I have been hearing about badges for showing learning progress for years, but I don't think they have yet to make significant inroads in education.They are often included in discussions of lifelong learning, MOOCs and alternative education. It is not surprising that they are part of discussion on the gamification of courses and education.
When I first heard about them at a conference, they were compared to the badges in Boy and Girl Scouting. You earn badges by mastering a specific set of skills. But the better comparison is to video gaming where they have long been used as a way to mark achievement. Called a badge or trophy, badge, stamp, medal or challenge, in many games they mark the achievement of a "meta-goal" that is outside the confines of the game environment and architecture. You may "unlock" an achievement, but that guarantee winning the game or even future achievement.
In education, or more accurately "learning," badges are being seen as one way to open up new pathways for learning. For MOOCs and other lifelong learning opportunities, badges are a way for learner who are not necessarily going to college to show achievement, competence and progress.
This year the MacArthur Foundation showcased winners of its Badges for Lifelong Learning competition who had been awarded $2 million worth of development grants last year.
This summer the city of Chicago announced that badging would be a key component of its Summer of Learning program, which is being called the largest citywide learning campaign in the country.
The Mozilla Foundation has been developing and testing its Open Badges Infrastructure for about two years. We know the Mozilla Foundation more as the maker of the Firefox web browser, but their efforts are often pointed to as something that could have a big impact on the acceptance of digital badging. They have focused a lot of their efforts at K-12 education because educators at that level have proved to be open to badging.
HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) administered the MacArthur competition which focused on digital badges which was cosponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation. Almost a hundred competitors entered and they were given resources for the development of badge-related content by Intel, Microsoft, NASA, the US Department of Veterans Affairs, and the 4-H Council, among others.
Employers are interested in badges as a way to rate potential employees and a way to mark professional learning/development for active employees.
As with MOOCs, the key to badge success will be the acceptance of a standardized, certified badge system by employers and schools as a credentials for advancement.
We're not there yet, but Dr. Bernard Bull blogged this month about an online master’s degree in educational technology that is built around competency-based digital badges. He writes about the degree that:
"As of August 2014, Concordia University Wisconsin is offering the first (to the best of my knowledge). That means that you earn your master’s degree along with a series of digital badges, each of which represent new knowledge and skill that you are developing as you work through the courses and program. This also means that you are gaining new micro-credentials (digital badges) even before you finish a full course. These are credentials that you can display online as evidence of your growing competence and perhaps your qualification for a new position for your current employer, or evidence of your skill for that future dream job."