Kiron’s usability study on digital credential solutions

Christoph Buerglen
2018 12 15

Kiron Campus offers courses based on existing online programmes of study (MOOCs) from leading universities to registered refugee students from across the globe. These courses are curated by the curriculum team at Kiron with a focus on the Kiron student target group.

Following completion of a programme, students receive a formal transcript of record (TOR), which is often backed up by the individual certificates obtained from the MOOC providers. However, Kiron does not issue any form of digital credential to its students.

We at Kiron know how important it is for students to have their learning recognised. This is important for students, who will be able to provide documentation of their learning experience on the Kiron Campus, but it is also an important way for Kiron to recognise our learners. As a focus group of our students carried out by Gabi Witthaus found, one wish of Kiron students is “to be noticed, valued, and encouraged” (Witthaus, 2018).

As an innovative learning platform, which aims to be student-centred, we are interested in looking broadly at educational topics such as recognition. We come to the topic of certification, therefore, with a broad approach and have been influenced by the recent work on alternative digital credentials, which ideas such as open badges, microcredentials and blockchain-based infrastructures (ICDE, 2019).

Alternative digital credentials fit to the Kiron profile for six reasons:

  1. They offer the promise of an information-rich record of skills and competencies, attributed to an individual, which go far beyond the transcripts of records (or in the Bologna context: diploma supplements) that focus on describing the contents of learning programmes.
  2. They are appropriate in the context of ‘unbundled learning’, where learning content and delivery, verification and documentation may be separated (Orr, Weller, & Farrow, 2018), as in the case of Kiron, which currently links students to external content and learning platforms, but collates the learning achievements and provides didactical and practical support to learners on our own platform.
  3. But, which are also appropriate to short programmes of learning, which will increasingly be developed in partnership with well-known universities and hosted on Kiron Campus.
  4. They empower learners to be the owners of learning records, making them less dependent on issuing higher education providers and more flexible in how and when they store and use these records.
  5. They are becoming increasingly recognised by employers – although currently more as a supplement to more formal forms of certification. As a large-scale survey on human resource managers in the USA has recently stated, such credentials are “coming of age” (Gallagher, 2018).
  6. They encourage and make visible a lifelong learning pathway, which might start with the Kiron Campus and continue through the learner’s lifecourse in various learning environments. As one study states, “Learners of the future are going to episodically seek out some sort of postsecondary education over and over again throughout their long working lives.” (Weise, Hanson, Sentz, & Saleh, 2018)

As a UNESCO study on this topic warns, this alternative approach leads to questions about the trustworthiness of data, interoperability of systems, and most critically the existence of the standards – both learning standards and technology standards – that govern and structure the new and dynamic landscape of credentials (Chakroun & Keevy, 2018).

In this context, Kiron commissioned Simone Ravaioli, Director of strategic partnerships at Digitary, to take a critical view at the hot topic of blockchain technologies and how they might play a role in a new Kiron-based credential system. The study concludes with the judgement that the long-term value of credentials is driven by their ability to be understood in a wide variety of contexts. Just adding blockchain-based verification and a timestamp that corresponds to a block in a public consensus record will not be enough to deliver a meaningful experience to Kiron’s stakeholders.

Kiron should move past any technology-induced “fear of missing out” and focus on delivering a good user experience in the credential presentation and verification steps of the workflow. Instead, it should focus on using the technologies with the strongest market presence and prospects for growth, and these are Open Badges that are based on widely accepted open standards which allow cross-walking and seamless integration into a whole new credential system for our students. We thank Simone for his critical review and will take this advice to heart in the next steps towards a useful, valuable and transparent form of credential, which we can help our students attain and use.

by Dominic Orr