Open Badges and the new European Guidelines for Validating Non-formal and Informal Learning
At the end of 2015 Cedefop published an updated set of “European Guidelines for Validating Non-formal and Informal Learning” http://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/publications-and-resources/publications/3073 The slim 61 page document is available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish and is very useful to the open badge movement in a number of ways.
The Guidelines mention open badges. This is perhaps the first official EU document to do so, and it shows an interest and appetite to build on what badges can offer. Of course the validation of non-formal and informal learning (= recognition of prior learning) is very much the primary focus of badges, so this is timely and encouraging.
Because of badges’ flexibility and low cost, they are potentially a game-changing new tool in the recognition of informal and non-formal learning. However the Guidelines make it clear that badges would have to:
- be based on the achievement of explicit learning outcomes (nothing else will do).
- the learning outcomes must provide clear and transparent standards/reference points.
The last 2 (of 4) phases of validation are directly relevant to badges:
- identification – of the learning and competence that has been achieved.
- documentation – assembling the evidence that the qualification’s learning outcomes have been achieved.
- assessment of the evidence.
- certification – including storage and retrieval from a secure database.
The Guidelines suggest roles for each of the principal stake-holder groups (European bodies, national public bodies, regional and local authorities, projects, education and training institutions, business and the voluntary sector. This, together with the flow chart on p52, is a very helpful checklist for this OBN project and policy makers.
We need to ensure that badges are seen as trustworthy with “data protection and privacy rights, ensuring strict confidentiality and fair treatment” for the individual badge-owner/claimant. These Guidelines suggest links to national qualifications systems and frameworks, and to other sources of standards and learning outcomes. They set out clear requirements and criteria for quality assurance, including the competences required to provide support to the candidate/learner and those required by the assessor and suggests the development of a community of practice for validation professionals (including managers and policy makers/implementers in government, industry and the voluntary sector).
The Guidelines also discuss validation in the context of education and training, and Section 4.1.1 Validation and open education resources (OERs) on pp 37-39 suggests 5 possible requirements for validation of OERs, and cites badges as examples of fulfilling two (the need for both internal credit and for standards/reference points to be explained and documented). Badges are also cited as an example of internal credits in the “Key questions [that arise] regarding [validation of learning resulting from] OERs”.
There are also useful sections on validation in enterprises (4.2) and validation in the voluntary sector (4.4) which are of particular relevance to open badges. Chapter 5 provides an excellent overview of the variety of evidence that can be used for assessment and includes useful discussion of alternatives.
The section on skills audits and the labour market (4.3) suggests a large source of existing assessment which might be easy to recognise with badges – for example, recognising the sample individuals who are tested for OECD’s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and PIAAC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies).
It is up to each of us to advise and remind our national authorities to explicitly include badges in their policies on lifelong learning and validation / recognition of prior learning. At the European level, we must remind the Directorate General of Employment to include badges in future inventories of validation across Europe (the last update of the inventory was in 2014, so another may be in preparation soon).
I have tried to identify those parts that will be of direct relevance to the Open Badge community, but I think you will find that the document as a whole is of interest and helpful. The authors, Jens Bjornavold, Ernesto Villalba-Garcia, Hanne Christensen and Mike Coles, are to be congratulated on a really useful document. Now it’s up to us to use it.