Daily Archives: July 12, 2013

Competency Badges & Learning Networks

Jeffrey R. Young begins his article, ‘Badges’ Earned Online Pose Challenge to Traditional College Diplomas, with a bold declaration: “the standard certification system no longer works in today’s fast-changing job market.”

He’s right.

The alternative, or complementary, approach is badges, a system that certifies hard and soft skills alike. A selling point of badges is the power to cumulatively reinforce learning, earning acknowledgement throughout the learning process. That is, accomplishing short- and long-term goals motivates learners. Educational psychology would agree.

Before vilifying badges as addictive candies that are void of professional value, keep an open mind for a moment longer. Scapegoating extrinsic motivation is hardly an excuse to overlook the possible benefits of badge systems. Traditional credentialing – high school diplomas or college degrees – are guilty of the same dangling of the carrot. All certification (badges included) acts the same way as stickers and how they once motivated us when teachers put them on our tests back in elementary school. The advantage of badges, however gimmicky to some, is that they are progressively earned and detail all varieties of learning.

In his article Personal Learning Networks (An Excerpt), Clarence Fisher makes an insightfully true observation that “learning is only as powerful as the network it occurs in.”

Clarence follows up this statement by confirming that the learning between teacher and students maintains its value. In grade school, tracking played a key role in shaping my educational experience. Learning alongside like-minded peers pushed me further in my academic pursuits; there was a healthy sense of competition and desire to “run with the best of them”.

So Clarence is right: networks empower learning. Knocking down the four walls of the classroom, or making them “thin” as Clarence puts it, by connecting with other learners through the Internet makes sense.

A powerful result of Clarence’s work is the way his students are self motivated and build personal networks on their own. Clarence merely provides the time and resources, but he is not bogged down in setting up contacts or exchanging numbers. Also important to note is that age, race, language proficiency, etc. are irrelevant to students in their pursuit of knowledge. The students focus on finding voices “that are meaningful to them,” and “they want feedback on their own learning.” They want to be heard by people in their network.

Badge good or badge bad?

Young discusses how badges can be used to show time spent working on a particular project. Although, I like the idea of motivating students with something other than a final grade. I doubt the fact that badges will ever take over the credibility of a college degree or grades on a transcript. Badges can be small motivators for pacing a student and keeping them on track for the next goal that they must complete, but in the end, no amount of time spent will change the ability to complete the desired task. Thomas Edison made thousands of mistakes before inventing the light bulb. However, a badge for time spent with no end result doesn’t put him in the history books.

In the video, badges were described as a record of achievement. After hearing this and seeing the online icons, I remembered that a program that I use with my freshmen in American Government, that is based on online, uses badges to reward them for adequate/superior performance on a gaming program. Students are asked to categorized, match and experiment with different branches and topics in the government. At the end of each game, they are presented with some kind of badge. Sometimes, its the “You did it!” badge.  Other times, it’s the “Keep up the hard work!” badge. After reading and listening to experts on badges in the field of education, I’ll be interested to do some of my own research on what badges the students feel are most desired.