Open Badges establish a common framework for recognizing achievements and competencies between employers, professionals and educational providers. We have explored the basics of Open Badges as a solution for showcasing the skills of the future of work. These badges are displayed as a digital symbol that can be posted on a website or different social media channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook and personal blogs. Most importantly, they are linked back to the issuer of the badge, the assessment criteria and the evidence of achievement, which substantiates the badges’ credibility.
The specification of Open Badges is an ongoing project with contributions from many stakeholders, with distinct roles in the digital badging ecosystem. The specification is just the first step towards getting new features. One such feature of interest is the learning pathway.
Learning pathways: a road to achievement marked by digital badges
The fascinating opportunity of digital badges is that they represent a way to unbundle learning. This finer granularity in the recognition of competencies also provides flexibility for separate learning experiences to be “pieced together in myriad ways to access, construct and complete learning pathways.” A learning pathway is defined as the route an individual completes “as they progress through a range of specific courses, academic programs, and learning experiences.” Digital Badges can be used to create such learning pathways, serving as markers or stepping stones that lead the learner forward towards various achievement goals, defining one’s progression and experience.
Life takes many routes, so do learning pathways
The badging platform Badgr.io has implemented such learning pathways through its pathways feature. A pathway is created with elements. Each element can require one or more digital badges as pre-requisites or might determine the issuing of a badge to mark the learner’s progression. Pathways can be created to allow for alternate routes between levels of expertise. Pathways can also be built with digital badges awarded by multiple providers. This takes the idea of a learning pathway to another level, beyond the unbundling of summative learning and stacking it back together, but creating “routes that stitch together credentials from disparate issuers.” Our learning journeys often begin in one place and continue in another, so this feature offers a more realistic representation of real-life skill-building.
An example of a learning pathway
Pathways can be used in many ways, from gamification to a full-blown curriculum or a corporate learning lattice. Figure 2 below is an example of a pathway towards an Associate Degree in Biotechnology. In order to reach the element named ‘21st century skills’, one needs to have been awarded various badges of the different types of 21st century skills. As soon as one is considered job ready, they will be awarded a badge for that achievement. With job readiness and the Advanced Biotechnology Certificate one moves forward to receive the final degree. There are elements in this pathway that depend on alternative badges, meaning that someone can get to a certain level after been awarded one of various possible badges listed as prerequisites. Such constructs embed flexibility into learning routes that one might take in order to reach the final goal.
In the same manner, as described above, one can imagine that employees might be assigned to various learning pathways during their employment. Such paths allow staff to advance, as well as take some of these achievements to another organization in a transparent fashion. Elements in the pathway might represent academic achievements, or proven experience in specific areas. Learning pathways could cross boundaries between organizations and institutions.
Designing learning pathways with digital badges
In developing pathways, it is important to focus on the underlying badge system. If the pathway is to be created where a badge system already exists or if badges will be created from scratch, it is essential to identify purpose and structure an achievement. Using these dimensions during the pathway design process, one will make decisions about critical aspects such as the competencies that are being recognized, how progress is tracked, if there are multiple ways to get from point A to point B, if there are off-ramps where people might have the ability to follow a separate path depending on their goals, if badges from external issuers will be considered as part of the pathway, and what kinds of assessments will be used as criteria for awarding digital badges.
As an important player in providing eLearning opportunities for professional capacity building in various thematic areas of development in Latin America and the Caribbean, the IDB is stepping into the digital badge arena with two major intertwined goals. First, to become a recognized issuer of digital badges for those successfully completing courses delivered through IDB. Second, to become a change agent in the credentialing landscape by supporting and endorsing innovative and effective ways to recognize professional achievement of professionals in topics associated to development in the LAC region. Adopting learning pathways will support the advance towards both of these goals. Currently, the IDB is starting to use pathways in a few initiatives: developing various learning paths within a course on digital technologies built on microlearning units; designing curriculum for those in operations; and offering organizations in LAC custom made learning paths using existing courses offered online through our different learning management systems. These initiatives are in early stages, but the concept of such learning paths built with both IDB courses and others is extremely promising.