Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Note on Online Badges

Over the past few years, postsecondary institutions have expanded their use of online learning.   Originally conceived as a way to extend credit courses and degree programs to off-campus students, online learning is now also being used to articulate and deliver a wide range of noncredit programs.  This, in turn, has led many online learning providers to adopt a new kind of credential—the “badge”—as a way to reward students for successfully completing an online learning course or series of courses.  Badges can serve many purposes, to be sure.  My goal in this posting is to suggest a couple of ideas about the use of badges as a way to formally recognize completion or achievement.
            First, if the badge is to be a viable credential, it is important that the online learning community come to agreement on what constitutes a “badge” in this context.  For many years, continuing education units at our institutions have used an international standard for recognizing noncredit learning:  the Continuing Education Unit or CEU. The CEU is endorsed by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training, which  defines a CEU as follows :  “One CEU equals ten contact hours of participation in an organized CE/T experience, delivered under responsible sponsorship, capable direction and qualified instruction.”  The CEU is widely recognized and used by institutions and a variety of professional societies.   Institutions and other providers of online learning badges can ensure acceptability of their credential by tying the badge to this widely accepted measure of noncredit learning.
            Second, it is important that institutions that offer badges formally adopt this credential and keep records of students who have earned them.  It is essential that the institution itself recognize the badge as a credential, so that potential employers, professional societies, and others can confirm that the student has, indeed, earned a badge at that institution.
            We are at a stage in the maturation of online learning where we need to institutionalize innovations that have arisen around institutional experiments with technology-delivered education.  The badge has evolved as a way to recognize online learning.  Now, we ourselves must define and recognize it so that it has lasting value to the student.