A trend that has recently begun to generate interest within the training sector is micro-learning and the use of digital badges. This article will examine how badging will affect the training industry and how you can get started using digital badges in your sector.
How does micro-learning work?
Micro-learning is the process of developing knowledge, skills or behaviours in short, focused digital learning segments. Once the micro-learning segment is complete, some type of recognition is usually warranted to corroborate the skills gained and competencies achieved. Learning may be recognized in many different ways including the issuing of a formal document by a post-secondary institution or employer’s training department, depending on the level of learning, defined instructional hours and method of evaluation.
Another approach is through a “badging” system, in which an external provider documents, tracks and formally recognizes the achievement using digital badges. The external provider can be a professional body, trainer or any other institution that provides training. Digital badges can be issued for a single achievement, grouped to form a program or stacked to earn multiple levels of recognition.
The use of badging
The idea of using badges to recognize non-traditional learning was developed by Mozilla 13 years ago and has been slowly gaining acceptance.
Digital badges demonstrate milestones reached such as attending a workshop, completing a course, achieving an industry-recognized certification or passing an exam. They can also be issued to recognize achievements in soft skills training such as communication, team building, critical thinking, writing, leadership and other types of activities training that increase one’s skills and competencies. The badge contains information about the issuer and what the recipient has done to achieve it.
For example, the Mozilla Open Badge system allows anyone to create and issue open badges to recognize achievements. This system (and other similar platforms such as CanCred Pro, out of Winnipeg) connects with social media platforms such as LinkedIn so that users can have their achievements validated and included in their public profiles. Digital badges can be shared within virtual portfolios (e.g. Brightspace ePortfolio) or other platforms such as Mozilla Backpack.
Barriers to the badging system
The idea of badges is relatively new to the workforce development sector. There is very limited data and research in this field. This is likely due to the limited use in the Canadian post-secondary sector as well as the lack of employer knowledge about this emerging trend. The current higher-education registration system is not designed or equipped to recognize non-credentialed learning, even though many students and applicants engage in these opportunities.
A barrier associated with digital badge usage is determining how to make them more authentic, since they may not appear as credible to potential employers as a paper credential from a recognized post-secondary institute. However, as the use of digital badges becomes more prevalent – with companies such as Microsoft, IBM and Cisco issuing digital badges for their certification programs and products – employer acceptance will likely grow. LinkedIn Learning’s issuing of digital badges for completion of its online courses is a positive step in this direction. Sites such as Coursera, which offers massive open online courses (MOOCs), are also becoming more widely recognized.
Opportunities for workforce development
There are growing opportunities for community agencies, not-for-profit organizations and private trainers to formally credential their training programs using digital badges. The process to create and distribute digital badges is quite simple. Companies such as CanCred and Badgr offers solutions for any organization wishing to issue digital badges.
For example, the Canadian Association for Prior Learning and Assessment (CAPLA) has incorporated digital badges into its skills assessment and advising workshops. Participants not only gain valuable competencies as assessors, they also receive a digital badge to recognize skills achieved, which are validated by CAPLA and match the competency framework established by the organization.
The way forward
With ever-increasing skills gaps in numerous job markets, using digital badges to demonstrate non-credentialed skills is an excellent way for jobseekers to demonstrate their commitment to self-improvement and to set themselves apart from other applicants. Awareness of micro-credentials by businesses and governments appears to be growing. For instance, the Ontario government stated in its 2019 budget that it would be launching a new micro-credentials pilot this spring to help address skills gaps.
As training delivery organizations embrace the use of digital badges to validate non-formal education, it is only a matter of time before more employers recognize them during the hiring process.