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Digital Badges and the Future of Learning

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Digital Badges and the Future of Learning

From DevLearn 2015 and Summarized by Dr Michael Reakes

This is a summary of the keynote presentation at DevLearn 2015 made by Connie Yowell, the Director at the McArthur Foundation. The presentation was on “digital badges” and how they might be used in the future of learning.

When modern digital media is blended with real-world experiences and combined with social media, it can change learning from a “one-to-many” experience (that is, expert instructor to learners) to a more-effective “many-to-many” experience (expert instructors and learners all helping one another learn). The cost of producing learning experiences has gone down. Blended learning experiences in which learners “make and create” (as they would do in a real task) often make the best learning experiences; with modern digital media, these experiences can be shared and discussed via social networks. Research has shown that the most effective learning experiences need to be designed to include the following:

  • Peer-to-peer interaction
  • Passion about the learning topic
  • Purpose (connect the learning to real-world job tasks or requirements)

In most current learning experiences, these 3 aspects do not often come together. Connie’s research retrospectively showed how people learned. She made “learning maps,” which showed how people learned; there are a lot of contexts from which people learn (formal instruction, self-paced learning, learning on the job, etc.). This is where learning badges can come in – digital learning badges are a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality, or interest that can be earned in various learning environments.

Doug Belshaw at Mozilla has created a structure for badges, known as the open badge standard. Daniel Hickey at Indiana University has created a standard known as “badge”.

Doug Belshaw at Mozilla has created a structure for badges

Connie Yowell asserts that, in order to be effective, badges must have “currency” – that is, they have to be recognized in the same way that degree certificates are recognized today.

Digital badges on the open edx platform

The challenge, however, is how to set standards and apply badges as an effective means of integrating education, experiences, and jobs.

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