Competency-Based Education & Digital Credential Design Convening

On July 26 and 27, the Mozilla Foundation, with facilitation support by IDEO Design for Learning team and strategic convening support by Penn Hill Group held a design convening in Aurora, Colorado for states interested in exploring competency-based education and digital credentials. The design convening was an opportunity for states to:

  • Re-imagine systems that make any time, any place learning count towards college and career readiness;
  • Think through how to leverage new flexibilities in policy for innovative practices (i.e. Every Student Succeeds Act – ESSA);
  • Brainstorm strategic partners within states and communities; and
  • Exchange ideas for policies, practices, and systems including those which utilize digital badges/digital credentials.

%22Who's Who%22 CBE Digital Credentials Design Convening 7.26-27
The following invited states attended: Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont. Each state team included a diverse group of stakeholders from business, state and district education agencies, higher education, in and out of school educators, and others as a way to design innovative systems in their states.

The two-day design convening kicked off with a presentation by An-Me Chung about Mozilla’s five key issues and current work in digital badges set the context for the convening.  As a graduate of the 2015 Presidential Leadership Scholars program, a partnership of four presidential centers designed for leaders who share a commitment to helping solve society’s greatest challenges, this convening was also An-Me’s capstone project for the program.

Following that, an expert panel of innovators set the landscape on competency-based education and shared lessons learned about competency-based education and the use of digital credentials as a way to connect and capture skills and competencies towards college and career readiness.
“Digital badges seemed like the natural way [for the Aurora Colorado School District] to connect business, industry and students to implement the district’s strategic plan – that every student would have a plan for their future, the skills to implement that plan, and the credential to open those doors. [It is important to have] both internal and external stakeholders understand what a post-secondary workforce ready environment is, in order to not only deliver badges but build out the overarching system.”
– Superintendent Rico Munn, Aurora Colorado School District, Aurora Public Schools Badge Initiative
“Michigan explored digital badging as a way to honor student learning outside of the classroom and allow students to take that information with them to future employers. The technical aspect of the work is the easy part, it has been more difficult getting people to understand how to create the badges and lead people through it… [however] as more and more partners come on board in this work, the currency and value for students will increase as well.”
– Michelle Ribant, Director for 21st Century Learning at the Office of Educational Technology and Data Coordination, Michigan Department of Education
“We have all seen the headlines about increasing graduation rates and the reality of remediation rates and workplaces unhappy with skills graduates bring with them. Competency-based education offers a way to break standards into transferable skills so that teachers can see what gaps are, fill those in or out of the classroom, and move forward… mastery is the focus, rather than method of education delivery.”
– Sarah Jenkins, Senior Manager of Research and Advocacy, KnowledgeWorks
“There is a huge opportunity to engage in big systems thinking around credentials to say that competency matters in both the classroom and beyond. At a smaller level, micro-credentials from in and out of school are a way for teachers to feel like part of a bigger team while working with students and be able to see them in a more holistic way.”
– Sheryl Grant, Director of Alternative Credentials and Badge Research, Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC)
With a final push of encouragement from Richard Culatta, Design Resident at IDEO, Chief Innovation Officer of the State of Rhode Island, and former U.S Department of Education Director of Educational Technology, attendees delved into the day’s design challenges with a “bias to action” mindset.
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IDEO introduced state teams to design thinking by first having teams roll their sleeves up to tackle the marshmallow challenge.

From there, state teams set individual and team aspirations for the convening, including the following “how might we” share-outs:
“How might we create incentives for change?”
“How might we involve students at every step of the process?”
“How might we leverage existing tools, digital and non-digital in order to learn?”
“How might we identify and capture competencies / currency?”
“How might we share digital credentialing in new ways?”

States heard about patterns across state initiatives, understood common challenges and how states overcame them. They then brainstormed new ideas and designed short-term experiments, with specific actionable ideas to help them achieve long-term goals.  Resource experts on hand included representatives from National Conference of State Legislatures, Mozilla, Penn Hill Group, KnowledgeWorks, HASTAC, and the Afterschool Alliance.

On Day 2 of the design convening, states continued to make connections with strategic partners from their own states and beyond in a peer breakfast. States unpacked the process of designing experiments and made a plan for taking action by: articulating learning goals, designing an experiment, planning their next steps, and “building” a quick prototype.

Next Steps
As opportunities for education innovation in and out of school continue to grow, the states at this convening are looking toward the future. They are focused on identifying solutions around how to build systems where learning is more student-centered, how to recognize learning any time and any place, and how to ensure multiple stakeholders, including students, are at the forefront of the design process. This was a first step in that direction and we look forward to following and sharing states’ progress.
For more information, check out these additional resources:


The IDEO Design for Learning Team enjoying blizzards!