Educational “badges” as an alternative to diplomas?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article on the rise of educational badges, a reward/accomplishment system that some online educational services like Khan Academy are using. Here’s the summary:

Educational upstarts across the Web are adopting systems of “badges” to certify skills and abilities. If scouting focuses on outdoorsy skills like tying knots, these badges denote areas employers might look for, like mentorship or digital video editing. Many of the new digital badges are easy to attain—intentionally so—to keep students motivated, while others signal mastery of fine-grained skills that are not formally recognized in a traditional classroom.

The article goes on to ask whether easy-to-understand badges that denote focused study or skills will undermine traditional diplomas, which offer very little insights into the specific skills or abilities that were attained.

In my opinion, this is unlikely, at least for some professions such as information technology. We’ve seen efforts like this in the past, such as certification programs based on in-class or online instructions. While certification exams are a prerequisite for certain occupations, they are sometimes seen as a poor indicator of how well someone will perform in real-world situations. Badges and certificates also suffer from short shelf-lives relative to the value of a diploma, which has brand power that can last decades.

It will be interesting to see how the badge system evolves, and whether it can gain strength through acceptance of widely followed standards or partnerships with testing organizations or government agencies.


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