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Columbia Business Monthly

Students and employees say e-badges reflect career goals and lifelong learning

By Tamara L. Burk, Ph.D. 

Throughout history, soldiers and scouts have worn badges as symbols of distinction, accomplishment, and skill, particularly with tasks involving training. Over time, these badges have become a mechanism for disseminating leadership responsibilities and credit, and as a result, they have become sources of motivation. 

In a column I shared here earlier this year, I introduced the benefits of digital badges in today’s workplace by highlighting their growing visibility, flexibility, and recognition by employers. Since then, these badges have earned even more attention in education as well as among employees in the community. 

Initially described as a form of gamification hat played on the psyche of workers by driving them to collect symbolic rewards, digital badges have evolved into a more structured and organized set of standards. 

In a 2019 Ellucian survey, U.S. college students and hiring managers recognized the importance of digital credentials as adding value to degrees and integrating continuous learning into the ongoing process of career development. In particular, graduating students, who have so much invested in their credentials, are commonly feeling that transcripts do not reflect the competencies they are developing. This has caused many schools to re-examine the importance of lifelong learning and to develop micro-educational programs involving electronic badges and certificates.  

In recognition of this trend, Columbia College recently formed a partnership with Dr. Corey Seemiller’s National Student Leadership Competencies program. NSLC research indicates that for digital credentials to be most effective, they require clear learning outcomes, application exercises, assessment procedures, and reflection practices. This means that badge-earning opportunities are often best designed by seasoned educators who have addressed these types of curricular requirements in credit-bearing activity. 

Currently, Columbia College is supporting 15 different badges, including group development, diversity, listening, facilitation, planning, conflict negotiation, ethics, verbal communication, service, social justice, and others. These badges are being earned through classroom activities, student organizations, and co-curricular event series.  

In addition to opening new career opportunities for students, continuous learning credentialing can also be the key to staying relevant in the workplace. Contemporary leaders and learners work in fast-paced, dynamic environments that demand hands-on abilities and a willingness to quickly adapt and problem-solve. 

Unfortunately, passive webinars and lengthy training manuals are becoming inadequate to address these issues. E-badge credentialing recognizes that communication and leadership abilities cannot be developed in a vacuum, and Columbia College has begun to include badges in the educational outreach efforts of the Center for Leadership and Social Change (CLSC). 

Badging is no longer just for the soldiers or scouts. Badges now play a vital role in showcasing those hidden credentials of potential and current employees. I may have taken a college course that integrated elements of communication, but that would not show up on my resume or transcript. A badge in effective communication strategies would allow any potential employer review my soft skills before bringing me in for an interview.  

In addition to developing credential badges that address the needs of current students and business groups across the community, Columbia College’s CLSC has also begun discussions about how credentials could be earned by students in preparation for college. These efforts would extend our e-badge initiatives throughout and beyond the college experience in a way that embraces the genuine and authentic lifelong learning that is called for in our mission.

Tamara L. Burk holds a doctorate and education specialist degree from the College of William and Mary and two professional development certificates from Harvard University and the Terry College of Business. She is a professor of communication and leadership, the John Reeves Endowed Chair of Leadership, and the director of Leadership Studies, the P.L.A.C.E. (Philanthropy, Leadership, and Community Engagement) Program, and the Center for Leadership and Social Change.