Innovations in Learning – Badges for accreditation
The Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology recently released a fantastic report – “Innovating Pedagogy 2012” (pdf) (Creative Commons licenced too). The report offers 10 innovations with the potential to change education in the short to medium term. It starts with a two page executive summary – so if you don’t read anything else, take a look at that!
The 4th of these innovations is ‘Badges to accredit learning’. I’m sure I’ll return to the report later, but given I’ve been talking about coding recently, I think talking about badges makes perfect sense, because badges might be one way to encourage people to share ideas, and engage in new technologies (and indeed, they are being used as such).
The aim of the badges is to provide a mechanism to accredit informal learning, and contributions to learning environments in a tangible way. For example, various forums provide badges to users for completing certain tasks, helping other users, or various other types of contribution.
The way these badges are assigned is linked to the sorts of data collected, forum posts made, questions answered (perhaps even, questions answered well), blogs made and the numbers of topics discussed and so on. For example, a system might have badges for helping others, for building new code, for maintaining a user community and so on with higher levels of badges linked to deeper engagement of some kind.
The most obvious benefit of this sort of accreditation is related to informal education, and the ability to compile credit from various sources for example the ‘Open Badge’ system allows users to collect badges in a ‘backpack’ and display them together, across whatever website they wish, under their name .
Badges for Skills
These badges have potential for some of the traditional ‘academic’ courses, as well as some more ‘life’ or ‘work related’ skills based learning. “One large-scale pilot is exploring how badges can be used alongside job adverts within the American Manufacturing Institute in order to match individuals to requirements of the adverts and also to identify strong candidates to recruiters. Other work supported as pilots through the Digital Media and Learning competition (backed by the MacArthur Foundation) include nature exploration and financial skills.” The DIYUniversity is an exploration of the value of building your own qualification as a means to motivate and encourage reflective learning: if the only person you need to convince is yourself then badges may be ideal.
Differences to existing formal systems
Traditionally, courses are focused on content - a particular book, or topic to learn.
Badge based systems, in contrast, are more likely to focus on ‘challenges’ - defined goals which, when met, are associated with badges.
Concerns about badges
One concern with this sort of system, is that by providing badges, we remove the intrinsic motivation behind learning - learning becomes about the achieving of a stamp - the badge - not about the value gained from the process, and ‘gaining’ of new learning.
Some people argue (e.g. here) they are likely to only be effective for ‘algorithmic’ procedural learning (think letter stuffing) - for which they may be rather suitable. However, as Dan Hickey points out “Given the trivial amount of learning supported by many current formal and informal educational contexts, ANY attention to learning outcomes might be an improvement.” - this may be particularly true of the sort of informal education often ignored or difficult to show evidence for, although, we might legitimately worry “about the fetishistic obsession with test-driven educational reform expanding to badges.”
I am inclined, though, to agree with Dan that:
“If badges reduce knowledgeable interactions between people, learning of that knowledge will go down. If badges increase knowledgeable interactions between people, learning of that knowledge will go up. Where badges are valued and are awarded, we are likely to see more of whatever they are associated with. This applies to memorizing procedures and definitions just as it applies to mentoring and shared meaning-making.”
Badges, Analytics and Conclusions
Learning Analytics, will - inevitably - always be linked to some definition of success.
Thus, when thinking about such definitions, it is important that we consider the pedagogical commitments we are aligned to.
In order to avoid the ‘Wal-Martification’ of education, and not role back the clock on the progress made in pedagogical reform, it is important that the debates in this area are of high quality.
It’d be great to know if anyone has any particular comments on their own experiences of badges, or organisations that are/have considered using badges particularly for informal learning contexts (particularly as associated with work skills) - get in touch below the line or @sjgknight.