A hierarchy of digital badges – Level 1 Accredited

Part of me thinks it’s a really dumb idea to try to identify a hierarchy for digital badges and particular to try to name them. Because the people out there that don’t get badges are often the same kinds of people that get fixated on names for things and let the names blind them to the function or purpose of the thing. (This is why we start getting things called micro-credentials and nano-degrees. Personally I would’ve called them chazzwozzers but that’s just me)

Maybe hierarchy isn’t even the right term – taxonomy could work just as well but I do actually believe that some badges have greater value than others – determined by the depth and rigour of their metadata and their credibility with an audience. (Which isn’t to say that some educators mightn’t find classroom/gamified badges far more valuable in their own practice).

In the discussions that I’ve seen of digital badges, advocates tend to focus on the kinds of badges that suit their own needs. Quite understandable of course but it does feel as though this might be slowing down progress by setting up distracting side-debates about what a valid badge even is.

Here is a quick overview of the badge types that I have come across so far. If I’ve missed something, please let me know.

Level 1 – Accredited 

Accredited badges recognise the attainment of specific skills and/or knowledge that has the highest level of accountability. The required elements of these skills are identified in fine detail, multiple auditable assessments are conducted (and ideally reviewed) and supporting evidence of the badge recipient’s skill/knowledge is readily available.

I work in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector in Australia, where every single qualification offered is built on a competency based education framework. Each qualification is comprised of at least 8 different Units of Competency, which are generally broken down into 4 or 5 elements that describe highly specific job skills.

VET is a national system meaning that a person undertaking a Certificate Level 4 in Hairdressing is required to demonstrate the same competence in a specific set of skills anywhere in the country. The system is very tightly regulated and the standards for evidence of competence are high. Obviously, other education sectors have similarly high standards attached to their formal qualifications.

Tying the attainment of a Level 1 badge to an existing accredited education/training program seems like a no-brainer really. The question of trust in the badge is addressed by incorporating the rigour applied to the attainment of the existing qualification and having a very clearly defined set of achieved skills/knowledge offers the badge reader clarity about the badge earner’s abilities.

E.G. A badge for Apply graduated haircut structures could easily be awarded to a hairdressing apprentice on completion of that Unit of Competency in the Certificate III in Hairdressing. It would include the full details of the Unit of Competency in the badge metadata, which could also include a link to evidence (photos/video/teacher reports) in the learner’s ePortfolio.

I use a VET example because that’s what I know best (and because it seems a natural fit for badges) but obviously, any unit in a formal qualification would work just as well

Next post, I’ll look at Level 2 – Work skills