In Learning, Community Comes First #SLR14

In Learning, Community Comes First

Drawing credit: Nevada Lane


Assessment in a Community of Practice

What’s your strongest memory of learning something new?

Was it learning to play poker? Telling a story at a StorySlam? Getting your Google Hangout to work?

Chances are, that learning experience had three elements: other people, ideas and expertise. Knowledge emerges when those pieces are intact and interacting. We build a body of knowledge together. Put another way, learning always has a social context. That is a Community of Practice.

In other words, the community comes first. We can harness the power of networked learning when we design with a community in mind.

So when it comes to assessment, P2PU wanted to recognize networked, distributed, peer-to-peer moments of learning. Moments that are social. Evidence that emerges from those interactions. Enables learning communities to form and take shape.

We co-wrote the Badges for Lifelong Learning whitepaper in 2009 because we saw Badges as a way to help build communities of practice online.

From “Experimentation” to “Implementation”

Fast forward to the Summit to Reconnect Learning last week in Redwood City, CA. My sense of the meeting was to think about the next steps for Badges, and move towards wider adoption.

I was surprised by the conversation.

While a lot of great folks are thinking about learning pathways, competency-based systems and re-thinking professional development, another cluster of words gave me pause. Much of the conversation focused on “implementing” badges, as opposed to building communities of practice. When the conversation about badges doesn’t focus on the learners, “implementation” feels like a top-down, hierarchical notion of learning and power. Another word–“personalization”–raised a red flag for me. In a landscape of learning platforms where a program “adapts” to a learner’s needs, “personalization” insinuates learners working alone, in a system designed to recognize only one right answer.  And while conversations about the “needs of the workforce”, professional development and the for-profit sector are important ones, we have an obligation to balance those needs with building an engaged citizenry and enabling a creative society.

All of these concerns can be summed up by one question: where was the community?

Badges offer a unique opportunity for learners to build knowledge themselves. To engage the ideas that they find alive, and prompt them meet others who feel the same way. In order to spark, nurture, and maintain these connections, we must map out about how to engage people first.

What’s Next?

At the meeting, MacArthur and Mozilla announced new Badge Alliance was announced to work on the wider ecosystem of Badges.  At the same time,  Pearson and the Educational Testing Service announced that they’ll be adopting the Open Badges Standard–proof positive that assessment needs to be re-thought for the 21st century.

Our advice to new badge issuers would be:

  • Start by thinking about the learners and the learning community. How will learners interact with each other? Give feedback to each other? Badges do not exist in a vacuum–they stand for the interaction around skills. How will you bootstrap, maintain, and grow this community?

  • Build tools and mechanisms for the community recognize the skills it cares about. Think beyond terms of learners “accessing” the community or the content. How can they make their own?

  • Truly embrace diversity so that individuals can build their own learning pathways and portfolios rather than follow those laid out by others.

Several years ago, we kickstarted this conversation about Badges and assessment. This conversation is vibrant and ongoing, but now also more nuanced and intricate. At P2PU we’ve reflected on our 3 iterations of badges, and we’re continuing to think about how to best design for learning in the 21st century. We take up these issues and offer our recommendations in a series of reports on Assessment on the Web.


Back to Blog home