The Rise Of Badges

Blue-Peter-badge-002Many people have gained a formal academic or professional qualification of some sort during their lives. But informal skills acquisition doesn’t usually attract proper recognition. This is why ‘badges’ to accredit this kind of learning are gaining in popularity. Traditionally seen as indicators of quality, badges are generally used to demonstrate a person’s affiliation with a scheme, association or professional body. In education, however, they can be used to reward learners for achieving a certain level of knowledge, acquiring a new skill, demonstrating a level of competency, or displaying a desired standard of behaviour.

As people become more comfortable with learning online, this has created an opportunity to design “digital badges” to accredit completion of informal courses. Demand from learners has partly ignited this trend, as badges provide demonstrable credit in return for effort. Accrediting informal learning drives user engagement and motivation, as recognition and reward is gained through sharing the success with others online. Learners can broadcast achievements to colleagues and friends across social media platforms, such as LinkedIn. It’s this aspect that is driving increased participation. We expect to see badged learning increase in popularity. Badge schemes in mainstream online environments are gathering momentum and have been successfully applied within World Vision’s global, corporate university. Initiatives like Mozilla OpenBadges and Moodle, a virtual learning environment are easily combined to enable learners to display their Badges on their profiles.

Badged learning has a useful role to play in achieving important objectives like fostering a learning culture, encouraging self-directed learning and improving employees’ digital skills – as the Open University have recently recognised. Learning and development specialists are increasingly acknowledging their benefit in the workplace. Badges can form an integral part of individuals’ continuing professional development (CPD) programmes and help to structure learning pathways by allowing prior achievement to be recognised and advanced learning to become an appropriate starting point. Simply put, badges allow staff to earn verification as they acquire new skills and improve their competency levels. And they enable learners to display an icon on their online professional profiles, and list on their CVs the courses they’ve completed and certificates they’ve gained.


“Incidental” Learning

JournalAs the Open University Institute of Educational Technology has recently reminded us, we live in an age of rich information. Sometimes the sheer quantity may become overwhelming! However, with unprecedented amounts of knowledge available to us at the touch of a button, we are provided with unlimited opportunities to learn just by going about our everyday lives. This is what’s known as ‘incidental’ learning: learning without needing to be taught, in ways that are instinctive, unplanned, immersive and, at times, unintentional. Incidental learning happens as we go about our daily lives, interacting with others, carrying out activities and using technology. As the OU point out, this learning goes on throughout our lives, in many forms: play, exploration and discovery in childhood; teamwork, collaboration and problem solving in adult life; immersion in another culture when learning a foreign language; and so on. These are all examples of how we learn incidentally, and build a rich bank of knowledge over our lifetimes.

The richness and sheer variety of opportunity creates both challenge and opportunity for any organisation’s learning and development specialists.

Three Knows_Fotor 1Incidental learning happens every day in the workplace, in a myriad of ways: induction processes for new staff; cross-functional teams working together; junior employees shadowing senior colleagues; and more. In such scenarios, workers investigate challenges, solve problems, and identify resources to help them do their jobs. They learn by being immersed in the workplace experience. Though it is potentially all around us, incidental learning tends not to be seen or valued by employers, as it’s not structured, tutor-led or certified.

Businesses will increasingly become aware of how staff learn incidentally and the potential value it holds. They’ll recognise the important role it plays in building management capability, through knowledge-sharing, networking and negotiating activities. And they’ll increasingly seek to capture and share this knowledge, in order to improve organisational productivity, performance and growth. This is an area where learning and development and organisational learning/knowledge management overlap – at least potentially.

There’s now a host of workplace applications designed to drive the sort of experiences that prompt incidental learning. These include internal social media platform Yammer, cloud-based collaboration tool Slack, and crowd sourced innovation and partnering management software IdeaScale.

As so much of the UK economy generates value through “knowledge work” and so many of the UK’s working population are knowledge workers it becomes vital that organisations pool the collective knowledge and expertise of their staff. Very few organisations can now be sustainable unless they pool knowledge through some kind of organisational ‘learning bank’, almost certainly crowd-authored by the workforce itself — but, critically, retained after staff leave.