- The private nonprofit Southern New Hampshire University has acquired Chicago-based nonprofit LRNG, which specializes in digital badges, hoping to use LRNG's game-based learning model to interest students in its underperforming competency-based degree program, Inside Higher Ed reports.
- SNHU will link LRNG with its College for America program, which provides credential-focused associate and bachelor's degrees. The partnership will also result in community-based digital learning for students ages 14 to 24 to earn credentials, which they can parlay into SNHU degrees. LNRG has provided 57,000 students with more than 45,000 badges since launching in 2015. SNHU wants to grow its enrollment to 300,000 students by 2023.
- The partnership will begin in Chicago and Birmingham, Alabama, and work closely with employers and governments in those regions to identify and provide in-demand skills.
Digital badges have gained popularity but have not been thoroughly embraced by higher education, according to Elisabeth Rees-Johnstone, executive director of continuing and professional learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Writing in Evolllution earlier this year, she explained that credentials could benefit colleges and universities by assuring their curriculum review is transparent and thorough, addressing the common criticism from both graduates and employers that higher education is "out of touch" with workplace needs.
Beyond that, they more accurately and explicitly reward the recipient and provide richer information about their accomplishments to prospective employers. Rees-Johnstone contends opportunities to earn badges and other micro-credentials will be expected by students and will likely be adopted by employers. Both of these groups, she wrote, may be more comfortable with the approach than educators, who are wed to traditional grading and work environments.
Although technical skills are often the focus of digital badges, soft skills also are getting attention. This past summer, the nonprofit Education Design Lab and ed tech company Credly, which specializes in online credentials, announced plans to team up to offer digital badges that universities can award students for building nontechnical skills desired in the workplace, including empathy, creative problem-solving and collaboration.
Through its College for America program, SNHU has partnered with a health care company and federal agencies to provide credential-based educational opportunities. Its new strategic plan emphasizes a focus on nontraditional students, creating "highly curated and personalized learning pathways" that include conventional degrees as well as badges and micro-credentials.
Nonprofit colleges are growing their footprints online in the wake of the for-profit industry's collapse. Inside Higher Ed reported earlier this year that SNHU and nonprofit Western Governors University were nearing online enrollments of 100,000 and were expected to surpass the for-profit online University of Phoenix.