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Heard: Trading In College Degrees For Merit Badges In Tomorrow’s Workforce Economy?

By on January 25, 2012
Blended Learning, Continuing Education, Domestic, For-Profit, Open Source Education, Publishers & Curriculum, Required, Unemployment, Universities & Colleges

Badge of Military Merit - Badge du mérite Mili...
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Chronicle of Higher Education writer Jeffrey R. Young wrote a piece on WSJ.com about the job market borrowing the idea of merit badges from the Boy Scouts down the road. Will employers consider such badges of accomplishment more important than a college degree down the road? The thought piece puts a frame around the question of where projects like Khan Academy and Peter Thiel’s fund for college drop-outs may be heading. Young writes:

Like Boy Scout merit badges for professionals, these marks of achievement would show competence in specific skills, and they could be granted by any number of institutions. This is the vision of a growing number of education reformers who feel that the standard certification system no longer works in today’s fast-changing job market.

The Mozilla Foundation, the group that develops the popular Firefox Web browser, is designing a framework to let anyone with a Web page—colleges, companies, even individuals—issue forgery-proof digital badges that will give potential employers details about an applicant’s training at the click of a mouse. In September, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a $2 million grant program, run in coordination with Mozilla, to encourage organizations to try the badge system. More than 300 groups have applied. Even elite universities are experimenting with the approach. Last month the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced plans to issue badges to students who complete a new set of free online courses, as part of a self-learning project called MITx. (University officials call them certificates instead of badges.) MIT would charge a “modest fee” for the new credentials, but the price will surely be a bargain compared to the school’s annual tuition, which tops $40,000.

Even supporters of the badge idea concede that it could lead to problems. Dale Doherty, editor of Make Magazine, likes the approach, but he worries that there “will be sites that just dispense badges like candy, and that doesn’t help create any kind of credential or meaning around them.” Critics fear that job applicants would falsely claim badges, though the technology is being designed to prevent that. And traditional scholars worry that a badge economy would put too much emphasis on job training rather than the search for new ideas. Employers will ultimately determine whether badges are practical, and much will depend on how easy they are to use. Hiring managers who have trouble sorting through traditional resumes might need even more time to decode a patchwork of online badges. But the new credentials could transform hiring. 

Via The Wall Street Journal 



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