I once again found myself in an Open Badges session with the good people from DigitalMe today. It was a very positive event overall and some exciting stuff will happen as a result.
Attendees were given a chance to express the things that made them excited about Open Badges in their organisation. They were also given the opportunity to air their fears – as well as request further information/clarification.
Happily, almost everyone saw how badges could be used in a positive way to engage learners as well as capture knowledge, skills, and behaviours. My reason for writing this post is that the same ‘big three’ issues came up as potential concerns.
For some reason, these seem perennial sticking points. A lot of it has to do with mindset, so I just wanted to spend a little bit of time on my journey home from London explaining why I see these (mostly) as non-issues.
There’s several ways this argument is presented, some of which are mutually-contradictory:
- We’ll never be able to explain the value of badges. Our market/community/stakeholders won’t buy into the concept.
- What happens when there so many badges that they become meaningless?
- Who decides whether badges for the same kind of thing are equivalent?
- Aren’t we happy with certificates? People know what they mean!
The Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) provides a different way to approach credentialing. One of the things about the OBI that appeals to me most is that there are no gatekeepers. This means that literally anyone can issue a badge for anything.
The value of the badge comes mainly through a couple of things:
- The recognition that the badge consumer (e.g. a potential employer) has of the badge – or brand behind the badge.
- The ‘rigour’ of the criteria – i.e. was the badge worth earning?
Value is an emergent property of systems. I could write much, much more on this, including discussions of fiat currencies and things that are used in place of currency for trusted exchanges. However, I’ll leave it there for now.
The argument about motivation is usually poorly-phrased, but goes something along the following lines: some learners are intrinsically-motivated, therefore giving them a badge may lead to that being replaced by extrinsic motivation. In the long term, this is a bad thing.
I have sympathy with this argument, as I’ve seen it in action. However, more often than not it’s a result of poor learning design. If badges are aspirational, if they recognise things that the learner feels proud of, and if they are part of a non-linear pathway, then I don’t think there’s a problem.
Do ill-defined and poorly thought-out badges exist? Of course they do! But that’s equally true of existing qualifications and credentials. Don’t blame the technology/ecosystem for poor learning design.
The OBI is a method for issuing, exchanging, and displaying metadata-infused credentials. How you choose to use that is up to you.
The argument here is that badges won’t/can’t/are unlikely to have the same ‘quality’ as traditional credentials.
I think ‘quality’ is an odd term. If you pick it apart it doesn’t really mean much at all. In fact, it can be a bit of a problematic term for those trying to do something entirely new. I find it especially pernicious when it comes to defining new processes.
Dave Wiley nails this in a recent post. He’s talking about Open Educational Resources, but it’s equally applicable to badges:
To be clear, my first issue is with the way “high quality” is often equated with the traditional process and that process only. According to this usage, if you don’t follow the traditional authoring process it is literally impossible for you to create “high quality” materials. This restrictive usage serves to lock out alternative processes from competing in the marketplace.
I want to help organisations create high-quality, value-laden badges that help earners progress in life. However, the issue that I often bump up against is that ‘quality’ is defined in such a way as to (in effect) describe the status quo.
It takes a leap of faith to apply Open Badges to your core business. You’ll never be at 100% certainty that it will be a complete success. But I think that’s true of any innovation project or change management initiative.
I greatly enjoy seeing the lights going on when explaining the possibilities of badges. They’re not a cure-all, and there’s issues to iron out – both technical, social, and pedagogical. However, the above three arguments don’t cut it for me.
Badges are a ‘trojan horse’ technology. They get people talking about things that usually remain latent within their organisation. Badges are also something into which people project their hopes, fears, and dreams. This makes exploring things, as we did today, is always a fascinating process!
As I said, today was almost entirely positive. I just thought it odd that, four years later, we’re having the same kinds of conversations.
If you need help with Open Badges, get in touch with DigitalMe or my consultancy, Dynamic Skillset.
Image CC BY hyperdashery badges