Beyond Badges: Open Pathways for Learning
The increasing importance of a learner’s ability to demonstrate the acquisition of knowledge and mastery of skills has led to a remarkable growth in adoption of Open Badges by educational institutions, non-traditional learning organizations, professional development associations, and other groups. Open Badges—information-rich portable digital credentials—signal learning achievements and provide a way to verify that a learner’s achievements are meaningful and can be trusted.
At the start of 2017, IMS Global Learning Consortium assumed the management for the future evolution and publishing of the Open Badges standard. Prior to this transition, Concentric Sky was a steward of the Badge Alliance and provided leadership in developing Open Badges 2.0, which is a major upgrade from the original specification.
The team at Concentric Sky, led by founder and CEO Wayne Skipper, believes in being open; they are passionate about the work that is being done in the digital credentials community. They backed this up by joining IMS Global as a Contributing Member in 2016 and have underscored this partnership by making key contributions from the start. Of special note, Concentric Sky’s director of Open Badges, Nate Otto, has been and continues to be a key contributor in the Open Badges Workgroup, which is now responsible for maintaining and updating the specification and related developer’s tools. And they stepped up in a big way by donating their BadgeCheck codebase so any organization wanting to utilize Open Badges has the tools to validate a badge in real-time. It is these types of contributions that are helping to advance the evolution of a learner-centered credentialing ecosystem.
“We like to think of ourselves as problem solvers. Over the years, we've solved some pretty interesting problems for some of the most prominent organizations in the world.”
—Wayne Skipper, Founder and CEO, Concentric Sky
Concentric Sky’s leadership in the Open Badges community was just the first step. Skipper likes to describe their organization as problem solvers. And although he sees tremendous value in portable credentials and their potential to transform education, Skipper recognizes there are limitations in the Open Badges ecosystem that must be addressed.
For instance, whether they were issued on the same or on different platforms, there is no way to link badges together so a learner can demonstrate their proficiency in a certain area or show a more comprehensive picture of their learning and achievements. The lack of data structure—something that would describe badges in terms of other badges—is a big gap in the existing landscape.
In addition, Skipper questions what learners do after they earn a badge. “You have this shiny credential of the future for your learners, but what do they do with it?” Posting the badge on networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook (two platforms that have yet to adopt the Open Badges standard) is tantamount to copying and pasting a paper certificate; you lose the ability to digitally verify the credential because these tools currently don’t support the features of Open Badges.
So, in order to answer these questions and realize the promise of Open Badges, Concentric Sky set out to fix these gaps. Their ideas on how to make badges more useful and meaningful for a learner have led to them to propose a new standard: Open Pathways.
“Now, what you can do with a badge is see what pathways it falls upon - because that tells you about your future learning opportunities. Open Pathways will allow learners to finally make use of the full potential of their Open Badges.”
—Wayne Skipper, Founder and CEO, Concentric Sky
Open Pathways enable educators to take a framework for competencies or learning standards—for example in the Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange® (CASE®) framework—and turn that framework into a pathway (or set of pathways) that a learner can navigate while earning badges associated with each competency. Learner progress through an Open Pathway can be output as an Extended Transcript that details the learner’s journey through the competency framework.
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According to Skipper, “What Open Pathways allows us to do is create learning pathways and align badges to the elements of those pathways. And by using those alignments we can also bridge pathways from one to another. This allows us to create not just truly stackable credentials, but fully stackable programs that can span institutions.” With Open Pathways, learners have the ability to stack badges across platforms—regardless of the platform on which their badge was issued. Open Pathways can be authored to make use of badges from multiple third-party sources, adding a much-needed degree of flexibility for those building programs supported by digital credentials.
Open Pathways themselves are portable data objects, like badges. A learner’s progress along a pathway can be shared in a portfolio to show not only earned achievements, but also progress toward unearned achievements. Open Pathways provide yet another key data point that can help provide valuable guidance to learners, educators, and employers. “The real power in this is being able to create cross-institutional learning pathways that aren’t locked-in to a single product or vendor,” said Skipper. “Together, these standards give us a common language with which we can describe learning achievements in a way that is meaningful for both education and workforce stakeholders.”
What’s Next for Concentric Sky?
As one of the leading contributors to the Open Badges standard, Concentric Sky is hard at work on proposals for future versions of Open Badges, extensions to the specification, and thought leadership around the relationships between credentials, trust, and identity. This includes working with IMS colleagues to explore the integration of Learning Machine's BlockCerts into Open Badges to support Blockchain use cases for an extra level of online verification. Additionally, the Concentric Sky team is exploring new types of identity providers, as well as other additions to help bring the Open Badges, CASE, and Extended Transcript standards into closer alignment.
Concentric Sky is an award-winning software development firm with a focus on end-to-end product design and realization. We've successfully launched hundreds of products in our 13-year history. Our partners include a number of prominent organizations such as The World Bank, The United Nations, NASA, NSF and NIH, as well as major publishers such as Encyclopedia Britannica, National Geographic and Cengage Learning.