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Posted by on May 13, 2011

Open Badges and the Impact of Potential Employees

Based on some feedback I am getting on this post on Open Badges and Rewarding Learning Online, I got to thinking a bit more on how this could be expanded/revisited to suit the professional sector. Quick review: Open Badges is a Mozilla and Peer 2 Peer University project for awarding badges (like a Facebook or Flickr badge) for certain learning milestones reached or skills gained online outside a formal learning environment. My thoughts were that this has great application to higher education in general as it allows them to offload a bit of their more skill based offerings into this sphere and marshall their resources towards intellectual and innovative impact. A tough sell (based on some of the feedback), but I think a natural alignment. Whether or not this will happen is an entirely different matter. But if it did, I could see a lot of merit. They certainly have a tough slog ahead of them to make this work. 

Presumably, this type of merit system (badges) could spill over into the professional sphere. It already does through professional certificates awarded by licensed organizations, etc. But these badges could help establish creative professionals with recognition. Even now we are seeing a more nuanced approach to hiring that includes the obligatory visit to the applicant’ s social media channels (you are nuts if you think this doesn’t happen) and perhaps a LinkedIn account. If the job is more of a creative, thought leader type of position, then some demonstration of impact is necessary through a collected portfolio (even if it is a decentralized one). Blogs, tweets, discussions, profiles, all combine to form the larger unit, greater than the sum of their 140 character parts. This is where badges might play a bit of a role. These are used rather informally now (EduBlogs comes to mind), but can be used as an indication of impact, whatever measure is used. I think the only way to get there rather than rely on badges of fixed width and length and color scheme (branded symbolic entities) is to use fluid badges that are active representations of dynamic impact over a course of time (not fixed). Potential employers could refer to these to see (allowing for natural ebbs and flows) on glance what type of impact the potential employee has in their field.

As I said, these would have to be fluid, representative entities (I fear the badges for various skills, completed learning activities would become clutter rather quickly), bars of color indicating particular impact in particular areas. MIT’s Personas, while in and of itself not revealing on glance, does a decent job of demonstrating how this might look. 


Perhaps not surprsingly, the Personas bar pulls on some culturally specific themes, ones that resonate in our cultures. A nice “real world” mapping for something that blends the digital with the physical (impact). Military symbols are actually pulled from the cultural units of meaning and it makes sense that Personas are pulling from both of these. I know there is a lot of research on the resonance of these color schemes and sequences on social identity, none of which I will quite from here. Just know that it exists.  


Aesthetics aside, there are a myriad of issues invovled here (not the least of which is if this whole approach is even warranted), but I think it is a good way to account for a lot of the non-paid activities (informal work) that takes place that can contribute to the effectiveness of an individual in a certain position. So, if higher education is limiting in terms of access (informal/lifelong learners), so the professional workplace is limiting in that the prime metric being used is on the job experience (not unjustified there). Why not account for the myriad of activities (such as social impact) that takes place that can impact impact. Yeah, that last one hurt to write as well. 

Just as one, very small example. Measuring the impact of a tweet. The simple metric is to see how many times it was read and who read it. This could be more granular by separating readers into communities of interest. How often the tweet was read in a particular community, a measure of impact on the community itself as opposed to just broad popularity. So I was playing around with Tweempact, which allows you to isolate a tweet and track all the times it was read and from where (mapped). So i can take a tweet that I thought had value and measure dispersal patterns across location and how often it was retweeted, etc. A rudimentary measure of impact and one that could serve as a variable for potential employers to consider. 


So the above is a recent tweet I posted (actually the post I referred to earlier) and I can see it has been x number of times in various locations. On further glance I can see most of those were read by those who follow my Twitter account, so impact within my networked group is adequate, but little to no impact outside a group that has already identified themselves as having similar interests. There is no reason this process couldn’t be automated to some degree to identify which tweets (and individuals) had the most regional impact (and then presumably assigning them within the organization to their locality of impact). This could presumably be done across all communication services (I use Whos Talkin akin to this), aggregated into logical units, and represented visually. This visual badge would be dynamic, fluidly rendering over a course of time. At the very least, this would seemingly allow for the introduction of other factors (which granted are considered now at better organizations) in a relatively predictable way. Employers could find those who impact their fields most effectively and create efficient organizations and working groups. 

The devil is truly in the details here as it would need considerable buy in from both employers and employees. It would need to be transparent, logical, not heavily weighted towards a particular variable or another (or better yet, allow employers to adjust for particular variables). It would be an incredible boon for marketing, scoping, research, idea-generative type fields that rely on understanding particular segments of the population. And it reward informal lifelong learning as tangible, recognizable assets for employment. Below is an illustration from Project Cascade, a project to chart the lifecycle of an idea (a meme) in news. If we can do this for something as conceptual as an ideas, I suspect we can do this for individuals as well. Linking activity to reputation to acknowledgement to employability is simply providing an engine to fuel the idea. A good idea, but whether or not it happens… I stand hopeful. 



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