Friday, June 12, 2015

3600 US Cerfication Bodies Lacking Third Party Validation

By Dan Hickey
Lumina Foundation just released a report with some surprising data about the manner in which most of the bodies that award professional certification validate their credentials.  Make me wonder if all of the concern over validity of badges and other evidence-rich digital credentials is focused too narrowly.
Inside Higher Ed just wrote wrote about the Lumina Foundation's Connecting Credentials: A Beta Credentials Framework.  It is an excellent review of the fragmented and multi-layered system whereby credentials are awarded and consumed in higher education.  It is a helpful document in light of continuing concerns that employers and policy makers have expressed about that system.  It is a timely report given the explosion of MOOCs and alternative educational providers. It is particularly timely given the explosion of badges, micro-credentials, and other alternatives for recognizing learning.  

By providing a common language and framework for understanding competencies associated with different credentials, the Connecting Credentials framework promises to improve equity, transparency, comparability, and portability. They are planning to map credentials of all forms, convene a technical review team, support the development of proof-of-concept, and launch a national dialogue.

The framework outlines eight levels of knowledge, special skills, personal skills, and social skills. As usual, I think it is problematic to characterize contextualized sociocultural practices as "skills."  This means that many of the most important "21 Century" personal and social practices will get reduced and taught as as isolated versions of the real dispositions and ways of interacting needed to succeed in the new knowledge economy.  But I have been saying that since the idea of  "21st Century Skills" surfaced in the 1990s.  So I am giving up on directly fighting this important battle. But I think we can address more effectively be doing so less directly--with badges.

One of the reasons I am so excited about digital badges is that they contain specific claims and evidence supporting those claims--and links to additional claims and evidence.  This means that they can contain completed learner work and peer-discussion, endorsement, and promotion of that work.  I believe that this is a great way to support meaningful recognition of the personal and social practices that all stakeholders (including employers, policy maker, parents, and students) what from schools, workplace training, and informal learning opportunities.  This in turn will encourage the teaching and learning of these practices in authentic disciplinary contexts.  I believe this is crucial if we want our graduates to be competent participants in the new knowledge economy.

So it was with great interest that I read what this report had to say about the explosion of non-degree credentials in the US.  The report says that in the past thirty years, the number of non-degree certificates awarded by higher education institutions and other providers of education and training has increased by 800 percent. This occurred alongside a similar explosion of certificates offer by industry-based organization.  The report goes on to say that:
Validation of credentials is uneven, too. While the nation boasts more than 4,000 personnel-certification bodies, less than 10 percent of them are accredited or reviewed by a third party.
That means that there are approximately 3600 personnel certification bodies in the US whose credentials are accredited or reviewed by a third party.  Given that the lack of such validation is a major concern with digital badges, I found this figure quite surprising.  Rather than insisting such bodies gain external validation, perhaps they might adopt open badges or other evidence-rich micro-credentials and search for ways to include specific claims and convincing evidence to support those claims. This might allow the credentials to "speak for themselves."

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