How Will Badges and Micro-Credentialing Change Education?

Interest in digital badges continues to expand, especially in light of recent successes like the Chicago Summer of Learning. In view of such successes, more people are musing about the future of badges and micro-credentialing. How will this movement impact formal education? I suspect (okay, I just hope) that it will result in the following shifts over the next 3-7 years.

1. The Expansion of Valued Credentials from Non-School Entities – Expect to see digital badges adding increased recognition and credentialing through corporations and other organizations, eventually challenging traditional credentials like diplomas from accredited Universities and secondary schools.  This is already happening in some fields, with companies and other organizations creating their own certifications and badges. In some cases, applicants for certain technical jobs have a better chance of getting hired with some of these badges or certifications than they would with a B.S. in Computer Science. Cisco and A+ certifications both represent clout when it comes to certain jobs, and this will only expand in the next 3-7 years.

Badges and the Future of Education2. Democratized Credentials – Toward that end, digital badges will be one of many emerging assessment and verification systems that will un-cage the college degree, democratizing the verification and documentation of learning. They will not necessarily replace Universities, but they will increase the credibility of alternate routes. Any person or organization that can garner a trust from a large group of people is able to invest that trust in digital badges that can be distributed to people based upon some measure of competence or achievement. As such, the diploma may well have value, but we will now see other equally valued credentials.

3. Competency-based Education – All of this will be further amplified by the fact that micro-credentialing often provides a more granular and accurate picture of what one has learned than a diploma. A diploma usually just lists courses completed and grades earned. It gives no more detail than that. In what areas of a course did a person excel or struggle within a given course? As I’ve demonstrated elsewhere, depending upon the grading scale in a class, it is possible for a student with a C+ to have learned more than one with an A-. Badges and micro-credentialing offer a potential solution to this problem…or at least an improvement on it.

4. Badges in Formal Education – As such, we will see more experimentation with digital badges within traditional learning organizations. Many will be first drawn to them for gamifiaction purposes, hoping that badges will increase learner motivation. As the movement expands, more will begin to discover that an even more promising element of badges may be their capacity to more accurately represent and document student learning with regard to specific skills and concepts.

5. Synergies and Partnerships Between Formal Education Organizations and Other Entities – As acceptance of badges as a form of documenting achievement or learning increases, learning organizations will begin to partner with the many non-educational institutions offering relevant digital badges, made possible by efforts like the Mozilla Open Badge Initiative.

6. Lots of Profit – Of course, some of this will come from new, emerging and existing companies that offer curricula and personalized learning packages that leverage badges and micro-credentialing. Thoughtful textbook companies and curriculum providers will discover this possibility and find ways to repackage their resources in digital badge and micro-credentialing formats. Entrepreneurial educators will become digital badge designers and sell badges and badge designs to schools.

7. Winners and Losers – Amid all of this, certain badge-based curriculum providers will gain dominance and large-scale public recognition, becoming the standard for many mainstream learning organizations. However, as long as educational philosophies vary and freedom of choice in education exists, there will be plenty of alternate badging options.

8. Credentialing of Homeschool Accomplishments – Given that the documentation of learning is no longer attached to a given school or classroom…or a transcript from a specific organization, homeschoolers will begin to have documentation of learning that parallels that which happens from those who attend a traditional school. This will serve to further unbundle educational services, making it possible for one to create a customized schooling experience by pursuing a collection of badges from different sources and organizations.

9. Learning Analytics – As micro-credentialing becomes increasingly common and accepted, the rich learning analytics that comes from documenting learning on such a detailed level will make the promise and potential of learning analytics become clear. Early alert systems, adaptive learning applications, predictive analytics about student successes and struggles, vocational advising systems, and more will emerge out of such analytics.

10. Personalized Learning – At this point, we will also see a new form of personalized learning paths. While Universities and employers will look for evidence of earning certain micro-badges for acceptance or hiring, learners will also be able to show their strengths. A learner with gifts and a passion for art will have a collection of micro-credentials to represent such accomplishments, making a “transcript” (or the future equivalent) a document about one’s strengths and not one’s limitations.

Of course, none of these predictions may actually come true, but they represent the possibilities (and a few of my hopes). These are potential affordances of digital badges and micro-credentialing when used well. Since none of us know the future of education, I opt to help shape a future, one that leverages emerging tools like badges and micro-credentialing to democratize education, increase partnerships, personalize learning, and promote strengths-based education. Are you with me?