Microcredentials, or short-form online learning programs, is the latest buzzword that higher education providers are latching onto. They come with diminutive names such as Micromasters (by several universities working with edX) and nanodegrees (by Udacity). But they have the potential to shake up graduate education, potentially reducing demand for longer, more-traditional professional programs. At the core of the trend is the idea that professionals will go “back to school” repeatedly over their lifetimes, rather than carving out years at a time for an MBA or technical degree.
Credential Engine, a nonprofit funded by the Lumina Foundation, Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase, today launched its Credential Registry, a digital platform where institutions can upload degrees and credentials so prospective students can search for and compare credentials side-by-side.
Udacity won a trademark for Nanodegree last year. And in April, the nonprofit edX, founded by MIT and Harvard University to deliver online courses by a consortium of colleges, applied for a trademark on the word MicroMasters. And MicroDegree? Yep, that’s trademarked too, by yet another company.
colleges and universities that seek to meet corporate needs must move beyond monolithic programs and think in terms of competencies, unbundling curriculum, modularizing and “microlearning.” Many institutions are already pioneering efforts in this direction, from the certificate- and badge-oriented University of Learning Store (led by the Universities of Wisconsin, California, Washington and others) to Harvard Business School’s HBX, and the new “iCert” that we developed at Northeastern University. These types of shorter-form, competency-oriented programs can better fit corporate demands for targeted and applied learning.
Badges are a mechanism to award ‘micro-credits’ online. They are awarded by an organization for an individual user, and can be either internal to a website or online community, or use open standards and shared repositories.
In open online learning settings, badges are used to provide incentives for individuals to use our resources and to participate in discussion threads.
The IBM skills gateway is an example of how open badges can be leveraged to document professional development. EDUCAUSE microcredentialing program offers 108 digital badges in five categories (community service, expertise development, presentation and facilitation, leadership development, awards).
Open Badge Initiative and “Digital Badges for Lifelong Learning” became the theme of the fourth Digital Meaning & Learning competition, in which over 30 innovative badge systems and 10 research studies received over $5 million in funding between 2012 and 2013.
Standardization is the key to creating transferability and recognition across contexts
badges awarded for participation are valued less meaningful than skill-based badges. For skill-based badges, evidence of mastery must be associated with the badge along with the evaluation criteria. Having a clear purpose, ensuring transferability, and specifying learning objectives were noted by the interviewees as the top priorities when implementing badge offerings in higher education contexts.
Sheryl Grant is a senior researcher on user experience at OpenWorks Group, a company that focuses on supporting educational web applications and mobile tools, including credentialing services. Prior to her current position, Dr. Grant was Director of Alternative Credentialing and Badge Research at HASTAC. She was part of the team that organized the ‘Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition’.
advice o offer for the design and implementation of digital badges. She stressed that badge systems need to be designed in a participatory manner together with the target audience who is supposed to receive them. This will allow for fair, realistic and transparent criteria. Another crucial aspect is the assessment portion: Who will make verify that the badge credentials are issued correctly? While badges can offer additional motivation, they can also diminish motivation and create a ‘race to the bottom’ if they are obtained too easily. Specifically, Dr. Grant advised to use badges to reward exceptional activities, and acknowledge students who want to go above and beyond. She also gave guidelines on when to avoid issuing badges, i.e., activities that are already graded and activities that are required.
All current UNC badging pilots used the platform cred.ly for issuing badges. An alternative is the Mozilla Open Badge backpack follow-up Badgr. The European platform Badgecraft is another repository with a fairly broad user base. The badge wiki project offers a comprehensive list with implementation details for each platform: Badge Platforms (Badge Wiki). (23 platforms)
Designing Effective Digital Badges (https://www.amazon.com/Designing-Effective-Digital-Badges-Applications/dp/1138306134) is a hands-on guide to the principles, implementation, and assessment of digital badging systems. Informed by the fundamental concepts and research-based characteristics of effective badge design, this book uses real-world examples to convey the advantages and challenges of badging and showcases its application across a variety of contexts.
Researchers from the universities plan to build on pioneering efforts such as MIT’s Blockcerts pilot, to create a trusted, distributed and shared infrastructure that will allow learners to:
Maintain a verifiable record of lifelong learning achievements (including badges, internships, bootcamps, certificates, MicroMasters and stackable credentials, as well as traditional degrees);
Receive credentials digitally and safely;
Share credentials with employers or other institutions;
Own their credentials forever, without having to ask or pay their institution for a transcript; and
Compile and curate credentials received from multiple educational institutions.
“Alternative digital credentials fill an important gap between learning and work-relevant skill verification. The adoption of an ADC system will allow universities to achieve greater alignment with the demands of both students and local economies, making universities more accountable for what they produce,” commented Gary W. Matkin, dean of Continuing Education and vice provost of Career Pathways at UC Irvine. “Young adults are demanding shorter, relevant education that they can put to immediate use. Industry hiring practices will increasingly depend on digital searches for job candidates and ADCs will make those competencies easier to discover.”
“Digital credentials are like tokens of social and human capital and hold tremendous value for the individual. The crucial opportunity we have today is to bring together institutions that share a commitment to the benefit of learners, and who can act as stewards of this infrastructure,” said Philipp Schmidt, director of learning innovation at the MIT Media Lab.
“Our shared vision is one where academic achievements, and the corresponding credentials that verify them, can open up new pathways for individuals to become who they want to be in the future,” said José Escamilla, director of TecLabs Learning Reimagined at Tecnologico de Monterrey.
Challenges and Issues: A Conversation Regarding Micro-Credentials
Alternative Credentials are important to the future of understanding cradle-to-career opportunities in Professional Education. Institutions interested in considering the use of micro-credentialing face many challenges and issues. This session will be presented from the perspective of panelists who are dealing with the issues and challenges of alternative credentials. The panelists will suggest pathways for institutions to consider as they work toward cradle-to-career opportunities.
Janet Staker Woemer, University of Wisconsin
Linda Kingston, Winona State University
Patricia Cook, University of Arizona
Asim Ali, Auburn University
Jacqui Williams, University of Melbourne
Moderator: Ray Schroeder, University of Illinois Springfield
We are exploring the very same topic. We have been using Credly for the past year or so to give badges to faculty who complete courses in a 3 course series we developed for effective online teaching.
That said, we are a Canvas school and, as we explore our own pilot program, are looking at Badgr’s badging solution (which is free to use, at least for Canvas, maybe all though?) as well as their Pathway’s solution for stacking badges and providing a view of that badge path for participants.
It’s is all very early stage but those are the two platforms and vendors we have focused our time currently.
Such non-degree credentials have been growing in popularity.
“We do have a little bit of a Wild West situation right now with alternative credentials,” said Alana Dunagan, a senior research fellow at the nonprofit Clayton Christensen Institute, which researches education innovation. The U.S. higher education system “doesn’t do a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff.”
Thousands of credentials classes aimed at improving specific skills have cropped up outside of traditional colleges. Some classes are boot camps, including those popular with computer coders. Others are even more narrowly focused, such as courses on factory automation and breastfeeding. Colleges and universities have responded by adding non-degree programs of their own.
some 4,000 colleges and other providers issue industry certifications, according to the Lumina Foundation, but fewer than one in 10 are reviewed by a regulatory body or accreditor.
That companies need trained employees is uncontested: More than three-quarters of U.S. manufacturers told the National Association of Manufacturers this year that they had trouble finding and keeping skilled workers.
Despite those hiring and retention concerns, industry appears reluctant to discuss the topic of policing new credentials. The National Association of Manufacturers declined to answer questions.
“If an organization wants to grant a badge, there’s nothing stopping them from doing that,” Richardson said. “It’s important for consumers to do their due diligence.”
Badging programs are rapidly gaining momentum in higher education – join us to learn how to get your badging efforts off the ground.
Key Considerations: Assessment of Competencies
During this session, you will learn how to ask the right questions and evaluate if badges are a good fit within your unique institutional context, including determining ROI on badging efforts. You’ll also learn how to assess the competencies behind digital badges.
Key Technology Considerations
This session will allow for greater understanding of Open Badges standards, the variety of technology software and platforms, and the portability of badges. We will also explore emerging trends in the digital badging space and discuss campus considerations.
Key Financial Considerations
During this hour, we will take a closer look at answering key financial questions surrounding badges:
What does the business model look like behind existing institutional badging initiatives?
Are these money-makers for an institution? Is there revenue potential?
Where does funding for these efforts come from?
Partnering with Industry
Badging can be a catalyst for partnerships between higher education and industry. In this session, you will have the opportunity to learn more about strategies for collaborating with industry in the development of badges and how badges align with employer expectations.
Branding and Marketing Badges
Now that we have a better idea of the “why” and “what” of badges, how do we market their value to external and internal stakeholders? You’ll see examples of how other institutions are designing and marketing their badges.
Alongside your peers and our expert instructors, you will have the opportunity to brainstorm ideas, get feedback, ask questions, and get answers.
Next Steps and the Road Ahead: Where Badging in Higher Ed is Going
Most institutions are getting into the badging game, and we’ll talk about the far-reaching considerations in the world of badging. We’ll use this time to engage in forward-thinking and discuss the future of badging and what future trends in badging might be.