When we think about ‘learning’, what comes to our minds? A lot of people will immediately describe the standard education pathways commonly followed by many of us. We start off in primary school then progress to secondary. Some will then choose to go on to third level education to study for a university degree or diploma. Others might pursue an apprenticeship and obtain a specific trade. This learning usually leads to employment and the establishment of a viable career. Does the learning stop then? Of course not! Once our ‘formal’ education ceases, other forms of learning become commonplace. These can be divided into three categories: formal, informal and non-formal learning.

Formal learning – this is learning that occurs in a very deliberate and structured way. Subjects are taught by qualified teachers or trainers who follow formal curricula to ensure that all student’s learning is consistent in terms of content and standard. This type of learning generally takes place in a school, college or university and is formally recognised by some award granted by the organisation in question. The award is generally approved within the state it was granted and often even further afield.

Informal learning – this type of learning takes place through everyday experiences such as discussions with colleagues, pursuing hobbies, reading books or watching television. It is not scheduled or planned, rather it incidental and sporadic. It can take place in the work place, in the home or virtually anywhere where you live and operate. Needless to say, informal is neither structured nor recognised.

Non-formal – this represents the middle ground between formal and informal learning. Non-formal learning is an organised educational activity that takes place outside of a formal education setting. It usually has a distinct educational objective such as teaching professionals a new piece or technology or children how to swim. Although it is structured, it does not have the standard of curriculum, accreditation or certification associated with formal learning. This type of learning can take place in the workplace, as a form of continuous professional development (CPD) or as part of a hobby i.e. learning to bake bread or play tennis. Many NGOs provide non-formal learning through flexible and tailored courses in various fields.

It can be said that our opportunities for formal learning are somewhat limited. This is particularly true once we have left full time education, as further formal education requires a lot of time, money and motivation, which is not always possible when working and juggling other commitments. However this does not mean that our learning stops altogether. In fact, it is almost impossible to avoid some form of non-formal and informal learning, especially in the workplace. These types of learning are what make it possible for us to learn a new technology, gain new soft skills, develop new expertise etc. Indeed it could be said that informal and non-formal learning are essential elements of the personal and professional development of any individual. With all this learning taking place, doesn’t it make sense that it should be recognised and validated in some way? Of course it does. However the reality is that in most cases, unless learning is done in a formal setting with a certificate to show for it, it simply does not ‘count’. This is problematic especially when searching for employment. Firstly negating a person’s informal / non-formal learning means that prospective employers are not given a true reflection of a person’s capabilities or skills. So that degree in business studies is considered an asset but the IT skills you picked up during your career are uncertified and therefore overlooked, hence putting you at a distinct disadvantage. Even if this type of learning was to be recognised, how do you prove exactly what is being learned? At what level? And how is this learning assessed? Open Badges may offer a solution to this problem.

Open Badges – A Possible Solution?

Developed by Mozilla, Open Badges may be one solution to the problem of unrecognised learning. This is a form of accreditation that enables you to gain recognition and validation for skills, knowledge and achievement you’ve acquired during various activities, be they formal, non-formal or informal. These can then be earned and displayed digitally on a range of platforms such as LinkedIn, blogs, ePortfolios, and other social media websites for prospective employers, peers or colleagues to see.


How does it work?

Organisations of any kind can create and issue Open Badges to validate the learning they provide. Any individual can then earn these badges by partaking in the learning activity and fulfilling the assessment measures stipulated by that particular badge. Many reputable organisations in higher education, industry and research have already implemented the Open Badge system, which is an open source platform. Examples include Michigan State University, Moodle, Open University, and NASA.

Pathways4Employ Project

As part of the Pathways4Employ project, Open Badges will be developed for two areas, not traditionally catered for by formal learning provisions; virtual office working and entrepreneurship. If you are interested in this project, please visit www. http://pathwaysforemploy.eu/wordpress/

Open badges – The solution to the problem of recognition?

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