Last Updated Oct 3, 2011 10:58 AM EDT
This question is being asked more frequently as the cost of college continues to rise while the product -- a bachelor's degree - doesn't guarantee that the owner has learned much in college.
Earning a Digital BadgeThe traditional college degree may not be as necessary in the future if the concept of so-called digital badges takes off. People who earn digital badges signify to employers what their skills and knowledge are regardless of whether or not they possess a degree.
While the concept of digital badges has been kicking around for awhile, the movement has received a huge endorsement from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The foundation recently announced a $2 million competition to create digital badges and a badge system that unlocks career and educational opportunities by recognizing 21st century skills wherever they have been learned.
The digital badge endorsers, including Mozilla, which is involved in the effort, envision that badges could be awarded by online and open-courseware providers, companies, community organizations, professional groups and even colleges.
The digital badge concept is an intriguing attempt to allow Americans to show what they know without relying on degrees. It can also be a boost for Americans with college degrees who want to change jobs, but don't have the requisite degree to back up what they know or have learned informally.
The Beauty of Digital BadgesHere's Mozilla's take on the potential of badges:
Open Badges will let you gather badges from any site on the Internet, combining them into a story about what you know and what you've achieved...This sort of badge collection may eventually become a central part of online reputation, helping you get a job, find collaborators and build prestige.
For employers, badges can make hiring easier because the badges would provide a more complete picture of what a job candidate can do. An employer could click on a candidate's online badges and see the person's work, reviews and endorsements.
Here are some examples from Mozilla on how digital badges can work for American workers.
I think the digital badge movement is a thrilling and much-needed development that could shake up the monopolistic higher-ed world. Shaking up the status quo is what the The Chronicle of Higher Education envisioned in a recent story on digital badges:
..what if higher ed lost its grip on the credential business? Perhaps then administrators and professors would be forced to think that there is more than one way to provide a college education.
Amen to that.
If you want to learn more, check out this open badges white paper.
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Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and Shrinking the Cost of College workbook. She also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.
Digital badge image by goodimages. CC 2.0.