For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America have issued merit badges to signify a basic competency in over 130 different subjects. The Girl Scouts have a similar program, awarding badges called "insignias" that are sewn on their sashes or vests.
As a very visible sign of proficiency, badges offer a quick way for others to verify a person's competency. Today, more and more adults are working for their "digital badges" to showcase their merits and skills online to prospective employers.
Digital Badge Pioneers
Digital badges can show an accomplishment in a wide variety of areas, including programming, microscopic biology and digital imaging. Unlike a skill or accomplishment that's listed on a resume, however, these badges can be immediately verified. (Girl Scouts who build mobile apps can now earn digital badges that they can display on their smartphones.)
This relatively new type of credential is being offered by prominent businesses and learning organizations, including Purdue University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of California, the Smithsonian Institute, Microsoft, NASA, Intel, Disney and Pixar. Spearheading this "Open Badge" movement is the Mozilla Foundation, the creator of the Firefox Web browser. Its goal is to create an alternative to traditional degrees that are currently controlled by established universities and are financially very costly to obtain.
Mozilla’s vision is that Open Badges will provide a permanent record of a person’s capabilities and achievements to be shown to teachers, peers, colleges or employers. Megan Cole-Karagory, director of marketing at Mozilla’s Badge Alliance, estimates that Open Badges are now carried by 4 million people and says Mozilla has made a commitment to reach 10 million users by the end of 2016.
Digital badges are more than just a fancy graphic on a website. They're actual clickable portals to detailed information about the credential, including the date the badge was issued, where it came from, the organization that verified it, and what was done to earn it. In some cases, badges link to corresponding exam questions, answers and the user’s scores. Mozilla even provides a “backpack” to manage all of a user's badges.
The majority of a digital badge curriculum borrows techniques from video games to engage users. People complete projects, like creating Web pages or learning the fundamentals of programing, to earn badges, much like video game players complete tasks to earn points and advance to the next level of the game. Just as with video games, some digital badges are easy to obtain, while others signal mastery of a specific skill.
In a world where anyone can learn anything, anytime, anywhere, Open Badges certainly have their advantages. Traditional degrees supposedly tell potential employers what the student has learned; however, grades and course requirements differ from school to school. Alternately, a badge indicates aptitude for a specific skill or subject that an employer can verify with the click of a mouse. Badges can also be awarded to recipients when they meet certain business milestones inside a company like sales levels or safety records.
Companies hiring new employees shouldn't base their decisions on badges alone: At this point, anyone can create a badge, which opens the system up to fraud. As with any credential, employers need to check out the issuing organization to verify its existence and authenticity.
Prospective employees are using Mozilla’s badge system to display dozens of merit badges on their online resumes, social networking profiles and personal Web pages as well as on job search sites. The badges detail exactly what a job applicant has studied as the badges are earned. An employer needing a specific skill for a particular job can do a search just for candidates who have a targeted badge.
As more organizations begin to offer digital badges, verifying the skills or achieved milestones a job candidate lists on their resume may no longer be a guessing game.
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