Digital badges: the future of education?
With the rapid expansion of educational content on the internet, it has become easy for any interested person to gain access to some of the world’s best programmes of study. So for example iTunes U brings you free courses from the world’s leading universities, and elsewhere learned journals are publishing free access scholarly articles online. Knowledge is being democratised and opened up in a way that would have been unthinkable until very recently. The only thing still protecting ‘traditional’ universities is their monopoly of degree awarding powers. But is all this about to change?
Meet the ‘digital badge‘. This is essentially an electronic method of gaining recognition for activities undertaken, and skills or knowledge acquired. The intention of those promoting the concept is that digital badges will become recognised currency as a qualification. So will this be the ultimate modularisation, with people assembling their own programme of achievement and qualification? I suspect it is unlikely that digital badges will replace university degree qualifications for those who need the latter, but the informality and flexibility of the concept may potentially have an influence on how degree programmes are structured.
Universities are essentially the guardians of formal knowledge and structured inquiry. They will not lose their place in the field of education, but education itself will continue to change. Not all universities may find this transformation equally easy.