Digital badging at The Open University: identified informal learning
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Digital badging at The Open University: identified informal learningPatrina Law and Andrew LawThe Open University
Our research approach: how do we evaluate our informal learners?Surveys in 2013 and 2014 undertaken to: Review the demographic profile of learners, students and teachers using OpenLearn,Understand how the content serves learners needs,Examine how the availability of free educational content is impacting informal learners and their motivations to take up formal study,Understand learners challenges and successes when using the platform, Examine where learners are visiting within the platform, what they are searching for and where they go next.
Recommendations from 13/14 studyA number of recommendations were made within The OU. Those relevant to our paper are reported here: Create an entire badged open courses (BOC) curriculum targeting access students Improve the usability of the OpenLearn platform especially around the user experience of moving through an online, unsupported course, andExtend syndication of free content to reach new audiences (in 2013, syndication beyond OpenLearn was to iTunes U and YouTube only).
Badges arent new
Image credits: Thornhill School http://thornhillschool.org.uk/current/latest-news/-/post/blue-peter-badges; and Patrina Law.A means to recognise learning, to motivate learners, and to provide evidence of skills and achievements in a variety of formal and informal settings
How badges are understood at the momentAnderson et al. 2014 comments on their use in MOOCs to motivate learners to participate in a group, not an incentive to complete a course of study.Abramovich et al. (2011) note that The symbol, in the form of a badge, can then be displayed by the learner to let others know of their mastery or knowledge in a closed, supported environment.
This element of badge display contrasts with informal open learning when learners progress at their own pace and not in a cohort. Digital badging is creeping into HE though no overarching policy or agreement overall between providers.The OU approach is unique as it is being used to support and motivate learners in the informal sector.
Benefits of badging in an informal spaceTo enhance brand and reputation.Test your skills are you ready for HE study?As a taster when considering study.Reaches underserved population who cant afford to study but wish to learn from us (part of OU Charter on free learning for the community)As a demonstration of skills to an employer to encourage sponsorship
Who was studying the badged course pilots compared to the average OpenLearn user?36% already hold an undergraduate qualification or higher compared with 56% of the general OpenLearn learner population.12% are retired compared with 20% of the general OpenLearn user population. 31% consider themselves to have a disability compared to 19% of the general OpenLearn learner population. Indeed, 40% of Learning to Learn learners who completed the enrolment survey declared a disability*. *83% of these report a mental health problem.
Create an entire (BOC) curriculum targeting access students
Badge displayMozilla BackpackMy OpenLearn ProfileSocial networks e.g. LinkedInPrintable certificate
BOC assessment frameworkLearners will need to achieve 50% to pass an assessmentLearners will be given three attemptsIf they fail on the third attempt, they can retake after 24 hoursPractice assessment will be available throughout the courseAll pages of the course must have been readFormal assessment takes place at halfway and at the end of the courseTwo successful assessments = 1 badge
Comparing 2013/2014 data sets across OpenLearnData concurred from year to year in terms of demographic profile.Motivations of learners remained the same:the learning helps me feel more positive and confidentI would love to study but most course are simply unaffordable to meFees are now far too high for me to consider continuing with my studies towards a degreeConducted a test to give confidence my next module choice is appropriate for meI am 70. Learning is like O2 to the mind
Over half of respondents (58%) said that using the materials had improved their confidence in their ability to study. Around 80% said that after using OpenLearn materials they are more likely to recommend OU content to others.
What are informal learners looking for now ?75% of learners responded Yes or Maybe that they would be prepared to pay for educational content provided online; of these 85% selected Online courses with certificates or qualifications. The question What other features would you like to see from The OU on OpenLearn?, also revealed a desire to see certification awarded for informal learning:Certificates paid/unpaidBetter format of Statements of Activity for printing for CPD purposesI tend to use sites where the student is able to print off a certificate of completion. I wish OU did this as it enables me to see who has completed which MOOC
Identified informal learnersCross (2007) describes informal learning as the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way people learn but in an environment where ...no one assigns grades and ...no one takes attendance.
We have moved from Cross anonymous world to one of identified informal learning. Whilst learning is still taking place as a supplement to formal learning there is a growing demand and expectation that informal learners want recognition for their achievements and engagement that can be acknowledged beyond a closed forum of learners.
The challenges to understanding recognition in an informal spaceWill free badges and associated certificates be perceived as having different value to a for fee certificate bought from a MOOC provider?Will a free digital badge have meaning as currency for achievement and credibility with employers, or is it purely a motivational tool, in this context, to support informal learners on an open platform?Are badged certificates or the digital badges themselves equally desirable to informal learners?
Next stepsEvaluation strategyShort-term data study:Who are our learners and where do they go?How were they motivated? Long-term data study:How did they perform when they became formal students and were they better retained?Did badges help when seeking/changing employment?Review the landscape of identified informal learning and learners perceptions of themselves in the open.
We aim to:Continue to inform the OU in the provision of open courses. Continue to understand more about badge motivation in an HE setting, and in an open, unsupported one. Extend the strategy for BOCs to support higher apprenticeships (transitioning learners from vocational learning to HE)
The Open Media UnitThe Open University, UKwww.open.edu/openlearn/free-courses
*So a quick in introduction to our free service and then some reflections
This free service has been available for over 40 years -
This week with BBC An hour to save your life (TWO) and Bang Goes the Theory (ONE), Frozen Planet on Eden, Thinking Allowed on and Bottom Line of Radio 4
TV/Radio 25 series a year 200-300M views in the UK
After each programme we make concrete offer to come and do something:
Open Learn 12K hours of learning content built over the last 8 years.
Bang on diet too much to jump straight into a learning unit so we build additional buffer materials like this (click through)
And of course every page has a link to study opportunities with the OU if you register for a fee paying activity
So what have we learnt from this activity over the last few years.
Im mostly going to focus on the online component but just to say
Broadcast is still an important medium to reach most people and set alight that first interest working with a broadcaster can be a challenge (and we have a lot of ex BBC poachers turned gamekeepers can provide critical insights)
*We think syndication is important getting the same content onto multiple channels helps us reach more and different peopleWe will build on this this year from these three initial channels to many more
BUT critically ONLY openlearn will really allow us a degree of control over how our materials are shown, deliver on brand impression, and be optimised for offering next steps to OU*****These future evaluation activities will be key to understanding more about digital badges and badge motivation in a higher education setting, and further, in an open, unsupported one.