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.

4 thoughts on “Competency Badges & Learning Networks

  1. Hannah Inzko

    I think its interesting to reflect on the methods of motivation that we’ve been exposed to during out educational experience. The stickers we received in grade school did a lot for our confidence and enthusiasm for learning and badges hit a similar nerve. Above and beyond that badges can measure and recognize the side door skills that are just as relevant and important as the core content of class. I think it will be interesting to see where the badge initiative goes and the different skill sets that can be incorporated.

  2. Pingback: Justin on badges | Emerging Learning Technologies

  3. Shelby Nelson

    Justin- Thank you for your insights into badges this week. Your quote, “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” made me think of my own behavior management plan and more specifically, how I motivate the students in my classroom. I think the overall goal would be for the students to want to do their work and have desired behavior on their own, even if it meant they did not earn that sticker or prize or whatever the teacher is using. This can be hard to do, especially for young students. I find myself sending home “I caught you being good” notes to parents when I notice a child doing the right thing or working hard when I am not right there and they think I am not watching/listening. I make it a point to the class that wanting to earn prizes or notes home should not be the sole reason for the choices that they are making..

  4. Eunsung Amii

    “they want feedback on their own learning.” They want to be heard by people in their network.”
    I totally agree with this. If learners don’t find meaningful moments during their learning, effective learning will not be likely to happen. All learners are different and have different perspectives even with the same subject topic in class. Teachers might not be able to look at all their students’ thoughts from various angles and provide all the meaningful resources. Thus it seems to me that finding voices that are meaningful to students is the best way for students to connect them to real world where real examples and valuable learning are found.

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