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January-February 2014

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Badges: A Common Currency for Learning

You wouldn't know it from looking at his college transcript, but Purdue senior Joe Rust has led team-building exercises, headed the university's student government, and helped start an annual weeklong agriculture-awareness event. Those are just a few experiences in what Rust calls his "leadership journey," a period of personal, intellectual, and professional growth that will soon conclude with his entry into the workforce.

Rust says the knowledge and skills he gained in his classes, like his extracurricular activities, won't be fully captured by his transcript. Although it will detail the classes he completed and the grades he earned, it won't show the learning pathways and outcomes unique to Rust's robust college experience.

But digital badges-icons that can represent skills and achievements at a more fine-grained level than a degree-give colleges and universities a new way to document learning outcomes and to map the pathways students like Rust follow to earn a degree. They also provide a common currency to denote learning outcomes and give employers a visual representation and evidence of an applicant's skills and abilities.

Kyle Bowen ( is director of informatics at Purdue University, where he leads Purdue's Studio, a technology initiative that produces new learning tools for students inside and outside of the classroom. He has co-authored and edited more than 20 books on Web design, development, and usability. His work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, Time, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Andrea Thomas ( is a technology writer at Purdue, where she is pursuing an MS with an emphasis in technology, leadership, and innovation.

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