1.4.2 New and Growing Opportunities: Adapting to and Taking Advantage of Disruptive Innovation in Accreditation, Certification, and Portability

A viable system of modular, cumulative, and verifiable skill credentials has arrived, creating an enormous opportunity for workforce development initiatives innovation. In September, 2011, The Mozilla Foundation announced that it has developed an open online infrastructure that would allow communities, institutions, educational programs, and companies to award “badges” for recognition of informal and non-traditional learning.1 Learners can display the badges that they collect on their digital “backpacks,” in online environments and on their resumes—wherever they communicate their skills.

1.4.2.1 New Tool: What is a "Badge"?

Learning happens in K-12 and college classrooms, adult education and in professional development programs. Learning also happens in an array of other online and in-person environments: in afterschool programs and online tutorials, through mentoring, playing games, interacting with peers in person and in social networks, with smart phone apps, in volunteer workshops, at sports camps, during military training, and in countless other ways and other places. A badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in any of these learning environments. Badges can support learning, validate education, help build reputation, and confirm acquisition of knowledge. They can signal traditional academic attainment or the acquisition of skills such as collaboration, teamwork, leadership, and other 21st century skills. Badges are used successfully in games, social network sites, and interest-driven programs to set goals, represent achievements and communicate success. A digital badge is an online record of achievements, the work required, and information about the organization, individual or other entity that issued the badge. Badges make the accomplishments and experiences of individuals, in online and offline spaces, visible to anyone and everyone, including potential employers, teachers, and peer communities.

The Mozilla system provides an infrastructure for virtually any awarding, verifying, and displaying these non-traditional credentials on the Internet, and therefore represents an open-source solution for credential portability. The project’s companion “Badges for Learning,” competition, supported by the MacArthur Foundation and implemented by HASTAC with Duke University and University of California, announced grants to 60 institutions and entities (museums, non-profits, after-school programs, research institutions and for-profit companies) in December. These grants rewarded “ideas for compelling learning content, activities, or programs for which a badge or set of badges would be useful for recognizing learning that takes place in a particular area or topic,” while later rounds of grants will focus on building technology systems that facilitate the awarding of badges by diverse groups. Already, Carnegie Melon’s Robotics Academy has constructed badge sequences for students and instructors that incrementally certify skill achievements and pedagogical competency, while also building towards industry-recognized certifications, for example, in the LABVIEW (robotics) programming language.2

Whether or not the Open Badges Project infrastructure ultimately establishes itself as the standard for incrementally awarding and verifying modular credentials, the project represents the kind of disruptive innovation that will provide workforce development practitioners with new tools for recognizing learning and competency achievements, and perhaps an entirely new, more democratic, context for both formal and nonformal education and training in the digital age.