Badging and its Impact on Credentialing

By Jake Vogt

Innovative learning is what ATP's conferences are all about. So it was no surprise to find a standing-room-only presentation by Jarin Schmidt, Product Strategist with Pearson VUE on "Badging" at E-ATP's recent conference in St. Julian's Malta.  Schmidt noted in his presentation that "Badging" has been highlighted as an "innovation to watch" by Harvard Business Review and has been lauded by higher education experts, but says the test publishing industry has been understandably cautious about approaching such an "immature" innovation.

To understand the badging concept, Schmidt reviews the purpose of credentialing --  which is a way for each individual to tell the story of their professional career and to keep a functional record of their skills and achievements. As technology evolves, and learning and business practices with it, an opportunity is arising to make each those stories more detailed, more unique, and more informative and useful to the professional world.

One innovation that attempts to seize that opportunity is Mozilla's "open badging" program. Launched in 2011, open badging expands on the concept of digital credentialing by making each badge--that is to say, the record of each of an individual's credentials--more thorough and interactive. With open badges, entities who grant credentials and individuals who receive them can tailor their presentation to reflect the specific qualifications and efforts involved in each of those achievements, creating a new, more personalized method of recording and assessing credentials.

Schmidt  is enthusiastic about the potential of badging as he notes, 
"With what we have today, a lot of the time when people are doing that assessment (of an individual's credentials), they don't have a lot of the necessary context to make that evaluation accurate.  They don't know who is behind that recognition of your skills, they don't have validation--ways to ensure that it is in fact true that you have acquired those skills."

Nevertheless the test publishing industry has been a bit hesitant to embrace the concept.  Schmidt points out that " there's such a precedent of having only the highest standards and proven and validated means by which to do something, I think there's a little bit of hesitation. While there is excitement, there's also kind of a wait-and-see attitude."

In Schmidt's mind, however, common reservations about open badges are unfounded.

 "One of the major reactions that people have to open badges is this idea that it'll devalue existing credentials," Schmidt says. "In other words, if we start to represent our high-end credentials as open badges, they're going to get displayed right alongside low-end badges or credentials that do not have nearly the same rigor and psychometric validity behind them, and so over time people will be confused as to which will be more valuable. To that I would say that if people value your credential today, they will continue to value it over time, whether it's represented as an open badge, a certificate, or a bullet point on a resume," says Schmidt, pointing out that the market is fully capable of recognizing value in whatever form it's presented.

An example, he notes,  is what happens in the degree market. " A degree from Harvard and a degree from, say, the University of Phoenix, although they are both valid degrees, the market has no trouble determining which one of those has a higher value. When we look at representing your credential as an open badge, really, it's just a conduit--a way of translating what that credential represents, but it doesn't in fact fundamentally change the value of it. "

Instead, what an open badge does is provide opportunities for individuals to represent their skills with more thoroughness and specificity. If the practice is widely adopted, Schmidt says, we'll see "more qualitative activities being factored into the credential itself.

"Today, a lot of the time when you get a credential, you take a test and you also have to do some other activities alongside it, but really it's just that testing outcome that carries the weight. If open badges really took off in the way that we're envisioning, each individual who receives a credential might have a more unique way of displaying exactly what they did to earn it. It could lead to a more personalized or differentiated version of a credential for each individual," says Schmidt.

"Your way of representing yourself becomes more granular, and allows you to better differentiate yourself and your skill set," he adds.

 That's the essential value of the program, according to Schmidt; individuals who have invested time, energy and money into credentialing programs can present personalized and specific records of the work they did to earn each of their achievements.

"If there's one thing that open badges brings to the table," says Schmidt, "it's this idea of making it that much easier for people to tell their professional story."
More information about open badging can be found at