Badges Aren't Just for Scouts

You might be hearing terms like “badges” and “micro-credentials” being thrown around more and more in the educational environment. Is this trend just a gussied up version of what the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have been doing for years? No, not in the way most professionals are using these terms today.

Right now, badges are often being awarded to educators demonstrating some competencies resulting from a professional learning experience. They are more than CEUs, though. For a CEU, the educator often just needs to “sit and get” some professional development. True badges, in contrast, require the individual to demonstrate some learned ability or competence.

A badge, then, is a digital credential that represents an individual’s mastery of a competency or set of competencies.

A competency is a cluster of related abilities, attitudes, knowledge, and skills that enable a person to act effectively in a job or situation.

Competencies are more than skills. A skill is simply a proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired through training or experience. As an example, consider coding. Coding is more than the skill of writing statements in a particular language, such as Java. Coding involves organizing a series of computer-language statements in such a way as to accomplish a larger task. It requires logic, problem solving, planning, task analysis, understanding of implications for approaches taken like the ability to revise code in the future, etc. And, when a computer language becomes obsolete, a coder can quickly acquire a new language skill and incorporate that with the other coding abilities to remain viable. So, while a competency involves having skills, it is much more than that.

Badges are the mechanism for validating that an individual has indeed demonstrated mastery of a competency. And, while they are useful for teachers, they are essential for K-12 students, too. As noted in a previous blog, learning happens everywhere, so there need to be ways to document learning. Course grades only reflect student achievement based on what was taught in class and only through the assessments included in the course. But, what if the individual learned something through another mode? That learning is equally, if not more, valuable and worthy of being accredited to the learner, as well.

Badge systems have the capability of better helping industry hire the talent they need, too. Too many companies are struggling to hire the talent they need and it isn’t because the talent isn’t out there. It has a lot more to identifying the talent when they see it. A college degree or high school diploma isn’t enough information. So, many companies have acquired or developed systems to assess applicants for the competencies they need for specific positions. Others, though, don’t have the resources to invest in that kind of effort and so hope for the best when hiring. Badges are discrete enough to better match employers with job applicants. And, badges also help employers know how to relocate an employee in the company if the position they currently have is eliminated or identify an employee ready for a promotion.

A badge system, then, involves the badge awarder (often a school or university, but also a company), a badge earner (the individual), and a badge consumer (company or other organization seeking to identify talent). These badges are stored in an online system with their metadata, so the badge earner can easily share their success.

This video gives you a good overview of badges. It’s time to get rid of traditional grades and move to a mastery-driven, competency-based approach. Badges are part of this new paradigm.

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