Digital credentials and badges are among the hottest topics to hit the learning landscape in recent years because of the potential benefit they offer to both learners and learning businesses alike.
Stephanie Owen, director of education with the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), knows first-hand how digital badges and credentials can impact member engagement, learning, and exposure in the marketplace. That’s because she’s been responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of NWFA University to include the use of digital credentials.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Stephanie about NWFA’s rollout out digital credentials and badges along with the launch of NWFA University, how it’s impacted them, and valuable lessons they’ve learned along the way.
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[00:18] – Thank you to Castle, the sponsor of the Leading Learning podcast for the second quarter of 2017. Castle is an accomplished full-service certification and licensure testing company that also offers its clients a variety of learning solutions capabilities. With an expert team of testing and instructional design professionals and a thirty year history of excellence in it’s field, Castle understands what it takes to develop and deliver quality learning and certification programs.
[01:14] – The recordings from our recent Learning • Technology • Design™ (LTD) virtual conference (held March 1–3, 2017), are now available. We created LTD specifically for professionals in the business of continuing education and professional development and you can get access to all of the great content delivered at the live online event. Find out more at ltd.leadinglearning.com.
[01:37] – Highlighted Resource of the Week – Association Learning + Technology Report – based on a survey of a broad range of trade and professional associations, it provides the most comprehensive insights currently available on the use of technology to enhance and enable education in the association sector.
[02:05] "]– A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Celisa interviews Stephanie Owen, director of education at the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) about their use of digital credentials. It’s also noted this isn’t the first time we’ve highlighted NWFA– see our post about their good use of social proof.
[03:38] – Introduction to Stephanie and some background information about the National Wood Flooring Association and her role there.
[05:13] – You coupled the rollout of digital badges with a pretty far-reaching restructuring of your education and certification and with the launch of your NWFA University. Would you talk some about what sparked the idea for the restructuring in the first place and then what that restructuring has looked like, and what changes you’ve made? Stephanie shares that when she started, they had a certification program that had been in existence for 20+ years. They also had a degree program that awarded credits for continuing education as well as service to the industry. After doing some research, they found their approach to certification and degrees really muddied the waters between education and service. They also realized they didn’t have any efforts in place to attract any new learners. Restructuring started with the introduction of the university, then changing career paths and how the university flew into the career paths, and then the use of digital badges.
[07:40] – A discussion about how part of the restructuring involved breaking apart longer certifications into more incremental steps members could use to demonstrate a specific skill even before they’ve achieved a fuller blown certification (through the use of digital badges and microcredentials). Stephanie says this allowed them to organically reach a new member segment because with the onset of the badges, it opened the doors to penetrate all of their member types, something they didn’t expect to happen.
[09:35] – How much new education was developed for the rollout of NWFA University? That is, how much was repurposing and restructuring what you had, and how much was creating new stuff? Stephanie explains they were able to use a lot of content from their original 5-day school in a video format but they found a consistency and structure issue in their schools – this caused them to have to do some rewriting and restructuring so the flow would make sense in an online format.
[11:48] – Stephanie confirms they are using digital badges both as microcredentials—to recognize the building block elements of older, fuller-blown certifications—and using digital badges as a new way to issue and represent those bigger, fuller-blown certifications as a whole using stackable credentials.
[12:38] – Where are you in allowing people to get to that fuller blown credential? Is that already possible or are you still in the process of rolling out those underlying blocks that make up the fuller certification? Stephanie says they have 4 certification designations and they’ve launched 2 full designations where you can build through the microcredentials and lead up to full blow certification. They are almost finished with their third and then they’ll focus on their last certification path. They’ve turned the certification into a badge itself so those can be digitally shared (via social media, etc.). Also, they’ve been able to use the microcredentials to market the other segments, which makes it possible to showcase a skill set rather than only knowledge.
[14:44] – Are you worried, or were you worried at any point, about confusion over what individual badges signify, when you have some representing smaller chunks of expertise and some representing the full-blown certification? Stephanie admits initially they may have been but they’ve done a good job branding the badges to complement certification and they represent just a small piece of the learning. From the contractor’s perspective, there doesn’t seem to be any confusion and from the consumer perspective they are still doing a lot of work to educate them that these certifications even exist. Stephanie doesn’t think this has caused any confusion in the marketplace, rather it’s actually seemed to strengthen the certification and what it means.
[16:30] – How have you gone about learning about digital badges as you’ve designed, developed, and rolled out the National Wood Flooring Association’s offering? And what was most helpful? Stephanie shares that she attended a lot of webinars, read whitepapers, studied other organizational models (trying to stick to the association model vs. the education model), and spoke with various technology providers/organizations to ask questions about their experiences.
[18:07] – Talk a little about the process you went through to find the right technology partner for NWFA’s digital badges. What issues and criteria wound up being deciding factors for you in picking a partner? Stephanie says they started with their strategic goals, their restructuring, and how this new path would impact their existing path. Because they grandfathered their current certifications at a level with the new path, they also knew they were going to be issuing thousands of badges on day 1 of implementation. Since most technology providers usually charge a cost per user or cost per badge issued – and because they were going to have to issue roughly 3,000 badges to 1,000 people right off the bat – this was the biggest deciding factor on what provider they went with. They also thought about the future and how they wanted the badges to integrate with their current system. All of this went into their decision (and Tagoras provided a couple different people they looked at).
[21:06] – If an organization is considering digital badges but hasn’t yet done anything, where or how would you recommend they begin that process? Stephanie suggests starting by evaluating your current offerings and asking whether digital badges would provide value to members within those current existing structures or without – and if so, how? She stresses the importance of the value proposition for your members to buy into it. Essentially, don’t do it just to do it because it’s a trend, rather consider how you’re members would respond to it and consider how it fits into your current offerings. Also, think about whether you would integrate into something already existing or just start fresh with something new. Once you’ve figured this out, you can move forward with vendor research that aligns with these two goals – how you’re going to use it and the value proposition in that.
[22:33] – If you had the chance to do it again, is there anything you’d do differently in terms of the design, development, or rollout of digital badges? Stephanie admits the rollout of the digital badges has been a challenge. They’ve really had to work to convince their members (mainly those who have been there a long time) of the value of these, which is why she thinks value proposition is so important. They are working on marketing strategies to do this now but if they would’ve done this from the beginning, she thinks it would’ve made the transition a lot smoother.
[25:11] – What’s going on in learning these days that most excites you? This could be something with application or potential application at your organization or just something that excites you as an individual lifelong learner. Stephanie talks about how her role has evolved into advocating for the wood flooring career path as a whole and how there is a common misconception about trade labor jobs/careers. She says parents and schools are pushing students into universities and many of them are falling through the cracks, graduating with a lot of debt and no career options – or dropping out. Skilled labor organizations and associations have to do a better job of advocating for their particular industry, at all different levels. NWFA is working on this now, including educating parents and children about their industry as early as first grade with different touch points through elementary, middle, and high school. They are also working with the Department of Labor to create an apprenticeship program specifically for the wood flooring industry. Stephanie emphasizes the importance of educating parents, kids, and the school systems to be aware of possible career paths within skilled trade labor industries. She adds that digital badges play a role in this as well because it exposes them to a new generation of learning.
[28:53] – How do you approach your own lifelong learning? Stephanie shares that in addition to reading, she learns best through interaction with others. She also enjoys attending conferences with time to reflect and surrounding herself with like-minded people and those who are smarter than her (something she says has had the opportunity to do at various Leading Learning events).
[30:50] – How to learn more and connect with Stephanie:
[31:26] – Wrap Up
Thanks again to Castle, a full service certification and licensure testing company that also offers its clients a variety of learning solutions capabilities, for sponsoring this episode of the Leading Learning podcast.
A reminder that recordings from Learning • Technology • Design™ (LTD), our virtual conference we held specifically for professionals in the business of continuing education and professional development, are now available. You can get all the details and register for access to those recordings at ltd.leadinglearning.com.
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[33:26] – Sign off