Are Digital Badges a New Measurement of Mastery?

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digital badgingAcross the globe, higher education institutions and professional organisations are harnessing the power of digital badges to motivate, demonstrate, and validate learning and development (L&D). Digital badges are currently in use at postsecondary institutions such as MIT, organisations such as NASA, and the U.S. Department of Education. In Australia, the Industry Skills Council for Innovation & Business Australia (IBSA) has recently started to use digital badgets for its own professional development training.

Our modern era is characterized by a rapidly changing economy that requires members of the workforce to continuously seek Learning and Development (L&D) opportunities. Earning a certificate or degree from a postsecondary institution is only the beginning of a lifelong learning process that includes recertification and professional development. Digital badges can measure what skills and competencies a learner has acquired from professional development opportunities in addition to providing evidence of memberships with professional organisations.

In an L&D setting, digital badges represent that a learner has demonstrated specific competencies that are expected to improve future performance. The demonstration of those competencies can be measured in a variety of ways, for example, via scenario-based assessment items that represent real-world experiences. Badges can represent incremental learning and progress, and they can also represent larger, more comprehensive capstone achievements. As such, badges are becoming an increasingly popular way for L&D to more fully document the breadth and depth of a learner's achievements.

Members of professional organisations may present at conferences about the work they're doing, attend breakout sessions and workshops on specific topics to hone a skill relevant to their position, or serve on various boards or committees. With the emergence of digital badges, there is a mechanism to verify or authenticate those experiences. Just some of the outcomes that can be verified include the development of knowledge, skills, and abilities that results from participation in professional conferences, workshops, and conventions. The assessment and verification process should be through an independent third-party that can create additional layers of reliability and validity to the badge.

These days, most career-minded individuals have profiles on social and professional networks such as LinkedIn, which they use to nurture and generate strategic relationships. Digital badges help individuals display their knowledge, skills, and competencies to the members of their online professional communities. Digital badges serve as symbols of job-specific achievements that solidify an individual's membership in their professional community. They also afford individuals the opportunity to demonstrate incremental growth along a lifelong learning path that can lead to advancement and promotion.

The digital component of digital badges is what gives the badge its authenticity and ease of use. There are several digital badge providers out there, and the badges they store are typically accessed electronically via a link. In other words, it's not so much the image of the badge that counts as it is that the image is tied to an electronic record. Additionally, in most cases the badge issuer is separate from the badge provider, and it is this badge issuer that usually controls badge expiration, so a link will only work as long as the badge is "viable." So, as long as badges are verified electronically, they can be trusted as authentic. These controls are what make badges more reliable and easier to verify than traditional credentials such as official transcripts or letters of recommendation.

In addition to recognition of achievements and memberships, digital badges also motivate learning and development by providing concrete rewards for the learner and by fostering healthy competition among individuals who qualify for the same types of badges.

To learn more about the usefulness of badging and how digital badges work, the following resources may be helpful:

Is your organisation using badges? Please share your experience in the Comments.

Source: ATD Association for Talent Development

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