College of Education creates competency-based online program, where graduates have to show what they know

Tina Redd already has two degrees – a bachelor’s and a master’s – but when she graduates this spring with another master’s from Purdue, she’ll finally have something her other degrees couldn’t offer: Proof of what she can do.

This past fall, students pursuing Purdue’s online MSEd Learning Design and Technology degree began taking part in a plan that redefines what a master’s is, and can be. 

Besides graduating with a degree and a GPA to post on their resumes, students will also have a digital portfolio of their work along with a series of digital badges signifying that each project has been approved by an instructor and meets the standards of industry professionals.

“Essentially, students in our program will graduate with a digital portfolio showing that they can do 39 specific things that they should be able to do in our profession,” says Bill Watson, associate professor of Learning Design and Technology. “So that when they go out to talk with potential employers, they don’t just say, ‘I got in A in this course’ but, ‘Here is an example of the skills I have learned, and the concrete things they allow me to do.’”

Digital badge for Jing

For Watson, the use of micro-credentials and a digital portfolio play an integral role in the future of education, one that removes the ambiguity of the traditional A to F grading scale.

“Even if you get an A- in a course, that’s a score of 90 percent – what if that 10 percent you missed was a critically important skill,” Watson asks. “Micro-credentials allow you to really get to the heart of what a student is supposed to be learning.”

The education and learning design students still attend classes and receive traditional grades; the creation of their digital portfolios is a separate requirement, allowing them to use a mix of coursework and outside-of-class projects to show competency.


Students track their competency, and build their portfolios, using Passport – an e-learning tool developed at Purdue – that allows users to demonstrate their competencies and achievements with digital badges. Those badges, which Digital badge for Adobe Captivatefunction like certificates of completion or competency, can then be displayed on social media like Facebook or LinkedIn, or uploaded to the public Passport profile on Mozilla’s Backpack.

Passport is widely used on Purdue’s campus and has been licensed for use at other institutions, says Anthony Newman, the business development advisor for Office of the Vice President for Information Technology. The app allows users to create badges for different achievements, and allows each digital badge to include metadata, such as who issued the badge and how and when it was earned. The badges can also be linked to a student’s digital portfolio, allowing them to display the projects for which the badge was earned.

“It’s a very versatile tool for allowing students to show competency in an area,” says Newman. “It’s not just ‘here’s what I say I can do’ but ‘here’s what I’ve done.’”

Feedback loop

“The nice thing about Passport is that it allows you to show off your skill in greater detail,” says Tim Newby, professor of learning design and technology. “But with 39 different requirements, that can lead to a lot of variety in what students submit.”

Although some of the badge requirements can be met using projects from class, students – most of whom are full-time working professionals – can also submit work or personal projects to meet competency requirements. Newby says that helps students take what they are learning in class and apply it to real-world examples.

For instructors, Newby says, Passport and badges are beneficial because they create an instant feedback loop about what students are learning.

“Each submission is evaluated to see if it meets the badge’s criteria,” says New by, “Which helps instructors see if students are understanding the concept and if students are applying what they are learning in the course.

Real World

Tina Redd, who’s in the final semester of the online master’s course while working as a training director at a medical education company, says she didn’t always see the value of the badges when the system was implemented.

Digital badge for iMovie“I think several people in the class were skeptical,” says Redd. “Like they were adding on a lot of extra work, for not much benefit. But it didn’t take long for me to realize how practical it was.”

Redd said the badges helped her focus on both the concepts and their practical applications, ultimately giving her deeper insight into what she was supposed to take from each course, along with the proof that she has mastered the material.

“I wasn’t used to doing anything beyond getting the grade,” says Redd. “This was different. The grade was still important, but you come away from each requirement knowing that you had learned a specific skill or concept – and that you can go to an employer and show them the work you have already done. It gives you a sense of confidence that you can show what you know.”

Writer: Dave Stephens, technology writer, Information Technology at Purdue, 765-496-7998,

Last updated: February 9, 2018