Saturday, 7 September 2013

Badges, Gamification, Employment & Lifelong Learning

Image courtesy of kerolic on Flickr.
We often talk of gamification and have even won an award for doing so (click here).  But we (and many others) usually talk about how badges are engaging and motivating for the learner or even how they can essentially coerce people to do things that an organisation/individual wants (e.g. good behaviour in class, sharing promotional content on social media sites, reviewing products etc).  Badges and other gamification strategies have been used very successfully in this way.  However, the report, ‘Expanding Education and Workforce Opportunities Through Digital Badges’ takes a slightly different look at the phenomenon.

This new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education and Mozilla has looked at how badges can be used as a way of showing and verifying to employers the skills that individuals have amassed.  These can be formal education, knowledge based skills, 21st century skills as well as skills gained through hobbies and other ‘extracurricular’ activities.  “A digital badge system can bring resumes into the twenty-first century,” says Gov. Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.  “Digital badges are making anytime, anywhere learning a reality for learners of all ages who want to pursue their interests with tangible results in real time… Badges bridge the divide between formal and informal education, and they have the power to transform competency-based learning and hiring practices.”

The report does explore how digital badges can be used to improve student learning and outcomes, but also how they can expand vocational and interest-based skills for learners of all ages.  And importantly, what this can mean for employment.  “The way we learn and the way we work have radically changed in today’s digital age, and we need the credentials that make sense for the way we live our lives today,” argued Erin Knight, senior director of learning and badges at Mozilla.  “Open Badges can connect learners to better jobs and opportunities, allowing them to increase skillsets and marketability. In return, employers can look beyond abstract credentials or self-reported resumes and get credible information on candidates—finding a better match, and unlocking a better future for all involved.”

Expanding Education and Workforce Opportunities Through Digital Badges defined badges as ‘credentials that represent skills, interests, and achievements earned by an individual through specific projects, programs, courses, or other activities.’  The report argued that it is important that badges are defined accordingly and are measured against a specific set of standards so that they could be used by employers in a meaningful way.  The report suggests that for this to happen, there must be an open badge standard that ensures all badges contain the same level of criteria and evidence, which allows people to earn badges from different issuers, manage and collect them, and display them on websites as they see fit.  Mozilla has created this “Open Badges” standard that ensures the credibility of verifiable skills involved with the badges.  They aim to make the badges credible by making them store information through hyperlinks about what tasks, projects etc. were completed to earn the badge.

Schools can use the system to connect their pupils’ curricular and extracurricular learning as well as rewarding them for developing their 21st century skills.  The schools and colleges that have adopted the system so far have also done so to make learning more engaging and innovative.  “Learning pathways differ from student to student, but badges can bridge those differences and provide students with opportunities to follow their interests, and connect what they have learned—at any time and place—to academic achievement, career success, and civic engagement,” Wise said.

But what interests me most is what the badges could mean for employment.  It is unlikely that this system would completely become the norm, but it does make one wonder.  It could encourage children from a younger age to think about their careers.  It could encourage a closer relationship between students and employers, giving both valuable experiences.  Employers could tailor more what is being taught in schools.  They might put emphasis on different elements of a person than their grades.  The system also has interesting implications for lifelong learning.  It could foster a more positive relationship with learning as a whole.  It may make people think of and approach learning differently.  People could become inspired by the badges of others.  The intrinsic reward of a badge along with the ability to ‘show off’ to others could generate an impressive level of learning.

Obviously, these are all big ‘what if’s and this one system is unlikely to do everything (if any of these).  However, I do think it highlights something interesting and very positive about society and it would be great if it took off.  The popularisation of geek-chic (which I thoroughly approve of) along with the acceptance and popularity of video games may just have amalgamated to create something that could be great for learning and learners.  One thing I would like to see being emphasised though, in a system like this, would be badges for good deeds, charitable giving and so on, and then we could really be on to something great!

Click here for the full report.

Click here for more about Open Badges.

Please follow @paulladley on Twittergames-ED on Pinterest and like games-ED’s Facebook and Google+ pages for blog updates and interesting games based learning findings.

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