Could Badge Systems Replace Degrees and Diplomas?

By Catherine Groux
Posted January 13, 2012 03:40 PM

Could college diplomas soon be replaced by badges?
Could college diplomas soon be replaced by badges?
While most academic leaders cannot dispute the value of earning a college degree, some argue that the diploma system is not the best way to assess what students actually learned during their programs. For this reason, some professionals are turning to the badge system, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Under badge programs, students get small achievements, or "badges," for displaying a mastery of a particular subject. Generally, these badges are fairly easy to earn, which theoretically keeps students motivated enough to continue in their studies.

Currently, the new learning system is used by academic websites like Khan Academy, where students can earn badges such as "Master of Algebra" and "Great Listener." However, established schools across the country are also testing the system. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for example, launched an online education system in December called MITx, where students can earn credentials for going through free course materials. Additionally, MIT has an arrangement with OpenStudy in which students can earn online badges for providing helpful answers on discussion forums.

David Wiley, an associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young University, is one advocate of this type of badge system, the Chronicle reports. Wiley feels that in the future, postsecondary students will earn a handful of badges from free or low-cost schools and perhaps supplement their knowledge with a couple on-campus classes at local universities. This, he said, will alter higher education completely.

"We have to question the tyranny of the degree," Wiley told the Chronicle. "As soon as big employers everywhere start accepting these new credentials, either singly or in bundles, the gig is up completely."

Wiley is not the only supporter of the badge system. In September 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke about using the new learning system for secondary school students, but stated that it would work for learners at all levels.

"Badges can help engage students in learning and broaden the avenues for learners of all ages to acquire and demonstrate – as well as document and display – their skills," Duncan said in a statement. "Badges can help speed the shift from credentials that simply measure seat time, to ones that more accurately measure competency. We must accelerate that transition. And, badges can help account for formal and informal learning in a variety of settings."

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