Rebalancing accreditation: from assessment to validation

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  • Education
  • Adult education
  • Skills
  • Vocational education

RSA invented the modern exam, now we're championing innovation to validate the skills and capabilities that exams miss. Tom Kenyon, Head of Enterprise Design, argues the case for standardised digital badging.

In 1882 the RSA offered the first public examinations to assess and recognise skills. Today, we believe examinations are not enough. Their formal assessment and curricula cannot move fast enough to recognise the skills necessary to thrive in a fast-changing world. Neither do nor can exams capture the richness and diversity of capabilities developed outside of schools and formal education institutions.

We need innovative alternative systems to support and augment formal accreditation. These need to be more responsive to changing needs and more inclusive to learners.

Building on the work we started with Cities of Learning, we aim to scale the use of standardised digital badges as infrastructure for a national programme of skills validation. We want to validate all non-formal and informal learning in the UK.

Cities of Learning

This work helps build the skills needed for people, employers and communities to thrive, and transform the potential of each participating region's learning ecosystem.

Putting the learner first

Our Rebalancing adult learning report in partnership with Ufi VocTech Trust makes the case for the digital validation of non-formal and informal learning. From a learner-first perspective, we believe this is important for three reasons:

  1. Build learner identity and confidence: people who haven’t thrived in formal, accredited learning often feel unconfident to re-engage with learning. Explicitly celebrating skills learned in non-accredited environments builds confidence.
  2. Support equity: women are more likely than men to learn in community settings with non-accredited courses. Non-formal skills validation provides a digital record of skills and learning that’s understandable to employers and learning institutions.
  3. Improve progression: validating learning in small increments and using a standardised framework that is recognised across settings means learners can see their capabilities progress through different learning activities and makes progression pathways easier to identify.

Responding to business needs

Our Cities of Learning work also shows the benefits of digital skills validation to employers. The skill needs of industry often move faster than formal accredited courses can respond.

Alongside our formal qualification frameworks, we need to facilitate a faster, more industry-led approach to skills recognition that can fill the skills gaps that will inevitably emerge over time.

For example, a business can work with their local college to create badges that can be issued alongside their existing coursework to validate skills that are not yet on the curriculum. They can also be used to endorse capabilities such as teamwork, leadership or communication skills that are not covered by formal examination.

Importance of standards

Our vision is that badges can make invisible skills visible and can connect the vital learning that happens outside of the classroom to opportunities for progression to benefit employers, society and individual wellbeing.

Digital badges are not new. They are widely used in professional development and to recognise digital skills, Microsoft, IBM, EY and Adobe are just a few examples of organisations issuing badges to their staff. More than 100 million badges were issued last year – but each badge issuer operates by its own rules. Compared to other forms of certified learning, they are the wild west. There are no widely recognised, independent sets of standards that allow badges to connect across issuers.

The RSA Badge Standards were designed with City & Guilds as a simple way to capture skills capabilities and attitudes in line with OECD Learning Compass 2030. RSA Badge Standards are quality assured and provide a digital record of:

  • Content of the learning
  • Context of the learning
  • Contribution of the learner

Delivery partners

As part of Cities of Learning, we incubated two startups working to make digital badging more accessible and more connected: Badge Nation and Navigatr.

  • Badge Nation supports badge issuers to write and quality assure badges to the RSA Standard.
  • Navigatr provides UK-hosted badge issuing (most other platforms require data transfer to US or EU-hosted servers), and a platform to discover, display and connect badged learning.

We partnered with Badge Nation and Navigatr to develop the Cities of Learning network. We’re now building on that partnership to achieve the RSA’s ambitions for scaling the use of standardised digital badging.

Work with us

We want to work with partners across several sectors and institutions to achieve the ambition of validating all non-formal and unaccredited learning including:

  1. Large-scale funders of skills and community learning and youth projects to ensure that every publicly funded project validates learning with digital badges as part of their project impact and evaluation framework.
  2. Local, regional and combined authorities, employer representative bodies and colleges to support more responsive and connected local skills improvement plans.
  3. Employer sector groups to create and validate badge templates that can be adopted by organisations providing skills in those sectors.

What do you think of the potential for digital badges to validate informal learning? Do you have any experience either receiving or distributing them? Let us know in the comments below.

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