Micro-Credentials Guide - What They Are and Why They're Valuable
Micro-credentials appear to be on everyone’s priority list - whether an educator, learner, employer...
Digital badges can be powerful symbols of achievement, skill and employability. What are digital badges? How do they
differ from, say, an image of a badge? What value do they deliver and to whom? In this information-rich Credentialate Guide you’ll learn the history of digital badges, understand the technology that sits behind them and discover the benefits, challenges and opportunity digital badges present.
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Within the next decade, two thirds of all jobs will be “soft-skill” intensive. However, a quarter of entry-level employers reported difficulty hiring talent because applicants lacked precisely those skills. Those that did have them were snapped up as quickly as the potential employers could verify proof through applicants’ digital badges.
Soft skills are also known as “employability skills” or “enterprise skills”. More recently they became known as “power skills”. These skills are transferable between industries and occupations and are vital for success in any career. Soft skills include a broad range of abilities that include communication, critical thinking, judgment, teamwork, professional ethics, self-management and collaboration to name a few.
Two years ago, they gained significant interest and momentum in talent acquisition. The majority of HR leaders reported that they were becoming increasingly invested in achievements evidenced by digital badges. They were de-emphasizing degrees and prioritizing individual skills, or their hiring strategies headed in that direction.
With our rapidly evolving technology and work practices, many degree courses and traditional credentials become obsolete that much quicker. It has become imperative for job seekers and career professionals alike to ramp up their professional development with industry-specific skills.
Employers now highly prize work-integrated learning and credentials that are industry-aligned and employer-validated. Two thirds of HR leaders have declared that credentials earned online are on equal footing with credentials that were completed in person.
These trends have sparked a rush of credentialing and validation from both employees and employers. Nearly all the skills now in demand can be earned through micro-credential courses with digital badges for proof. They offer reliable and easily verifiable evidence that candidates have both power skills and the industry-specific skills that employers now look for intently.
Digital badges are an indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be displayed, accessed and verified online. Quite simply, they’re visual emblems of achievement.
Physical badges are proof of significant achievement in an organization, much like Scouts merit badges or military challenge coins. Like their physical counterparts, digital badges are powerful symbols for the achievement or membership that they claim to represent. Unlike physical badges, they’re information-rich and complex enough to withstand professional scrutiny and validation.
The term “digital badge” has been used interchangeably with digital credentials or micro-credentials. This is inaccurate and has led to some confusion about what they are. It would be better to say that a digital badge is a type of digital credential.
Digital credentials are simply the digital format of a type of paper credential. Think passports, driver’s licences, certificates of training completion and the like. It may prove qualification, completion, competence or clearance. The badge is often representative of a “micro-credential.” Micro-credentials certify the acquisition of a specific skill or set of skills that are usually earned to enhance employability.
There is a wide range of accomplishments that can be signified by a digital badge. Some badges credit “low stakes” achievements. These can be simple membership in an organization, participation in an event, or engaging in a challenge 100 times. Other badges credit “high stakes” achievements such as developing and demonstrating critical thinking skills, passing a difficult accreditation process, or successfully completing a collaborative project.
Digital badges have enjoyed a great deal of recognition and popularity and for good reason. At their core, collecting and earning badges satisfies human needs for achievement, recognition and respect. It is important to note that all badges have a place in recognition of skills, so long as the intent behind the badge is transparent and that there is evidence (preferably personalised evidence) attached.
From professional and learning perspectives, the increased use of digital badges matched the rise of micro-credentials. Badges are shareable, easily verifiable proof of industry-specific skills. They’re sought by employees, employers, jobseekers and higher education institutions alike. But when did they start getting so popular?
Their roots lie with the first veterans of the video-game industry. In 2002, computer programmer Nick Pelling coined the term “gamification” while advocating the power of game mechanics in non-game scenarios. Pelling had two decades of computer game design under his belt. He was adamant that applying video game challenges and experience to real life processes could increase consumer engagement.
Foursquare was an early adopter of gamification. It was a search-and-discovery app that rewarded users for mapping locations in various cities. Users would rate restaurants and other places of interest. They would compete with others in a similar location and unlock digital badges. Huffington Post and others soon caught on to the badging system and adopted it too.
In 2005, Microsoft would establish the first implementation of an achievement system for its Xbox 360 console games. This began a five-year drive across industries to apply gamification and adopt the badges as marks of achievement. Unfortunately, many of these badges lacked transferability outside their issuer’s domain. This meant one could only copy and paste badge pictures, which didn’t promote much trust or verifiability.
The Mozilla Foundation would address this issue in 2011 with the release of its Open Badge System Framework. They acknowledged the significant impact that badges had on learning, achievement and community. Mozilla developed an open technical standard for issuing, collecting and displaying badges on multiple instructional sites. The following year, more than 1,400 companies joined the Open Badge system. It thrives to this day.
Over 3,000 credentialing organizations have sprung up in the ten years since Mozilla established the first standards. Those organizations offer competing standards and digital credentials that are predominantly earned in a learning environment. The criteria and rubrics for them are determined by accredited instructors, higher learning institutions, national associations and credentialing bodies.
Digital badges are earned in various ways now. They prove competency in intermediate learning such as programming, cloud computing or project management. They recognize the development of specific, job-related skills during an internship. Badges can simply acknowledge membership in an exclusive group of individual’s common competencies or talents, like a football team or chess club. They also certify professional accomplishments over a period or as specified by the issuing body.
Currently, the most useful of these certifications is micro-credentialing. Digital badging is excellent for achieving new skills outside a degree course or for validating existing ones. It gives learners the edge in a competitive job market. They also give employers a plethora of options for attracting talent and developing it. Badges are visual emblems of certification like diplomas, but they offer more than proof of certification.
Paper diplomas are static credentials that rely on the brand of the issuing organization to back up the stated qualifications. In this decade’s rapidly evolving technologies and jobs, they can quickly become obsolete. Degrees, certifications and skills can lose relevance because they aren’t adaptable to change.
Digital badges have embedded metadata that provide richer validation of qualifications. They contain shareable information about the badge issuer, receiver, criteria for issuing, issue date, expiration date, standards adhered to and evidence of achievement. They can even tell you whether the badge has been revoked and why. Overall, badges provide remarkable, timely, validated, dynamic evidence of the badge recipient’s claims of achievement.
The right badges represent validated skills of the type that employers are hungry for. They certify micro-credentials that build power skills and industry-specific skills that employers want. They’re easy to produce, manage and share. That makes them attractive to both the person seeking employment and the employer who’s looking for trusted, verifiable, digital proof.
Badges make hiring practices better. They allow companies to scale the hiring process, reduce unnecessary tests and take a more evidence-based approach to screening. This enables employers to fine-tune hiring practices predicting fit and performance that a traditional diploma can't surface.
From an educational and training perspective, badges can add much value to the learning process. Through gamification, badges increase learner engagement. They’re used as rewards for learning achievement and recognition for completing arduous, sometimes unpalatable tasks. Organizations rely on badges to boost participation in training and HR programs. They also use them to encourage collaboration.
Passing different levels of assessments can earn badges. This is common with MOOCs as a way to show various “levels” of mastery that were gained over time. Badges are also used to recognize quality, indicate trust, or represent awards. Employers also consider these achievements and seek them out, making evidence of them more valuable.
Best of all, digital badges demonstrate superior value over traditional credentials in the granular details of surfaced achievements. They provide a more modular and flexible way of showing combination competencies and various levels of mastery.
The work of Credential Engine is making significant progress in addressing this challenge with their credential marketplace and the development of their Credential Transparency Description Language (CTDL).
In education, faculty and administrative staff often set up manual processes to collect badge evidence. Then the formal evaluation and scoring of that evidence becomes a separate process from badge issuance. Educators quickly give up on badging initiatives because this process becomes enormously time-consuming on a large scale. The solution is to integrate the assessment management with the badging. Automating this process would streamline the collection, rubric-based scoring and credential issuance.
In some higher education institutions, badges are locked into that institution’s LMS. They can’t be shared outside the LMS, which defeats the purpose of micro-credentialing. There’s no tangible value to digital badges if they can’t be shared across online platforms and social media. Alternatively, the badges are stored in a separate silo where they can’t cross-link with portfolio projects, resumes, LinkedIn profiles and the like. Employers will search for skills and keywords inside resume databases. If the badge doesn’t interact with those, then it did nothing useful for the learner’s career goals.
Badge credibility suffers if the issuer does not have direct industry expertise or is not tied to industry bodies or associations. A digital badging program should align itself directly with industry standards, best practices and frameworks. Collaboration or direct ties with the relevant institutions increases the value of the digital badge significantly.Back to top
Credentialate is a secure, configurable platform that assesses and tracks attainment of competencies and issues micro-credentials to students backed by personalised evidence at scale. By automatically extracting data from existing platforms and using an organization’s own assessment rubrics, we can objectively measure awarding criteria and validate its evidence.
By this same method we can automate the assessment, monitoring, promotion and validation of evidence-backed skills. For an institution, we provide the data and insights required to track skills and competencies across courses and entire programs.
Finally, we have decades of collective experience in educational technology and long-standing ties with global educational powerhouses. These solidify our ability to produce credible digital badges.
Credentialate assesses, monitors, promotes and validates learners’ attainment of evidence-backed skills, supporting the transition from learner to earner. It is a secure, configurable platform that assesses and tracks attainment of competencies and issues micro-credentials to students. If you’d like to learn more About Us and how we can work together, contact us or Schedule a Demo and let’s discuss!
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The world's first Credential Evidence Platform
Launched In 2019, Credentialate is a Credential Evidence Platform that increases the power and meaning of digital badges and allows educators to analyse performance against learning outcomes like never before. Since its launch, Credentialate has secured partnerships with higher education leaders, including with a Group of 8 University. Credentialate was developed by Edalex - an edtech company on a mission to surface learning outcomes, digital assets and the power of individual achievement. Founded in 2016, Edalex brings together the team behind the CODiE award-winning openEQUELLA open source platform that centrally houses teaching and learning, research, media and library content.
Find out more at: edalex.com/credentialate