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Badges? We don’t need no … Or do we?

As employee and executive education evolves, so too does the way we acknowledge student achievement and proficiency. Tear up those paper certificates and say hello to digital badges, a new form of micro-credential that’s making waves.

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College diplomas may make the cut and adorn your office walls, but what about that certificate recognizing your completion of an eight-week management course or the one noting your participation in a refresher course on the latest industry software?

Those probably ended up in the same place as that participation ribbon you got from the fourth grade spelling bee — in a dusty box or, more likely, the trash.

While continuing education and professional development are important, even vital, components of career growth, that piece of paper you “earned” rarely tells the whole story. As little value as it may hold for you, it probably means even less to an employer.

A growing trend aims to change that in the form of digital badges. Locally, Madison College is at the forefront of this trend.

“Discussions on the concept of badging began appearing in higher education publications in late 2011, which is how I became aware of them,” notes Kate Radionoff, dean at the School of Professional and Continuing Education, Madison College. “I immediately saw how they could be used to document noncredit vocational training. Previously, the incumbent adult workers who typically take these classes would receive a grade of Satisfactory on their college transcript, which most noncredit students would not access. Badges could specifically document what granular skill sets the noncredit student mastered. Badges could then be electronically shared with employers, as well as posted on social media sites such as LinkedIn.”

Madison College began issuing digital badges on a test basis with the noncredit Dietary Manager Certificate program, says Radionoff. “The first challenge was finding a software vendor for badges. It took a few months but we located a startup vendor based in New York and issued our first badges in 2012. We believe that Madison College was the first technical college in the country to issue digital badges.”

According to Radionoff, the college’s biggest takeaway from the implementation process was to view the badges and skills that badges contain as if employers were viewing them. “What would an employer care and want to know about? After a year we also realized that we needed badge technology that could scale up and was secure and reliable. Pearson Vue noticed my work in this fledgling field and approached me about becoming a beta site for their in-development badging system.”

As of Aug. 1, 2017, Madison College has awarded digital badges in 115 noncredit courses, including courses it’s helped develop for Cleary Building Corp., to a total of 3,154 students, says Lesley Voigt, faculty curriculum and digital badge director for Madison College.

So far just one credit program at the college has implemented badging, but it’s proven successful there, as well. The college’s Medical Assistant program has awarded 252 badges as of Aug. 1.

Other local employers that Madison College has provided training and learner badges include KGW Management, North Central Group, Clarion Suites, Food Fight Restaurant Group, Hilton-Madison, Best Western, The Edgewater, EVCO, Hampton Inn, Hotel Red, AgSource, Verona Hotel Group, and the Madison Concourse.

Badge of honor

One of the primary appeals of badging, Radionoff explains, is that the digital platform each student receives with their badges can provide so much more relevant information about the concepts and skills the students acquired and mastered than a piece of paper that may only indicate a student participated in a course.

To earn a digital badge for noncredit courses, a student must have successfully passed all “badge tasks,” Voigt explains further. “Depending on the course [this could] include a wide variety of assessments, but [at a minimum] it must include an assessment [that all coursework was] passed at an 80% or above. In addition, the student must earn an 80% or above total final grade for the course. With this methodology, a student could technically still earn a satisfactory in their course, but not earn the digital badge. We did this deliberately as we will not issue a badge to students with low proficiencies.

“To earn a digital badge for credit programming, the student must not only pass all assessments, but pass them at the “Exceptional” level of 93% or above,” Voigt adds.

Madison College uses the Acclaim badging platform from Pearson, which launched in 2014 to apply a new web standard for verifiable digital learning credentials to the full range of employment-focused skills, competencies, and certifications.

“Acclaim is focused on working with reputable organizations to confer recognition for resume-worthy achievements,” says Peter Janzow, senior director business development for Acclaim. “What this means in practice is that the groups who issue badges must be accredited and must invest in the quality of their learning and certification programs so employers can trust those outcomes.

“We rely on our issuing organizations to apply the kind of rigor to their badges that make earning one something that really helps an individual move forward in his or her career,” Janzow continues. “But the key to ensuring acceptance in the job market is really active collaboration between issuers and employers. For example, Madison College has engaged its local employer advisors and industry partners to shape and validate its badges. The expectation is that those same employers will then give preference to learners who present their credentials in the form of Madison College badges that they helped to create.”

In a nutshell, students aren’t getting lauded simply for showing up. With the way Madison College has set up its digital badging program, an employer sending its employees to the college for continuing education will know which employees truly mastered their coursework compared to those who simply passed. It opens up a whole new world for employers to track employee growth and performance.

That was important for Verona-based Cleary Building Corp.

Cleary started working with Madison College on its employee education programs in 2015. It started with conversations about the Corporate-to-College program, which lead to further discussions about digital badges, explains Mike Wuennemann, director of marketing for Cleary Building Corp.

Cleary invests more than $250,000 annually in training to enable employees to obtain specific knowledge or skills required to excel in their jobs. The company chose to test the badges on training courses for its new sales employees.


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