Digital Badges

Now you’ll be able to show your employer how you spent your weekend (Photo by wales_gibbons)

Employers are constantly looking for ways to sort good potential employees from the rest of the crowd. Unfortunately, a barebones resume doesn’t supply much information. Neither does a single-page cover letter, especially if an applicant has esoteric skills that lie outside the norm for his area of expertise.

Once again, the digital world is riding to the rescue. If the Mozilla Foundation and its partners have their way, digital badges will be like UPC codes for people. A person’s entire career, from cub scouts to scuba diving, will be posted to his resume, along with all of his academic credentials. Employers could then simply go online, type in an applicant’s name, and everything he’d accomplished would be laid out in full detail and living color. The best badges would even incorporate video or slideshows.

Don’t get over-excited yet, though. Digital badges are still in the infancy stage. Mozilla and other backers are hosting the Fourth Digital Media and Learning Competition, looking for companies to develop four proposed types of badges. The Training Badge or Leveling System is the one most useful for job applicants.

In addition, the Dynamic Dossier Systems are dashboards to keep track of your gaming progress. Sites like Giant Bomb, Topcoder, and stackoverflow are examples of these digital badges.

Then there are social system badges. Their emphasis is on reinforcement of community values and connections, as exemplified in Habbo and foursquare.

The sports world hasn’t been left out. The last type of digital badge, the Ranking Badge Systems, alerts others to your reputation, so sandbagging is right out.

And now some universities have gotten in on the gig. Institutions like MIT and Purdue University are conducting their own tests of the digital badge system. Even NASA, NOAA and Pixar have gotten in on the act. With heavy hitters like these, the traditional resume may soon be a thing of the past. You’ll be able to keep track of every class and every course as soon as you’ve passed it. You won’t have to try to remember what you did ten years ago when you finally need to update that resume. And when you talk about the weekend you spent skydiving, or the big one that got away, you’ll have the evidence to prove it.

Want to see what all the fuss is about? If you haven’t encountered them yet, you can see a sample badge at openpassport.org.

The most important issue that must be resolved before digital badges will be accepted is creating standards for their issuance. Some neutral third party must find some means of credentialing the credentialers, just as is done for universities and colleges now. Unless and until employers can trust that digital badges really mean something, they’re not worth the space they take up on a server.

Whether digital badges end up catching on or not, they are one more example of how the digital world is constantly changing to reflect changes in reality. This is good news for distance learners, because something that seems to be impossible today may be standard operating procedure next year.

So be a good scout and go earn a badge. It couldn’t hurt, and you might learn something, too.

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