills, and abilities in a way their transcripts couldn’t.
By looking deeply at competency as a basis for credentialing, Lipscomb University began to see every workplace role as being, at its simplest level, a unique set of competencies (and different levels of competencies.) Every position has a unique combination of competencies, and Lipscomb’s role was to identify what learners need to be successful in the roles they are hoping to fulfill.
Lipscomb’s Polaris Competency Model, outlined below, breaks down 41 key competencies across 7 categories:
This breakdown allows for flexibility and customization for particular programs of study and for individual learners’ needs. This allows learners to pursue exactly what they need for a particular job, and employers can clearly see what candidates have achieved, their level of mastery for particular skills, and what soft skills they have been recognized for, including leadership, communication, and management skills.
Charla also talked about the power of badges to empower learners: many of their learners are not degree-seekers, but are working through individual modules according to their needs and capacity. They can then pursue a broader learning experience and credential if they so choose.
Lipscomb currently offers 164 badges, with more being added every day, and provides students with a competency report that can embed into social media and electronic job-seeking platforms, acting as a transcript of a learner’s badge achievements that allow employers to see what candidates know and can do.
Employer Recognition of Badges
The question we often get asked is: what value do employers see in badges? Charla said that employer uptake potential was very high - they are currently talking to an employer considering sending 9,700 people through Lipscomb’s badged modules!
The impact on both higher education and the workforce of this kind of uptake would be huge - it’s very exciting to see such an enthusiastic response to badges and competency-based learning offerings.
Get in touch with Charla Long if you have more questions about Lipcomb’s badging initiative, and feel free to contact the badges team for general inquiries about the MOOC.
We look forward to continuing this course with you! Stay tuned for details of the next session.
Go to http://badges.coursesites.com/ to access more resources, information, and challenge assignments to earn badges.