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Could Digital Badges Replace College Degrees?



Let’s face it. The college degree doesn’t hold as much weight as it once did. At the same time, they’ve become almost mandatory to be competitive in the job market. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? But what else can you do?

Digital Badges

Digital Badges are potentially the answer to that question. Digital Badges are a part of a credentialing system deliberately created outside of regular academics. That way, a person can prove they have knowledge and skills on specific subjects without the need of the traditional academic hierarchy.

Were Digital Badges to catch on, it would revolutionize both education and the job market. At the moment, a college degree is the only viable means of credentialing, essentially giving it a monopoly. As the only game in town, it can conduct itself (largely) however it wants. Digital Badges would not only be an alternative direction to go, but it would also create competition that could force universities to finally fix fundamental flaws in the education system.

Getting the Badges

It’s actually rather easy to get a Digital Badge, which could ultimately be a problem in the long run. All you really need to do is show that you know about a subject to get a badge. The whole point is that it doesn’t matter how you came to have the knowledge, just that you can demonstrate understanding. This can be via test or project completion. The whole thing is largely unregulated, another strike against its current iteration.



The Other Shoe

The idea of Digital Badges is a good one. The commodification of higher education has seriously gotten out of hand. However, Digital Badges have yet to make the splash their intent is predicated on. Realistically, it is unlikely that they will. At the moment, they are a kind of supplement to a college degree; something to spruce your resume up, not build it upon.

Moreover, having a Digital Badge simply means that someone thought you had a basic grasp of a subject. Actually, the nebulousness of what it actually means is another problem. When an applicant has a four-year degree from an accredited university, you know more or less what they went through to get it. You can look at their GPA the course of study, etc. A Digital Badge literally just says, “Yep, they know something about this topic.”

The Digital aspect is also, somewhat, cause for alarm. Someone skilled enough with programming could either mimic or just create their own Badges, the concept is still new enough that it would be difficult to verify authenticity.

On the Horizon

If it sounds like this was created with the sole intention of bashing Digital Badges and steering people towards college, that was not my intention. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. I’m taking a realistic look at Digital Badges because I want it, or something like it, to succeed. Actually, the job market is starting to demand it.

The current model isn’t working anymore. It’s a holdover from a bygone era and hiring managers are realizing it. They are getting fresh college graduates with fancy degrees, but little real-world experience. Degrees alone are not telling employers what they need to know about an applicant. We need another way of predicatively evaluating our workforce.

Are Digital Badges the answer? Frankly, probably not. That doesn’t mean we should strive to search for some other alternative. The paradigm shift is definitely coming. If you can find a way to be ahead of that curve, you’ll be in great shape for the future.

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