Everyone in education should care about digital badges: Here’s why

Woman sitting at a desk interviewing a young man

A “digital badge” is an online record of achievements, tracking the recipient’s communities of interaction that issued the badge and the work completed to get it. Digital badges can support connected learning environments by motivating learning and signaling achievement both within particular communities as well as across communities and institutions.  – Erin Night, Open Badges for Lifelong Learning White Paper


Last year, during my time as a Pearson Campus Ambassador, I got to explore firsthand a new concept within e-learning and professional development: digital badges.

I received my first badge for successfully publishing a post to the Pearson Students’ Blog. The badge was produced by Acclaim, which is an enterprise class badging platform backed by Pearson. An email appeared in my inbox several days after the blog post was published. I opened the email and it read “Pearson Blogger.” After receiving the email, I remember feeling validated for my efforts. To view my actual badge, I had to create an account on Acclaim, which is where I manage and share the badges I’ve earned. From Acclaim, I could share any of my badges out to friends and employers through email, casual social media like Facebook, or professional websites like LinkedIn.

After trying out the platform firsthand, I can see the value badges create in presenting credibility. Traditionally, only achievements that are standardized into a course or position can be displayed. These traditional achievements include the grades a student achieves and the degree that a student earns. However, if a student takes a course through an online learning site or completes a project for a non-profit organization, these achievements are harder to showcase. Badging fills the gap by providing a certified way to represent accomplishments without constructed channels of recognition in place.

The way I see it, in order for students to gain the most value from digital badges, there needs to be widespread adoption from companies and schools. Though I see the value in digital badges, higher learning institutions must also be convinced of the incremental value. One area that micro-credentials can add the most value in is vocational learning. For example, I have a close friend who studied media broadcasting and is currently working at a TV station in Vancouver, BC. One of the issues that he has with representing his skillset is the fact that there are many sub-sectors of media and broadcasting, and that everyone who graduates from the program has a different specialization. This is not readily apparent to anyone because the diploma he received was identical to that of his classmates. Badges would be a great way to alleviate this dilemma. Individual professors could award students badges for specific functions within the media and broadcasting program. This would provide credibility and also distinction for students.

To explore my ideas further, I spoke to David Leaser, a business development executive at IBM, who spearheads innovation and growth projects. David leads the publishable badging activities that IBM offers to students and employees. I asked David about his views regarding the adoption challenges of digital badging. David explained how “[he] believe[s] the badge program is in the early adopter stage. There are a number of things that need to happen for the program to become widely adopted. For one, there needs to be awareness for the incredible value badges deliver to badge earners, but also to badge issuers and employers. IBM and other companies are tackling this by fostering demand for badges. For example, IBM has Big Data University, where you can earn an today for free.”

Overall, Acclaim and micro-credentials are trying to target a gap in e-learning and professional development through providing standardization and credibility to valuable, niche skills, and accomplishments. I believe that in the near future, badges will provide students a way to express their hard earned successes through an online, centralized, and flexible platform.


About the Author
Samantha Wu

Samantha Wu

Samantha Wu is a hard-working and personable business student originally from Vancouver, British Columbia. Samantha is very passionate about education as a vehicle for positive change, which is why she is extremely excited to be part of the Pearson Student Advisory Board. Between classes, Samantha can be found hanging out with friends, leading activities and organizations, and engaging students and faculty.

Samantha aspires to work in financial services and loves badminton, reading and traveling. Samantha is very grateful and delighted to be part of the Pearson network and is constantly on the lookout for new things to learn and new people to meet.



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