Digital Media & Learning Competition Aims to Recognize and Reward Learning Outside the Classroom


9.16.11 | The MacArthur Foundation, HASTAC, and Mozilla on Thursday announced the launch of the $2 million Digital Media and Learning Competition focused on creating and testing badges and badge systems.

The fourth annual DML competition features two related components: a design competition on Badges for Lifelong Learning, and a research competition on Badges, Trophies, and Achievements. The competition is open to organizations and individuals, including learning specialists, designers and technologists.

The thinking behind badges is that learning happens not only in school settings but in an array of other environments, including afterschool programs, interacting with peers in person and in social networks, game playing, at sports camps, and during military training—just to name a few.

But there remains the question of how to demonstrate—and recognize—skills and knowldege gained outside of school. That’s where badges come in. As the MacArthur Foundation explains:

A badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in any of these learning environments. Badges can support learning, validate education, help build reputation, and confirm the acquisition of knowledge. They can signal traditional academic attainment or the acquisition of skills such collaboration, teamwork, leadership, and other 21st century skills.

Badges are used successfully in games, social network sites, and interest-driven programs to set goals, represent achievements and communicate success. A digital badge is an online record of achievements, the work required, and information about the organization, individual or other entity that issued the badge. Badges make the accomplishments and experiences of individuals, in online and offline spaces, visible to anyone and everyone, including potential employers, teachers, and peer communities.

In addition to representing a wide range of skills, competencies, and achievements, badges can play a critical role in supporting participation in a community, encouraging broader learning goals, and enabling identity and reputation building. For a learner, a sequence of badges can be a path to gaining expertise and new competencies. Badges can capture and display that path, providing information about, and visualizations of, needed skills and competencies. They can acknowledge achievement, and encourage collaboration and teamwork. Finally, badges can foster kinship and mentorship, encourage persistence, and provide access to ever-higher levels of challenge and reward.

Mozilla’s Open Badges project is working on the recognition angle, making it easy for anyone to issue, earn and display badges across the web via an open-source infrastructure. Check out these real-world examples of how badges could be used, or read this handy FAQ.

The Mozilla Foundation has also authored a working paper, “Open Badges for Lifelong Learning,” in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation. The paper includes four learner scenarios and an explanation of the badge system network. 

The competition announcement at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., was attended by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and numerous business, technology, civic engagement and philanthropic leaders.

Duncan announced a $25,000 prize for the best badge concept and prototype that serves veterans seeking good-paying jobs in today’s economy. The Department of Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative (VAi2) is joining Mozilla, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Departments of Education and Labor, said Duncan, to support and sponsor this part of the Digital Media and Lifelong Learning Competition. It will be called Badges for Heroes Challenge.

“The web is revolutionizing how we learn. But until now, it’s been too difficult to get recognition for the skills and achievements people are getting online or out of school,” said Mark Surman, Mozilla’s executive director. “Our Open Badges project is working to solve that problem, giving leaders in informal education a free and open way to recognize new learning and 21st century skills — leading to real world results like jobs or formal credit. Mozilla believes that’s the key to making education work like the web.”

“Digital technologies are helping to re-imagine learning, and badges are emerging as a new way to both encourage and demonstrate the acquisition of knowledge and skills of all kinds—in formal and informal settings,” said Julia Stasch, vice president of U.S. Programs at the MacArthur Foundation.

“Badges are simple, easy and, if done well, can present a more nuanced picture of what an individual knows and can do,” Stasch added. “There is much more to learn and we expect that this competition will contribute to developing a badge system that could change the way people share information about themselves, businesses make hiring decisions, and organizations support the acquisition of skills important to their mission or to the larger society.”

Watch the full event below:


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