Tag Archives: learning process

Instead of diplomas: Badges

For a long time courses are completed with a diploma. However, the number of different qualifications has grown exponentially. in the US there eight times more different diplomas than 20 years ago. There are thousands of providers and most of these are not accredited. In addition, we are dealing with diplomas from many countries. In short, the value of a degree is difficult to judge beforehand.

But there is another side. Many people – young and old – do not aspire to graduate. They want a specific job, have appropriate training and receive a certificate that proves they possess the required competences [1] .


For both problems is a solution in the form of badges, micro-credentials or email credentials: These are (digital) documents proving that someone has specific knowledge and / or skills. There are now more than 3,000 organisations who provide badges, including educational institutions and 9corporate)  training institutions [2] .

For a well-functioning system of badges  several conditions must be fulfilled. Here are the main ones:


The knowledge and / or skills a badge is referring at must be unambiguous. Also, there must be an unmistakable reference to the level of mastery that has been acquired. It measurement should be made explicit. The Degree Qualifications Profile , prepared by Lumina is a useful tool to identify the level [3] .


Badges must have a common technical standard and they have to include include information about the owner, the supplier, the content and the way in which this knowledge and skill is measured. The Open Badges Standard of IMS Global Learning is likely to operate as such. In the Netherlands, SURF is working on a technical specification of badges [4] .



Owners must have a platform to show their badges. For this purpose various websites are in use, such as Backpack [5] .

The main enabler of badges is the rapid spread of competency-based education. This type of education requires an accurate description of learning outcomes; The knowledge and skills that a person has acquired after participating in formal, non-formal and informal learning activities.

Concordia University in Wisconsin is – as far as I know – the first university program -Master in educational technology – that is certified by  badges. There are 50; each of which corresponds with some learning outcomes [6]. The time that students have spend to reach this goal is irrelevant.

Another interesting development is that providers of training (formal and non-formal) in a specific region or city work together and offer a broad range of badges. Here too, local employers are concerned [7] . The Open Badge Network [8] (Europe) has drawn up a brief Charter. In the US, the Cities of Learning initiative, for example, Chicago City of learning, can be mentioned [9] .

screenshot second copy

I see many advantages in the development outlined here, but at the same time I am also afraid of a fragmented focus on learning.

I have repeatedly accentuated the importance of the acquisition of critical thinking. It is inconceivable that students learn to think critically by taking part in just one educational activity. Therefore critical thinking can not be checked by just one single badge. The ability to think critically develops gradually if students are confronted repeatedly with realistic social and scientific problems, gain knowledge about these problems, do research, weigh solutions and eventually come to a judgement. This means that earning badges alone is not enough, but additional requirements are necessary concerning their consistency.

A more precise use of the term competence can contribute to this. A separate badge means that a student has demonstrated to own a certain amount of knowledge and skills. In that case, badges can be connected to modules, courses or work in practice. In contrast, a competency  refers to the (intellectual) capabilities of a graduate.

The badges system is far from mature. It is a hopeful start to honour  extracurricular experiences, and to enable the debundling of the acquisition of knowledge and skills by deploying various learning opportunities at home and abroad.

[1] For the requirements that can be imposed on badges: http://www.openbadgenetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/O4A3-OBN-Guidelines-for-Open-Badges-in-Territories. pdf

[2] For an overview of what has been achieved in five years https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7kHRuri9QdPQmRfdXZrblpSX0U/view

[3] The framework is developing rapidly and has eight levels. It is specified for knowledge and skills. these are in turn broken down into specialized skills, personal skills and social skills: https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/connecting-credentials.pdf . This framework is very similar to the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning a life https://ec.europa.eu/ploteus/sites/eac-eqf/files/leaflet_nl.pdf

[4] , see: https://www.surf.nl/binaries/content/assets/surf/nl/2017/open-badges_surfnet-pilot-scenario’s_frans-ward_3feb.pdf

[5] are now more than a million badges placed on the Backpack website https://backpack.openbadges.org/backpack/welcome

[6] Educational institutions collaborate with employers. For example, this is done by the Foundation for California Community Colleges and the New World of Work

[7] Examples of this are: Open Badges Scottish Education Group, the UK Badge the project and the Open Badges DACH User Group in Germany. For a discussion; http://www.openbadgenetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/O4A3-OBN-Guidelines-for-Open-Badges-in-Territories.pdf

[8] portal:  www.openbadgenetwork.com

[9] https://chicagocityoflearning.org

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Agility and the future of universities

Higher education is the subject of sustained criticism. 81% of US employers are referring at a skills gap[1] and 51% believe that graduates are underprepared for the labour market[2]. Young teachers in particular complain being overburdened and underpaid. Students are contesting growing performativity, alleged commodification and subsequent rigidity of the curriculum, lack employment and in the US towering debts.screenshot-5At first sight, students’ and employers’ interests are opposed. The recent Reimagining Education Conference at Wharton University revealed quite a different perspective[3]. According to Santiago Inigues, dean of IE Business School (Madrid), most employers mention specific skills (coding, accounting, marketing, language) but in the first place they prefer broad education (‘Bilding’), including critical thinking and problem solving skills, ability to communicate, to work in groups, to handle conflicts and language proficiency. Employers won’t believe it, but these competencies are exactly the intended earning outcome of liberal arts colleges.

Unfortunately, liberal arts colleges have a brand trust issue. Participants of the conference agreed that many do not deliver what they promise. There is ample evidence that quite a number of its students lack any progress in problem solving and critical thinking skills during their undemanding study[4].

On the other hand, those who want to acquire specific skills like coding, marketing, accounting or foreign languages should avoid universities. A growing number of dedicated institutions like Fullbridge and General Assembly offer competency-based courses on line, blended or face-to-face. These courses are better and cheaper than the offer of any university whatsoever. According to Jaime Casap (Google) companies like his’ are monitoring job applicants’ competences and are not or only remotely interested in their subject, grade or university. Universities seem to have lost their way.


What went wrong? According to Martin Luckmann and Christiana Prange universities are no longer what their name suggests: Universitas magistrorum et scolarium literally means community of teachers and students[5]. Instead, universities have become a credit-point producing industry, delivering grades of variable but mostly mediocre importance. The problem is not that teachers aren’t competent in their subject: They fail in supporting the development of students’generic academic competences or in plan language, as academic educators[6].

imagesLuckmann and Prange compare the current approach to learning in universities with the development of enterprise software. The implementation of massive all-embracing software in companies seldom results in satisfying solutions. The same applies to a curriculum that has to serve hundreds of students at once. In software development the agile approach is gaining ground, which in essence is based on interaction between developers and customers, taking customers’ needs and wants as starting point.

images-1In the same way, agile universities will put the interaction between students and teachers in the centre. Therefor they rely in a large degree on self-organization. A rich variety of teaching-learning interactions appear, mostly based on co-design. Students are getting acquainted with a broad range of disciplines and learn to search, apply and deepen relevant knowledge in projects, favourably in collaboration with parties outside the university.

The agile university has not to be more expensive than conventional universities. Getting acquainted with theoretical knowledge can be self-organized by deploying free available high quality open educational resources. Lecture halls are superfluous. Instead, universities will become networks of academic workplaces, varying from townhouses to sophisticated labs. The agile university has no fixed study length. Students will combine study with other work or invest in their own development.


Graduates of the agile university have been stimulated to adapt their study path to their emerging interest in an intensive exchange with fellow-students, teachers and people outside the university. Their acknowledgement with the agile method will enable them afterwards to be adaptive in a large range of situations where their professional or personal opinion is demanded.


Any master plan that intends to reinvent a university or faculty as an agile workplace will fail. The development of agile learning places requires agility itself, carefully taking into consideration local personal and characteristics, opportunities and constraints. Eager proponents at best facilitate teachers and groups who want to change teaching and learning practices. Their example will be followed, criticized and improved and agile workplaces will emerge. The result might be excellent, albeit in an unpredictable way.

[1] Survey American Society for Testing and Development (2012)

[2] McKinsey (2012)

[3] My account of this conference is based on a World Economic Forum publication: Education vs work skills: what do employers really want? http://weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/education-vs-work-skills-what-do-employers-really-want/

[4] Read about the lack of progress in critical and analytical thinking skills in my post ‘Why universities underachieve’: http://wp.me/p3lna5-4n

[5] Luckmann and Prange wrote a though provoking contribution in Global Focus, the magazine of the EFMD: Agile Universities http://globalfocusmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Issue_2_2016_agileuniversities.pdf

[6] The obvious exception are universities with an elaborated system of tutoring like Cambridge and Oxford

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Filed under Higher education

MOOCs: The announcement of the wrong revolution

A litany of recent complaints shows that something is wrong with higher education: Cost are rising with 10% every year (US), content has lost track with the explosive development of new knowledge, alumni’s competences do not match with the requirements of the labour market, teachers deliver lectures in the same way as their predecessors did for centuries, revenues for society are unclear. 40% of all students are leaving without a grade. Universities are inside looking, fixed at ratings, complacent and self-confident and so do not consider any reason for change.

According to Christensen[1], universities are on the eve of disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation is the fast acceptance by the public of affordable new products and services, which were disregarded by established companies and are mostly offered by new entrants.

MOOC producentenLess than one year ago, the first MOOCs (massive online open course) were launched. Their pros and cons are discussed in an uncountable number of blogs; presumably, papers in academic journals are still in the peer review stage. The appearance of MOOCs is pleasing me. Not because they are free of charge or massive, but because they open the gates towards uncountable sources of knowledge, which will allow students to customize their need for information. I am confident that MOOCs will displace lecture-based teaching at short notice

However, this is the wrong revolution.

The future of the lecture theatre

The future of the lecture theatre

The exchange of lectures for MOOCs does not question the dominance of the acquisition of knowledge in higher education. Yet broad agreement exist that higher education in the first place has to develop ‘readiness for society’. The attainment of this goal is encompassing three learning processes: (1) the acquaintance of relevant knowledge, (2) the application of knowledge and (3) and the exchange between codified and practical (or tacit) knowledge. The best way by far to organize these learning processes is by merging them.

Learning processes

Learning processes

A critical assessment of mainstream of higher education reveals that universities spent most energy on delivery of knowledge. Application of knowledge is dominated by ‘near transfer’, which means that students learn to give practical examples of theoretical concepts. ‘Far transfer’ originates from the analysis and solving of real problems, without prior exposure to cues about relevant knowledge. It occurs in Schools that deploy problem or project-based learning. Exchange of codified and practical knowledge is absent in general. It might take place during internships, but projects outside the university are better and moreover, they offer opportunity for integration with other learning processes.

A balanced and integrated approach of the three learning processes mentioned above is occurring in only few universities. Elsewhere, students learn (and forget) lots of knowledge, have only limited experience with the application of knowledge and are ignorant of the clash between codified and practical knowledge. Consequently, the majority of our universities are disavowing their main goal, the development of ‘readiness for society’. It is this verdict that justifies a revolution in higher education.

Who will smash the first tomato and start the right revolution?

I guess, nobody will, and this brings me back to the topic of disruptive innovation. Corporate universities have the best chance to take over higher education for adults at short notice. They are in a perfect place to organize projects and to exchange codified and practical knowledge. Until now, they are incompetent to organize the delivery of knowledge. Still, the breakthrough of MOOCs will make the difference. Deploying MOOCs will enable corporate academies to organize the three educational processes mentioned above in an integrated fashion at relatively low-cost. This will enable companies to scale up their learning programs and to improve the level of competence of their employees, which is badly needed in face of our society’s need for innovation.

[1] Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, Louis Caldera, and Louis Soares: Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education February 2011 http://goo.gl/ogr5r


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