Open Thinkering


Tag: Don Presant

The Unseen Threads of Open Recognition


This is my second post this week on threads, although this has nothing to do with Meta or the Fediverse.

Instead, as I head to The Badge Summit in Colorado, I want to reflect even more on the differences between microcredentials and Open Recognition. Both are usually based on the Open Badges standard, but the emphasis is quite different.

Perhaps it’s easiest to explain the difference by using a metaphor. Open Recognition is like a detailed tapestry which tells a nuanced story of an individuals lifelong (and lifewide) journey. It’s not just woven with one type of thread, but represents a holistic view of knowledge, skills, experiences, talents, and aspirations.

This tapestry, as Serge Ravet has pointed out, also requires threads from other people. That’s because recognition is reflexive; it tells you more than just about the individual in question.

Microcredentials can form part of this tapestry, but for the purpose of this metaphor I’m going to contrast them more as a string of beads. Each bead is beautifully-poished and carefully-threaded. It stands for something immediately recognisable (and potentially tradeable) in the wider world.

It’s great that microcredentials exist. I think that they have the potential of helping democratise access to higher education, provide just-in-time learning, and enable a more diverse pipeline into decent jobs.

But life isn’t just about work, it’s about human flourishing. Some of that can happen with the jobs that we do, but much of it happens elsewhere. Open Recognition is the acknowledgement of talents, skills, and aspirations that extend beyond formal credentialing.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, Open Recognition denotes the rights of individuals, communities, and territories to ascribe their own labels and definitions to their educational journeys. The frameworks for Open Recognition may be emergent and/or implicit, much like the threads in a tapestry, resulting in a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of a person’s learning journey.

I’m heading to The Badge Summit, as I did last year, determined to help people understand the holistic power of Open Recognition. I’m joined in this endeavour by comrades who will also be peppering the event with their own related sessions. Don Presant has created a timetable for those interested in attending them.

To be honest, it feels a lot like the early days of Open Badges, trying to explain why something that feels so obviously necessary and awesome is valuable. I think this is partly because Open Badges, since they’ve been stewarded by 1EdTech (formely IMS Global Learning Consortium) have been captured by a neoliberal attempt to turn universities as mere training grounds for large employers. But that’s a whole other blog post…

Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

The old ‘chicken and egg’ problem about microcredentials kind of misses the point

Chicken (employers will care about badges when they see them) vs egg (applications will care when employers start asking)
 Chicken and Egg… by Visual Thinkery is licenced under CC-BY-ND

I’ve been online long enough to know that you should copy to the clipboard text you’re about to post as a comment. That way you don’t lose it. Don Presant’s blog ate my comment on this post, so I’m posting it here.

For context, Brian Mulligan wondered about the burden that employers/institutions face when an application that contains a large number of digital credentials. He wondered whether anyone is working on tools to ease the burden of validating and evaludating the credential.

My response:

Brian, you make good points here – and ones that have been made before. The problem is that both hiring and Higher Education are broken. And by ‘broken’ (as someone has been through the entire system and has a terminal degree) I mean broken.

So we’re now in a situation where people ask a series of questions to candidates before they look at their CV. This is ostensibly for diversity and unconscious bias (which I fully support) but also because CVs do a terrible job at differentiating between candidates.

Given that many microcredentials simply take existing ‘chunky’ credentials such as degrees and diplomas, and break them down into smaller parts, they’re not solving the problem. They’re just allowing universities to make more money by prolonging it.

Instead, we need full-spectrum recognition of individuals. We’ve been at this ever since the start of my career – first with eportfolios, then with badges, then with blockchain, and now with Verifiable Credentials. The issue is that people mistakenly think it’s the credential, badge, or portfolio that needs to be validated. It’s not, it the identity of the individual.

We’re not going to live in a world where everyone has their own domain, sadly, so we need verification systems that allow people to claim and controlled identifiers either publicly or anonymously identify them. If you think about it, you shouldn’t have to apply for jobs, because jobs should come looking for you. I think the systems that are being built now, coupled with some of the AI that Don was talking about, so I think we’re getting closer to solving all of this.

For those dissatisfied with the false dawn of microcredentialing, I’m working on a ‘Reframing Recognition’ email course which I’m hoping to have ready after I get back from holiday. It’ll help people understand why Open Recognition is a much better approach. Come join to find out why.