by Gaia U MSc candidate, Tom Palmer

Technology has been called “the great equalizer.” The truth of that depends on a lot of ‘ifs,’ but there are some potent examples of new tools empowering the disenfranchised (the Arab Spring comes to mind). At the heart of the matter is the fact that it’s not just money that moves mountains anymore. It’s capital — and financial capital is only one form amongst several.

The most visible of these today, as a result of new technology, is likely social capital. We can see many individuals — often with few initial resources — building up massive followings using free or low-cost tools in a way never before possible. This is not insignificant. It represents a profound shift in the way groups of people are influenced to act. In other words, it is reforming the power structure.

The social networking era is also transforming the way other forms of capital are cultivated and distributed. Take for example experiential and intellectual capital. Traditionally these have been represented by a C/V which lists credentials — professional, academic, references, etc. We all know the drill.

Sites like LinkedIn are changing that now by creating ways for social capital to translate into experiential/intellectual capital (and vice-versa) through features such as ‘endorsements’. Now when someone is being considered for a job, the employer is looking at more than work experience and what degrees a potential candidate has earned — they are looking at what other forms of capital they have accumulated.

Where is this headed?

Let’s take a look at a relatively new tool that is poised to help shape the future landscape of how we represent our skills and knowledge to others. It comes from Mozilla (the Firefox people) and is called OpenBadges — digital credentials designed to help us capture and integrate the diversity of learning experiences we all possess. More than a particular software, OpenBadges are a type of media that consists of an image embedded with certain information:


open badge anatomy

These badges can be created and awarded by any individual or institution and once earned, can be displayed across the web on social media profiles, personal blogs and more. A variety of tools and platforms can be used to create and issue OpenBadges: Moodle, BadgeOS (WordPress plugin), and many others.

When someone earns a badge, it can be organized and integrated with other badges (from the same source or from other sources) using the Mozilla Backpack. There, collections can be created and then displayed in a certain place on the web (LinkedIn being one example).

A common reaction is: if these are so easy to create, how are they meaningful? Won’t people just make themselves a bunch of badges? As you’ll notice in the first image above, one key piece of information embedded (or “baked”) into the badge image — and unable to be changed once issued — is evidence of the work done. A badge is really only as valuable as the documented evidence created by the earner themselves. This evidence can be kept in a blog or an e-portfolio, for example.

The result is a far higher degree of transparency (anyone here exaggerated on a C/V?), and a shift of focus from the institution to the learner. A badge might come from a large university, or it may come from a small, independent grass-roots organization — either way everyone can see the criteria for earning it and the work that has been done.

It also creates a focus on the documentation of one’s learning experiences. By doing so, we enable feedback loops that fuel growth and rapidly expand the knowledge commons.

The important take-away here is that there is a long-standing monopoly on credentials now being broken up by new technologies. Possibilities for more integrative pathways are emerging — pathways that might include individual courses, workshops, internships, personal projects/research, travel, etc. — our imagination is the limit.

As the ways in which we capture and integrate these experiences evolve, helping us to transform them into experiential and intellectual capital (which is, in turn, transferable to financial, social, and other forms of capital), the very notion of what education is and should be is also transformed.

The future of learning is liberating — be ready to embrace these opportunities. They are game-changers.

Our friends at Positive Health Wellness recently published a piece on 8 Ways Technology is Improving your Health. How does technology impact your life?