Colleges and universities have a monopoly on learning credentials. The college degree remains the gold standard of achievement and preparation for employment for good reasons: tradition, comparative quality, standardization and accreditation.
But what does a college degree really say about the earner? It says the earner has fulfilled the requirements for the credential (degree) as determined by the faculty and overseeing board. That credential is validated by the accreditation status of the institution and other important factors such as institutional brand, faculty status, even the physical institution itself. In other words, the traditional credential of the college degree says more about the institution that granted the degree than the individual who earned it.
Diplomas are out of context; or, rather, they exist solely within the context of the granting agency, thus providing little evidence to an employer that the learner has the specific skill set and understanding to succeed in the workplace and providing a depersonalized perspective of an individual’s interests and accomplishments. In a flexible portfolio system controlled by the learner, there are multiple contexts, including the institution, the individual, the environment, the workplace, etc. An alternative credentialing system such as an ePortfolio or badging system can personalize a traditional credential and allow learners to showcase specific competencies.
Here are a few things to consider when developing an alternative credentialing system:
1. An alternative credentialing system showcases specific competencies
Competency-based education focuses on discrete components of learning (skills, experiences, knowledge areas) that provide a granular view of learner accomplishment through connecting course concepts to visible demonstrations or ‘artifacts’ of learning. Alternative credentials such as ePortfolios and badges showcase competencies with associated evidence that can be used by the learner to display marketable skills and experiences.
2. The learner has control of the portfolio
Unlike the form and message of a college degree, a portfolio can be manipulated and modified by the learner for specific purposes or audiences. Certain components of a portfolio can serve as job aids, presentation vehicles, or records of growth in specific areas.
3. Badges work best when part of a portfolio
Badges recognize and showcase skills and knowledge gained inside or out of the traditional academy. They help personalize an individual’s learning trajectory, promote lifelong learning and display specific competencies. They function best as part of a portfolio of work that includes curricular competencies and institutional experiences.
4. Alternative credentials can be both inward and outward facing
Used inwardly, they provide motivation for the earner, a clear pathway for success, a sense of accomplishment and a record of achieving course, program or degree competencies. Used outwardly, they can represent the earner to employers, institutions or certification bodies. Both functions of a portfolio have merit and should be used synchronously.
The traditional credential of the college degree and the alternative credential of the portfolio or badge can work in concert to present a more complete record of a learner’s competencies. While a college degree carries the value of tradition that relies on the name and reputation of the institution for validation, the strength of an alternative credentialing system lies in the granularity of information and the evidence of accomplishment that focuses on the learner as an individual. When used together, a learner will be able to showcase a personal and specific record of achievement.
Instituting an alternative credentialing system demands careful consideration of instructional design, competency-based learning and portfolio design. Systems such as the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure and organizations such as HASTAC and AAEEBL provide starting points for those interested in exploring alternative credentials.
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