Digital badges are an online representation of accomplishments such as the completion of a project or training, mastery of a skill, or accumulation of experience. They are issued by schools, universities, and community and professional organizations. The earner can display a badge on social media sites, online portfolios, blogs, and résumés.
Shannon Wells, technical assistance provider (TAP) for employability skills with the California Community Colleges (CCC), says “digital badges function as micro-credentials that represent a specific acquisition of a skill, a knowledge area, or achievement. For learners, the badge can supplement their focused degree coursework, demonstrating additional training or special projects undertaken that resulted in the development of one of the many in-demand 21st Century Skills. The granular level of detail and information provided by digital badges is valued by industry and employers because it provides a much more comprehensive picture of a candidate and gives insight into who they are.”
How Digital Badges Help Students and Workers
Digital badges help students and workers demonstrate an additional dimension of their learning: that which happens outside of the classroom. This type of learning is referred to as informal learning, which author Jay Cross describes on his blog Informal Learning as “the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way we learn by observing others, being mentored, and mentoring others.” Digital badges are of great value to the bearer because they can show a detailed account of an otherwise unrecognized pathway of accomplishment and skills development. Other benefits of digital badges for students and workers include the following:
- Digital badges motivate learners to pursue their interests and passions by providing them with a verifiable credential.
- Digital badges can help learners connect with potential collaborators and employers.
- Digital badges help workers transfer their on-the-job learning across different industries.
California Community Colleges’ Pilot Program Expands 21st Century Skills Training and Digital Badges
Many colleges and universities nationwide are beginning to integrate a 21st Century Skills curriculum into their academic programs. The California Community College system have pioneered a program in which educators, counselors, career advisers, and workforce development specialists were trained to deliver the 21st Century Skills curriculum as developed by New World of Work, a California community college based organization that specializes in career technical education, and economic workforce development. Staffers from more than 90 partner colleges have been trained. See a full list of partnering community colleges.
The California Community Colleges also now provide students the opportunity to earn 21st Century Skills digital badges that are issued by LaunchPath, an online work-based learning program management tool developed and managed by the Foundation for California Community Colleges and Linked Learning Alliance. LaunchPath issues digital badges using the Mozilla Open Badges Specifications, which means badges are portable. The benefit of an open badge system is that learners can collect badges from multiple sources and display them across the web on social networking sites and digital résumés.
A 2013 report titled “Expanding Education and Workforce Opportunities Through Digital Badges,” from the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Mozilla Foundation, describes three key components of the digital badge system:
- Badge issuers, which are individuals, schools, employers, institutions, communities, or groups that create credentials to demonstrate mastery of skills and achievements
- Badge earners, who are individuals who want to demonstrate their achievements to various audiences
- Badge consumers, which are education providers, individuals, employers, communities, or other groups that are looking for people who possess the skills or achievements symbolized by a badge.
Wells describes the process for earning 21 Century Skills badges within the community college classroom as “academic based.” She explains, “The instructors receive a certification after they complete the New World of Work 21st Century Skills training, which makes them versed in the curriculum and in the digital badge-earning process. During the pilot program, the instructors have the flexibility to use the digital badges as makes the most sense for their course content. Some instructors are offering the 21st Century Skills digital badges as extra credit or as a special project that students can sign up for. After instructors deliver the lessons in their class, they provide the student with the opportunity to take the assessment and they can potentially earn a digital badge in one of ten 21st Century Skills.” Those skills are based on extensive research conducted over four years by New World of Work and include the following:
- Analysis/Solution Mindset
- Digital Fluency
- Entrepreneurial Mindset
- Social/Diversity Awareness
In a recent article for the California Economic Summit, Amber Nelson describes how California Community Colleges are incorporating a 21st Century Skills curriculum into for-credit classes.
On campus, community colleges are implementing New World of Work in a variety of ways. Shasta College offers a series of campus-wide workshops and also integrates the materials into their business and leadership classes. Other colleges also embed the learning in credit-based courses. West Hills College Coalinga runs the materials through their nursing rotations. At Santa Rosa Junior College, the curriculum is presented via a class called “Soft Skills for Business.”
Concerns About the Proliferation of Digital Badges
One major challenge facing digital badges is an apparent lack of standards, making it difficult for consumers of these rapidly propagating credentials from assessing their value. A 2013 report titled “The Potential and Value of Using Digital Badges for Adult Learners” suggests, “The criteria developed for a credible badge must align to educational standards, established business standards, or competency frameworks within specified professions or populations.”
Regarding the credibility of the 21st Century Skills badges earned with the California Community Colleges system, Wells says, “The value of the digital badges earned by our students rests on three strong pillars of credibility.” They are:
- The badges are earned within a rigorous academicenvironment.
- The digital badge program has considerableoversight regarding the assessment of learningoutcomes.
- The badges earned by students are based in theNew World of Work 21st Century Skills curriculum,which was researched and developed over fouryears to meet the needs of learners and employers.
Other prominent organizations offering opportunities to earn digital badges include MIT, Yale University, Georgetown University, NASA, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Smithsonian Institution.
About New World of Work
New World of Work (NWoW) began development under the California Community Colleges system, which is the largest higher education system in the nation with 72 districts and 115 colleges serving over 2.1 million students each year. Learn more about New World of Work.
About the Author
This article was written by Go Launch Marketing President Jon Wollenhaupt. He writes extensively for community college clients on topics related to workforce development, employee training, and corporate learning. Learn more about our services.