Badges + credentials, a venn diagram

A wonderful and long hoped for event has been transpiring in the credentialing world: badges are being openly discussed, recognized, and included In the conversation. The new forms of credentials that have emerged over the last few years, e.g., badges, nanodegrees and even certificates, are being swept up and embraced by the credentialing club. This evolutionary development is welcome news—and a huge win that clearly indicates the growing public appreciation of badges and the value they carry. I extend my heartfelt congratulations and thanks to all members of the open badges community who have dived in, toyed with, worked on, pushed back, fought over, and exulted in open badges. You’re how we got here.

Now that badges are shifting to become an active member of the credentialing club, new requirements and responsibilities are ramping up. To that end, I am privileged to be able to represent the voices of the open badges community in a variety of discussions and initiatives sensitive to badges as one of the newest forms of credentialing.

As a number of conversations within different initiatives have progressed, a specific need has arisen, and that need is a starting point to orient the conversation—a commonality, if you will. The question being posed across two Lumina Foundation funded initiatives, Connecting Credentials and the Credentials Transparency Initiative is this: What essential aspect or component will allow us to collectively converse about value and meaning across many, if not all forms of credentials?

For all of the conversations that I have been privy to and participated in, the deliberations have homed in on competencies as one of the essential initial components. Let me pause to highlight the word initial and follow up with this caveat. As a member of the open badges community and as a long-term shepherd of the ecosystem, I recognize that for some people this credential / competency component decision can appear to be both a terrific structuring arrangement as well as a hair-raising disruptive concern. Why? Because badges cross many conceptual boundaries. More specifically, badge criteria are issuer defined, created, and designed. That means that badges are not required to express the same things that traditional credentials do, and a number of badge issuers do not want to use competencies as their lodestone.

However, because we need a basis to begin to create a mental model, illustrate concepts, and provide some guideposts to explain how we are shaping a new and more inclusive and representative world of credentialing, this is a fair enough beginning. Think of it as a beginning point of another journey: one that leads into the larger, more rough and tumble world of formal credentials.

As badges shift into a form of currency in the credentialing world, do we gain or lose anything by having a completely overlapping Venn diagram? Or, as I have long asserted, are badges and credentials an incompletely overlapping Venn diagram?

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 7.23.00 PM

To my mind, the answer is yes to the latter question, and here’s why. Badges, as they were envisioned originally, were created to capture learning whenever and wherever that learning occurs: formal, informal, public, private, group, individual. The overlap on the Venn diagram is sometimes referred to as microcredentials, and actually gives that term greater meaning and sense. Although, the overlap can still just be referred to as badges.

With this in mind, I’m eliciting feedback and encouraging open conversation about badges that are credentials and badges that are not credentials. What are your thoughts? Should all badges be considered credentials, or, as illustrated in the Venn diagram above, should we leave the door open to badges that fall outside of the requirements of credentials?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, open badges community!

Much more soon.
Talk to me at cmcasilli [at] gmail [dot] com


5 thoughts on “Badges + credentials, a venn diagram

  1. Doug Belshaw

    Hey Carla, thanks for this post and starting the debate. I posted my initial thoughts on this back in September:

    I guess there’s some nuance to be explored in the differences between ‘credential’ as a noun (which we also use in UK English) and as a verb (which we tend not to, ordinarily). There’s also the lens of competency-based education which is different in the US compared to the long history of apprenticeships and vocational learning in Europe for the past few hundred years.

    So perhaps one answer is that… it depends. I know it’s not an ideal answer, but the standpoint from which we look at the badging/credentialing landscape is likely to depend very much on the cultural history of our own societies. :)

  2. thmensen

    Thx for your thoughts and (hard) work to get helpful answers to your questions! I’m wondering if solutions can be found in the work that has been done on the topic of semantic information system standards as a means to achieve (1) interoperability and…(2)quality!

  3. Kerri Lemoie

    I don’t see Open Badges as a type of credential or necessarily a micro-credential (although sometimes they can be). Open Badges is a technical specification that can represent any type of credential as data. Consider an analogy to content and HTML. Any content can be represented as HTML but not all content is published as HTML. Content that is published in HTML can be delivered on the web. Credentials published as Open Badges can be delivered as data.

    The nomenclature of “Badges” contributes to the thinking that badges and credentials are different things. Badges are a delivery mechanism for credentials – whatever those credentials may represent. A credential can represent a skill, a job, a degree, or even that I commented on this blog post. As Open Badges, each of these represent a data point that can be used in myriads of ways. The power of Open Badges is that it provides a specification for credentials to be commonly understood as human and machine readable data.

    Sidebar: I don’t agree with Wikipedia’s definition of credentials because it includes “issued to an individual by a third party with a relevant or de facto authority or assumed competence to do so.”. The Oxford definition of a credential is better: “A qualification, achievement, personal quality, or aspect of a person’s background, typically when used to indicate that they are suitable for something”.

  4. Karen Jeffrey

    In order for Open Badges to be successful, I think you’re right that they would benefit from having a clear purpose rather than trying to be everything for all things learning. Right now, the standard is designed so that the control of Badges is in the hands of the issuer and not the learner. As such Open Badges are well suited for Micro-credentialing and not so much for other purposes.

  5. Pingback: Badges + credentials, another visual take | Persona

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