How might we capture learning beyond the traditional transcript in ways that are meaningful to employers?
For three years, the Lab has been deeply engaged in addressing this challenge and has gained a great deal of expertise regarding the importance of 21st century skills to employers and learners. Our efforts have provided us with great insights into how we might address the “skills gap” and the role institutions, learners and employers could potentially play. In partnership with universities, employers, and entrepreneurs, and after looking at best and emerging practices, frameworks and technology, the Lab has identified digital badging as one possible—and promising—way to display the intentional practice and acquisition of these critical skills.
Building a Badge: Criteria, Core Components, and Sub-Competencies
The 21st century skills badges have emerged out of several years of research and co-creation with a broad range of university, employer, and thought partners. Now leading a range of higher education institutions in an effort to build out the full suite of 21st century skills badges, the Lab guides from an ecosystem perspective and applying constraints, as well as ample room for experimentation. While the badges are customized to each institution’s resources and learner population, the suite of badges share important criteria and components—standards which arose out of conversations and co-design sessions with schools, students, and employers.
During the early phases of the badging challenge, conversations and pressure tests with key stakeholders helped the Lab identify the design criteria for a micro-credential that would be meaningful to employers. The badges must be: rigorous (i.e., competency based, not participation based); transparent (i.e., what the student did to achieve the badge (the metadata) are clear); portable (i.e., the badge can be achieved and used by students regardless of the institution they attend); assessable (i.e., the badge consists of skills that can be tested); simple; machine-readable to be visible to hiring personell.
When diving into the learner side and the process of earning a badge, the Lab identified three core components of the earning process: Knowledge, Assessment, and Experience and Self-Reflection. It is the overlap of deep skill comprehension, external guidance and information from assessments and mentors, and hands-on experience and personal evaluation that yields the greatest impact.
The constellation of 21st Century Skills that employers care about
This year, the Lab and cohort schools are taking the 21st century skills badges one step further. Each school is building and testing a badge earning process with students; this includes knowledge, assessment, and experience and self-reflection modules. In order for schools to measure 21st century skills—to make badges that signal true proficiency—they are investigating the core competencies underlying each 21st century skill—the sub-competencies. Sub-competencies, such as deep listening, originality, and situational awareness, allow schools to find meaningful and direct methods for assessing, learning, and developing a multifaceted 21st century skill.
“Because…I am a business student in Tunisia, which is a country where we do not usually have easy access to learn such abilities and skills. Secondly, because this is an opportunity that would help me to be a better person, and in the professional domain.”
-Student, Tunis Business School, on why he is involved in the Badging Challenge
A Transformative Experience
Now in Year 2 of leading a cohort of institutions in the design of these badges and the formation of multiple student pilots designed to test the elements of the badges, we have learned that the process of “earning” a 21st century skills badge is not just an educational experience, or a method for validating an existing skill—but a transformative experience for the learner. Presented with opportunities to engage in peer-to-peer workshops, mentorship discussions, developmental assessments, and self-initiated learning, students became acutely aware of—and more skilled at presenting—their personal narratives.
As the Lab anticipates the completion of the suite of 21st century skills badges this year, the narrative of the badges continues to unfold. In addition to facilitating the design of badges with higher education institutions and learners, the Lab is connecting ecosystem leaders and innovators—including credentialing and technology experts—and working to illuminate the ecosystem underlying the promise of 21st century skills digital badges. Facilitating ongoing work with learners and institutions and initiating cross-industry collaboration, the team looks forward to refining this possible solution to the challenge: How might we capture learning beyond the traditional transcript in ways that are meaningful to employers?
Interested in learning more?
Working across the school-to-work pipeline, the Lab is constantly reminded of the need to question whether the current multi-faceted ecosystem that links learners, institutions and employers can support changing educational models, an emerging set of credentials (e.g., digital badges) and employer needs.
Bay Path University
George Mason University
Tunis Business School
University of Arizona
University of Virginia