Universal Online Badges Themes

I am a proponent for what Mozilla is trying to accomplish; online badges ensure that every skill in your skill set can be validated and shared in professional web services. In this blog, I summarize the key themes from the “white pages article” published by Mozilla about the technology and infrastructure for universally accepted online badges.

Some of the objectives of online badges include:

  • Establishing a linkage and acceptance between formal and informal learning.
  • Making informal learning channels, skills and types of learning “more viable, portable, and impactful”
  • Independent organizations can issue their own badges and base their assessment on their own established rubrics – “a standard of performance for a defined population”
  • Building credibility so these online badges will have weight in “employment decisions, school acceptances, and self-assessments”.
  • Validate emerging transferable skills that are not necessarily part of the curriculum in colleges.

Benefits of online badges include:

  • Complements skills (more precisely than a degree).
  • Provides more context when completing a course (than simply a grade).
  • Evolves to capture changes in technology, skills, etc.
  • Universally accepted by professional and personal web services.
  • Portable across online platforms.
  • Relationship builder for communities.
  • Self-assessment for skill building.

Upon completion of a course, some colleges issue online badges and in the metadata provide context for the achievement – such as the teacher, score on the final test, and even a link to exam questions. Moreover, Mozilla has approached providers of free online classes (MOOCs) to consider adopting their approach.[1]

A framework of a badge is the badge itself, an assessment, and the infrastructure. An important aspect of an online badge is a mechanism where a third-party can validate badges they issue (for now, it is a combination of attached metadata and a hyperlink back to the provider).

Online badges are an excellent way to validate skills for a few reasons. First, some transferable skills are difficult to validate and online badges provide the necessary context.  Second, new skills and requirements are always changing so online badges are a flexible enough to validate them.  Third, it is always possible to apply a one to one or many to one relationship between skills and online badges.

I embrace the idea of a universal online badge system; however, there will be some difficulties.

  • Too many providers of online badges can create redundancy and clutter. Since anyone can issue an online badge, providers can potentially collide by validating the same skills.
  • There is a potential to become inundated with online badges. Professionals can have too many of them and it is difficult to make sense of their core-competencies.
  • An open system for validating skills can create bogus online badges. Essentially any organization will be able to issue online badges, so some of these badges could be baseless – without any merit. Colleges have to go through a rigorous accreditation process to prove their credibility.  A board member of AACSB (an organization representing the accreditation of business schools) says, “Accreditation is a signal of quality. And if you accredit everyone, it’s not a signal anymore.”[2] With the open online badge system, anyone viewing an online badge will have to spend more time investigating the credibility of the provider issuing it.
  • The use of rubrics has to evolve to accurately to assess skill levels. Organizations issuing online badges have to continually design rubrics that assess the skills of anyone seeking a badge. And these rubrics have to be an accurate test that cannot be duplicated or shared, and there has to a way to ensure the test is taken by the right person. Colleges have sophisticated methods to counter plagiarism and cheating and disseminate credentials (such as a report card); it is difficult to “beat the system”.
  • Formal learning channels invest heavily in their established system and the credentials they issue will remain essential. College degrees and certifications remain an integral validation of your skill set. Most professionals will go to college and their degree will be a staple for much of their career.
  • Security might be an issue. With the current infrastructure, it seems there might be security issues regarding hijacking and impersonations.

[1] Carey, Kevin. “Show Me Your Badge.” The New York Times, November 2, 2012.

[2] Korn, Melissa. “B-School Accrediting Body Retools Standards.” Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2013

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