10 Lessons & Reminders from The Open Badges Summit

Yesterday, I returned from the Summit to Reconnect Learning in Silicon Valley, an event dedicated to innovation in open badges for learning. Most of my work is among those in P-20 learning organizations, but I delight in opportunities to take part in broader conversations like this, a chance to join the vision for learning that extends far beyond schooling, one that sees levers for learner as solutions to significant issues in our world, whether it be bridging the achievement gap, increasing engagement with STEM, addressing unemployment among veterans, equipping prisoners with life and work skills, or preparing people who cultivate the creativity needed to solve big issues in the world. The participating organizations represented a who’s who list of innovators, influencers and difference makers: Sprout Fund, MacArthur Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, Digital Promise, Walt Disney Corporation, Adobe Foundation, Gates Foundation… Every attendee that I met was involved in some sort of effort with exciting promise and possibility.

I walked away with a number of lessons and reminders about the promise of digital badges for learning.

1. This is Not a Fad – Digital badging is, without question, more than just another educational trend. It is a powerful tool for micro-credentialing that is already being used with impressive results, both in formal learning organizations and far beyond.

2. Think Global Learning Ecosystem – Digital badges have promise to help cultivate a broader ecosystem of learning, leveraging and drawing together entire communities around shared learning. See the Chicago Summer of Learning (not turning into a national effort) for an amazing example of such possibilities.

3. Making Learning Visible – Digital badges and the Mozilla Open Badge standard, help learners document, demonstrate, and display evidence of learning across contexts. This will impact and empower many learners in ways that most of us have yet to consider.

4. Self-Blended Learning Across Contexts – By documenting evidence of learning with micro-credentials, this allows for intriguing educational mash-ups within and across organizations.

5. Help People Discover Their Inner Geek – If you didn’t know it already, Connie Yowell makes things happen! Also, in her opening talk, she used Mimi Ito’s Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out to illustrate how digital badges can empower learners to discover their unique contributions to the world. It starts by young people hanging out with other young people. As they do so, they learn about different topics and interests. From there, learners choose to mess around with areas of growing interest. Along the way, the young person might mess around with countless ideas and activities. Then she starts to find one that is a deeper interest, even a passion. As she goes deeper into it, then she starts to “geek out” with it, growing into a person with deep confidence and competence in this area.

By the way, I could not help but think about whether schools offer time to hang out, mess around and geek out. They certainly teach students things, but there is too often limited choice and chance to explore, experiment and excel in areas of personal interest. And yet, this is the process of figuring out what you want to geek out about in life. This is the very thing that helps you discover your unique contribution to the world.

6. Learners Own The Evidence of Their Learning – “We own our learning data rather than institutions owning it” – Connie Yowell – This represents the potential of digital badges based upon the Mozilla Open Badge standard. It means that wherever you learn something, when it is documented with a badge, you can take that evidence with you. It isn’t owned by any single institution. You can pull it into your digital learning backpack. The credential may come from different groups, people or organizations; but the potentially powerful shift is that the credential is your’s to keep, without having to ask for a transcript or official action from any institution.

7. Don’t Blink – The digital badge movement is moving quickly! If you are in the field of education, I suggest starting your own self-education. This represents a form of documenting learning that will be a standard part of education in the near future.

8. Don’t Stand Still – If you find yourself in a learning organization that moves at a snail’s pace, find a way to help change that culture or move to an organization that has figured out how to make things happen quickly. At this event, I saw foundations, government workers, educational leaders and innovators, and private sector teams with impressive intellectual power combined with the capacity to makes things happen quickly. Education is a social good, and I see no reason why we would want to delay in this amazing work.

9. Lessons from the Private Sector –  Michael Strautmanis shared about his transition from working with the Obama Administration to his current role at the Disney Corporation. When asked what we can learn from the private sector, he provided a simple response: “speed, ROI, and focus on results.”

10. Where Do We Start? – When Strautmanis was invited to make suggestions about where the “low hanging fruit” is for those of us interested in digital badges, he said, “Look to industries that are being disrupted, anxious to find ways to change and be relevant.” In my own words, find the learning needs in society that are needed but unmet, and invest yourself in finding a way to meet those needs.



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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is a President of Goddard College, author, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education; leaner agency, educational innovation, and social entrepreneurship in education.