While the recognition of formal learning rests on the extensive paraphernalia of grades, exams, diplomas and certificates, are those instruments fit for the recognition, validation and accreditation (RVA) of informal learning? Does the recognition of informal learning mean formal recognition of informal learning, or is there a space for developing something akin to the informal recognition of informal learning? What policies, strategies, practices, supporting infrastructures and technologies could make informal recognition possible and valuable? How to best combine the formal and informal recognition of learning to support lifelong learning?
The contribution of Open Badges to rethinking learning recognition
When addressing the issue of recognition of informal learning, what is generally explored is the formal recognition of informal learning: under which conditions official authorities recognise informal learning, so it could be further recognised by other stakeholders like potential employers or clients (for the self-employed). Yet, informal recognition of informal learning exists, for example when a technician is promoted engineer by an employer, but this recognition tends to remain local. Open Badges are changing that by providing the opportunity to make local recognition global.
The contribution of Open Badges to the recognition of learning is the provision of a unified instrument supporting:
- The recognition of formal (accreditation) as well as informal learning—using Open Badges in formal learning settings can contribute to increasing its acceptance for informal learning.
- Learners taking control over the recognition processes—using Open Badges to grow their identity and social reputation.
Depending on who is at the initiative of the recognition process we can distinguish two main types of badges:
- Claims: the process is controlled by the recipient who is seeking recognition by peers, members of the community or authorities, e.g. a person creates her own badge describing a personal achievement and asks others to endorse it or someone to issue the badge on her behalf.
- Credentials: the process is controlled by the issuing authority and is delivered upon satisfaction of the criteria. Although badges can be used for macro-credentials, like diplomas, this kind of badges is often used to deliver finer grained credentials called micro-credentials.
While today Open Badges are mainly used as micro-credentials delivered by authorities (schools, universities), there is a huge untapped potentials in using badges to support learner-controlled recognition processes as an alternative and/or support to formal recognition, validation and accreditation. This could be particularly valuable in countries with poor or inexistent formal systems of recognition.
Open Badges to Open Recognition
As visual symbols, Open Badges are accessible to people within a wide range of literacy levels. Using badges as the milestones of a curriculum or a learning programme is a means to convey their meaning to all prospective learners. As visual symbols are used for all kinds of programmes, from basic literacy to rocket scientist, there would be no stigma attached with Open Badges as something “just for people with low literacy levels.” Moreover, those who have earned a badge would be able to share their achievements with the members of their community, independently of their respective literacy levels.
So we have the following virtuous circle:
- Open Badges makes the learning provision visible to people with low literacy levels.
- Open Badges makes the learning achievements of people with low literacy levels visible to all.
- As learners with low literacy levels can share their achievements within their community, it is an incentive for other members of the community to share their own achievements.
Moreover, Open Badges open the “space of recognition” far beyond formal recognition. While competency Badges have the advantage of providing a finer level of granularity to the recognition process, the recognition process itself remains in the conformance quadrant (formal/traditional): badges tell what the person was able to do in the past, information from which one can infer possible future performance. In the other quadrant, empowerment (non-forma/non-traditional), we have self-issued badges and peer-endorsed badges so someone could for example making a statement by claiming the Doctor Badge to then go to the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières to offer their services in their current capacity, get the badge endorsed by their peers and colleagues in these communities then go to the university using that badge in the application form to demonstrate her commitment and personal values.
About the "Plan of Recognition":
The 2 axes defining the Plan of Recognition are:
- Formal (institution centred) / Informal (community centred
- Traditional (static, centred on past achievements / Non-Traditional (dynamic focused on the future)
Those 2 axes define 4 quadrants:
- Conformance (formal / traditional)
- Inclusion (informal / traditional)
- Empowerment (informal / non-traditional)
- Enabling (formal / non-traditional)