By Gail March, Ph.D.
Micro-credentialing with digital badges is a quickly growing and innovative area of training. This form of online education is very successful in corporate training to keep employees updated on all new concepts, products, and processes and to recognize their time and effort in learning. Thinking that the technique could be applied to medical education, I started the Boston University School of Medicine Medical Education Digital Badge Program (BUSM+), an online, digital badge program for health care professionals who want to enhance their understanding of the fundamentals of teaching and learning. The idea program combines the openness of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) with the popularity of scout achievement badges.
A digital badge is an electronic token embedded with the user’s name and achievements that can be posted to a signature line, CV, e-portfolio, or social media. The BUSM+ program is online, open admissions, asynchronous, and available 24/7. There are no pre-requisites to attend. Enrollees represent many different health care professional areas; this variety makes the course interesting and lively. BUSM+ could never compete with the intensive training provided by degree programs, but it does allow busy health care professionals an opportunity to experience fundamental concepts, apply them in assignments, and learn about new teaching ideas that they can apply in their educational settings. After receiving their BUSM+ badge, enrollees can always decide to further their training with a degree program.
The experience of setting up BUSM+ has been interesting. Innovation is often met with challenges, and I certainly experienced some of those. While many people jumped at the opportunity to pursue training online, others did not trust the micro-credentialing concept of a digital badge. Some medical educators feel their online faculty development programs, bricks-and-mortar degree programs, or blended learning programs would be threatened by BUSM+. One of the reasons for concern is that BUSM+ is open.
To my surprise, many of health care professionals who are “digital immigrants” could not navigate the sequenced learning modules and were unfamiliar with online learning. Many seemed to be unable to complete videos more than 10 minutes long. They wanted a “one-click” link to sessions and small bites of educational material that they could easily consume in their busy schedules. The interest in an open-access online faculty development program was definitely there, but participants’ ability to get online and complete assignments and tests was a real challenge. We used this feedback to modify and enhance the program.
For the summer program, we have a new streamlined look, navigation tutorials and cues, and easy access to a fast-food type selection of delicious educational topics to consume. One click does it all, and leads to videos on the fundamentals and current thinking on the ten teaching topics.
For those who finished the January course, BUSM+ was delighted to find that they cherish their digital badges, merit patches, and lapel pins. A wider trust network is building as more digital badge programs appear in other subjects. The University of Michigan Medical School has a digital badge program in medical research. Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine has several different digital badge programs . I have been asked to collaborate with other universities to bring various topics that are often covered superficially or missed to digital badge courses for easy consumption and recognition.
The BUSM+ Medical Education Digital Badge Program is just the beginning. I truly believe that in order to improve patient care, we must begin with preparing our medical educators to meet the challenges of expanding medical knowledge, reforms in medical education thinking, addressing accreditation requirements, new technologies, and tech-savvy students. Many of our prospective participants don’t have time to change their teaching approaches by reading various journal articles without applying the concepts, or by attending a degree program, a faculty development workshop, and a conference seminar. “One click to medical education” can be a viable solution to deliver medical education concepts, saving participants hours of searching the Internet to find quality material. BUSM+ is sharing its topics globally and promoting a community of medical and other health-related educators. See it for yourself by visiting the website: http://www.bu.edu/busmplus. Summer registration ends soon.
Gail March, Ph.D, is Assistant Professor, Medical Sciences and Education; Director, BUSM+ Medical Education Digital Badge Program; and Director, Office of Medical Education Faculty Development at Boston University School of Medicine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.