After a conference about innovation in education a couple years ago, I received an email from the organizers telling me I had earned a badge for my attendance. By clicking one button, I could publish this badge on my LinkedIn profile to let everyone know.
Curious about the brave new world of digital badges and microcredentials, I mindlessly clicked the button, saw it appear on my LinkedIn profile, and then promptly forgot about it.
Only I couldn’t forget about it. Within minutes I received a snarky text message from my friend Paul congratulating me on earning a badge for attending a conference that, frankly speaking, I had spent much of the time outside in meetings with him.
Properly shamed, the experience reinforced a nagging thought. In all the hype over helping people receive more and more credentials—from college degrees to badges—what did they all actually represent? Might they all just be a symptom of the degree inflation we’ve experienced in America over the last century-plus of schooling? And what would it take for them to be different?