Badges Will Be Big

Earlier this month there was a flurry about badges.  “Who needs a university anymore?” asked David Wiley, a Brigham Young University professor and open education resource (OER) advocate in a NYTime piece.  The article noted free courses at Stanford and MIT where  “the courses will be free, but the testing—and the credential—will have a price tag.”
I’m bullish about badges and job certification like Jobs for the Future Credentials that Work and just-in-time job training like the online program just launched by  But I think they’ll be even bigger in K-12.
Audrey Watters reviewed the Badges for Lifelong Learning awards at DML12 earlier this month—a MacArthur funded celebration of informal learning.   Henry Jenkins voice some skepticism about badgemania and I guess I agree about the anyone-can-earn-a- badge-from-anyone-for-anything explosion of badges.
I get the Christensen’s non-consumption thesis and starting in the informal space, but my interest in badges remains in the heart of K-12 education and the Common Core State Standards.
We need a great Common Core-aligned merit badge system that motivates and recognizes achievement.  It should be free and open.  Badges should be awarded based on multiple forms of assessment.  Badges should be linked to multiple forms of instruction.
I’ve argued that while there are 10 elements of emerging learning ecosystems, achievement recognition systems (badges and other data visualization strategies) and recommendation engines will be the two critical components that will anchor the ecosystems.
Here’s my point—folks are treating badges as peripheral and I think they (and related achievement recognition systems) will be core to the shift to student-centered and competency-based learning. Specifically,

  • they will personalize learning by guide choices on what to learn, how to learn, and how to demonstrate learning
  • they will motivate accelerated learning by recognizing achievement
  • they will simplify the management of competency-based environments

Badges will be big.
For more, see:

Disclosure: General Assembly is a portfolio company of Learn Capital where Tom is a partner

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Lisa Nielsen

Badges make sense, yes. But the idea that everyone needs the same badges does not.

Mark Bavisotto

Hi Tom,
At edustruct we're currently implementing our badging system that will be focused on the points you brought up here. I'm a big believer that we need to revamp our education system that focuses on student achievement and not pass/fail factory model principals. I loved this article and I hope we can connect further down the road and discuss more about this


Tom Vander Ark

Mark, thanks for commenting. I'd like to learn more. Interesting timing--I'm writing and talking about badge systems tomorrow.

Kathleen Marshall

I should have known you'd be asking for these. I'm sad they don't already exist. I found your article doing a search for CCSS merit badges. I was hoping there'd already be something I could borrow from. I heard you speak at a Pearson conference a couple years ago and LOVE what you have to say about education. I'll look at the links you posted and see about making something up on my own. Please let me know if something has happened in this area since you wrote this article.

Hey Tom, great seeing you at New Schools Venture Fund Summit recently. has a complete Common Core badge set in development and is set to release them in August 2014. Very exciting space.


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