Open Badges – a new way to recognise expertise

In the second of two reports from DevLearn 2015, ‘Innovation in the making’, Las Vegas, Marnie Threapleton reflects on one of the most talked about topics at the show, Open Badges. 

There were two perspectives that caught my attention during the first day of DevLearn 2015: ‘Digital Badges and the future of Learning’ with Connie Yowell and ‘Open Badges: How IBM launched a bold new initiative to attract, engage and progress talent’ with David Leaser.

Connie Yowell is Director of Education for the MacArthur Foundation and oversees one of the first philanthropic efforts in the country to systematically explore the impact of digital media on young people and the implications for the future of learning. David Leaser is senior programme manager of innovation and growth initiatives for the Global Skills Initiative programme at IBM. Leaser developed IBM’s first cloud-based learning solution and is the programme developer for the IBM Open Badge Program, a leading-edge programme to attract, engage, and progress talent.

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The sessions complemented each other with Yowell looking at the future potential digital badges can bring and Leaser sharing the practical application of implementation; the business outcomes they can drive and the implications for the learning organisation.

What is not in doubt are the high level drivers for exploring the implementation of badges, including engagement, employment (bridging skills gaps) and inequality (access to education).

Early findings* from this year’s Towards Maturity Benchmark Study show that 37 per cent of participants are using or experimenting with badges (up slightly from last year).

Learning, development and training have traditionally been measured in limited ways; course completions and test scores are routinely used as the context through which we describe learning as having taken place. Digital badges provide a more in-depth method for students and workers to demonstrate their knowledge and skills and give employers a new way to assess less academic but critical skills such as creativity, communication, teamwork, and adaptability. However, we do have to re-examine the ways organisations measure and authorise learning and competency for these to be meaningful and have value both to the employer and the learner.

The impact on learning and development will be how to ensure that badges are part of the learning eco-system:

  • Integrating badges into learning platforms or the LMS
  • Aligning the credentials into standards that create currency
  • Linking badging to businesses and outcomes
  • Creating pathways to wider talent and succession opportunities.

It was interesting to see those drivers and the design for badges reflected in the implementation of the programme within IBM.

They designed a nano-credential programme that quickly generates significant results and merges credentials and recognition with social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. It was interesting to gain insight into how Badges were considered in order to help address a number of business challenges:

  • Increase vetted talent for clients
  • Drive skills progression
  • Increase crowd-sourcing
  • Increase product sales
  • Decrease support costs
  • Increase client confidence
  • Motivate employees to drive their own employment
  • Map available skills and identify specific gaps.

The new ‘nano’ credential standard for the badges contains vital meta-data, within which fields can be added, and the meta-data tethered for verification. This means it makes it easy for employers to look at it and the data can be published across the web; social media sites or any digital platform. Examples of data within the badges can include but is not limited to: digital emblems, descriptions, skills tags, course content, insights and analytics.

Benefits can be realised, not only generally but specifically across the organisation. Benefits to badge earners – the WIIFM (What’s in it for me) include: broadcast of achievements, the motivation to participate and development of a personal brand.

It’s worthy to note that where a LinkedIn profile contains badges, they get six times more views than those without. This is really significant for those workers who make up the contractor market as it creates a competitive differentiator and they become ‘Resume/CV worthy’.

Benefits to L&D professionals includes: the generation of participation and encouragement of more self-directed learners; enhances the organisational brand; creates differentiation; is key to tracking and nurturing talent.

For the employer they help to verify nano-skills, providing a seal of approval for recruitment and talent. The also improve candidate recruitment, company performance and motivates learners to drive performance of the organisation through self-directed learning.

Organisations benefits in a number of areas: a reduction in attrition and increase engagement; improved customer service satisfaction, better learner skills and therefore business agility and improved competitiveness through brand commitment. Badges can be adapted for the internal workforce, customers and the supply chain.

There are still big questions around quality which is why the standards for open badges are evolving and there is no one standard, although Mozilla Open Badges, are quickly emerging as an industry standard to recognise achievements and nurture and progress talent.

While there is still innovation around defining their role, quality, standards and assessment but there is no doubt that the potential is huge and the implications and impact considerable.

However for me the most amazing aspect is that the potential is as a vehicle towards self-directed learning; a bridge to CPD and a means to add currency to skills for the freelance/contractor workforce model as badges provide proof of skills beyond the academic that can be carried around from employer to employer. This will have one of the biggest impacts on the relationship between employer and ‘employee’ as it moves towards one of collaboration and partnership. 




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