With the recent buzz around digital badges, many of us are probably wondering what their potential impact will be on the learning landscape.
As the founder and CEO of Concentric Sky, and a key player behind the open source project Badgr, Wayne Skipper is a leading voice in the open badging movement. He whole-heartedly believes in the power of digital badges and that they will serve as a catalyst for transforming the way education is done, not just in our country, but around the world.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Wayne about the value of digital badges, implications for using an Open Badges system like Badgr, and how this may impact the future of learning.
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Read the Show Notes
[02:18] – Wayne shares some background information about himself and Concentric Sky. He shares a main interest of his right now is digital badges and that his company has a focus on edtech. He thinks open badges offer a potential catalyst for transforming the way education is done, not just in our country, but around the world. He admits he’s a huge enthusiast of them, which is partially why they’ve developed the Badgr software and the reason they’ve made it open source.
[02:45] – How do you define the term digital badge? A digital badge is an online representation of an accomplishment – big or small. They can be used to represent anything from attendance at a conference to the outcome of an accredited program.
[04:35] – What’s driving the buzz about digital badges these days, and is the buzz warranted? Wayne says that the buzz is absolutely warranted and that as an employer, he cares less about someone’s general knowledge and more about their ability to demonstrate competencies that are relevant to the job they are being hired for. With the growing skills gap between what employers need and what students come out of school prepared to do, CBE is becoming more and more important – and there’s really no better way to represent a competency than a digital/open badges.
[05:38] – As an employer, are you finding people coming in that you’re looking to hire coming in with digital badges? Or is this still something that’s yet to come? Wayne shares that occasionally people provide them but in general it’s something that’s still pretty nascent. He explains that’s what lacking is a good set of employer tools for understanding badges which is something they’re working on as part of the Badgr project.
[06:12] – Can you talk a little about what Badgr is and also what you mentioned related to giving employers tools? Badgr is an open source project designed to serve as a reference implementation for an Open Badges system where they show people how to do it right – and make it all available for free at Badgr. Because Wayne’s team at Concentric Sky has been leading projects in edtech for over 10 years, he says they can offer organizations more than just a world-class badging system. They can help them understand where badging is needed, how to use it, how to integrate it into their existing systems, and also help them customize it to their needs. He explains how they can do integrations with HR and student focused systems to draw the badges together and connect them in a way that’s meaningful.
[07:55] – Can you talk a little about the Open Badges specification and why it matters that Badgr conforms to that specification? Wayne explains that Open Badges is the technical standard that makes all of this possible. He says that Mozilla’s creation of the Open Badges standard has moved digital badges from the realm of simply being digital stickers locked into one system, to something that can easily move from system to system. It’s a shared language for describing learning accomplishments and it opens up some pretty big possibilities for the future of education.
[08:33] – What’s the relationship between credentials, like digital badges, and learning in your mind? Wayne shares that he thinks “badge” is an unfortunate name. Aside from their portability, one of the most important aspects of badges is that they allow us to mix learning from formal and informal contexts to draw new conclusions to help learners. He shares an example to illustrate the benefit of this.
[11:14] – What do you see smart organizations doing with digital badges? Wayne shares that they work with a lot of organizations that use badges not just as way to represent achievements, but also as a marketing tool. Every time a badge is shared, it’s a chance for a new audience to be exposed to an issuer’s brand message.
[12:34] – As part of a focus on digital badges, do you see organizations measuring impact and outcomes, the kind of data that can speak to ROI from the badge-holder’s standpoint or from the point of view of other stakeholders, like employers? Wayne says he absolutely does and that Badgr offers a full suite of analytics tools. They’re working on an open standard for Learning Pathways which will allow them to not only measure learning outcomes, but also to make predictions based on those outcomes.
[13:27] – Is the pathway related to something like stacked credentials/stacked badges or is it something different? Wayne explains that stacked credentials tend to exist only in a single system whereas a Learning Pathway can span multiple learning contexts – so it might be groups of stacked credentials that are linked together into a meaningful pathway.
[14:06] – What’s happening with digital badges now that’s exciting to you? Wayne shares that it’s great to see so many organizations beginning to explore badging and he’s excited to see so many different products beginning to import and export them. He believes we’re in the beginning phases of a sea change in education which is being catalyzed by these really small microcredentials.
[14:57] – What threats or hurdles exist in the current environment that haven’t allowed us to fully take advantage of digital badges? Wayne says prior to the IMS endorsement of the spec last year, there was some question about whether Open Badges would truly become the lingua franca of credentialing. Since that question seems to have been put to bed, the only real hurdle at this point is helping earners and organizations understand that a digital badge is much more powerful than just a digital sticker in an online sticker book somewhere – which is really a matter of messaging.
[17:12] – When you think about the future of learning, what do you think or hope might change in the next five years or so (could be related to digital badges or more broadly)? Wayne points out that both the skills gap and the student debt crisis in our country are really starting to force institutions to demonstrate the value of their credentials. He asks if we really need to put so much focus on college degrees when someone can get a high paying job doing something they love with a 1-year unaccredited program. He says he is a firm believer in the value of the traditional liberal arts approach to education but that it has to be worth the huge cost to students. He thinks we will start to see institutions begin responding to this, one of the ways being to provide more measurable value – and he believes digital badges are a pathway to accomplish this.
[18:34] – What’s your approach to your own lifelong learning? Wayne shares that his interests are pretty broad and that he sets aside a couple hours each week to explore something of interest to him in order to keep a healthy work-life balance. Recently, most of his work is focused on hardware, specifically data-driven lighting installations. You can see more about what he does at https://lightatplay.net.
[19:28] – How to connect with Wayne:
[20:10] – Wrap-Up
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[21:52] – Sign off