The Case for Badges

“I never allowed my schooling to get in the way of my education.” - Mark Twain


A free and appropriate public education is a cornerstone of our American society and continued support for a public educational system that supports each learner is warranted. There are many interesting discussions about the purpose of public education. You might check out or for more about that. The mistaken paradigm, though, is that everything important to learn is learned in school.

Mark Twain said it best. School can and should be a place where each attendee is truly a learner, but there is much to be said about learning that happens outside of school, formally and informally. Passions, opportunities, and sometimes simply exposure fuel learning outside of school. And this learning is equally valuable, perhaps even more valuable, than the learning acquired in school.

Consider, for instance, Easton LaChappelle, the kid who loved to tinker, taking apart all kinds of devices. His interest turned passion when he realized that prosthetic devices were far too expensive for the general population and he developed an affordable alternative, which he submitted to his 8th grade science fair. Microsoft capitalized on Easton’s passion and out-of-school learning and asked him to join their Advanced Protoyping Center at a very young age.

And then there is Catherine Wong, who at 17 years of age developed a way to monitor heartbeats on smartphones.

These are exceptional children, you say. Perhaps. But, the work of Sugata Mitra demonstrates again and again that children, even those in some of the most unfortunate circumstances, can learn amazing things…on their own! You can find quite a collection of videos about Sugata Mitra’s work on This one, while older, makes the point quite well:

There are all sorts of resources out there that kids are tapping into today. Techwise Academy promotes free coding lessons for “students and DIY learners”. Or, for a small fee, kids can go to DIY and earn badges related to science, inventing, coding, cooking, photography, and more. An internet search reveals a plethora of resources to inspire young minds. And, millennial parents are opting more and more for DIY learning. Read “Millenials and Their Kids: Why They’re Choosing DIY Education” for more on this.

The point is, kids are doing a lot of learning outside of school. And, we should encourage this even more!

The challenge is, how do we validate that learning to help future learning institutions, employers, and other interested parties connect with individuals who are a good fit?

One answer is through badges or micro-credentials. These competency-based mechanisms can provide a means for learners to demonstrate their mastery of competencies, making it easier for consumers and learners to find each other efficiently.

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