Data in Higher Education Series | Episode 13

Breaking Down Digital Badging & Credentialing

Published September 23, 2019

What exactly is a digital badge or credential? In this episode we speak with Chris Husser, Director of Product at Campus Labs, who breaks down the concept of digital credentials and how these elements directly engage learners to better understand their skill achievements and educational journey. We also discuss how campuses can use digital credentials to benefit their own programs and make more out of learning at their institutions.


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Show notes:

What’s the difference between badging, micro-credentialing and competency assessment?

Understanding how these things relate begins with the general concept of a credential. A lot of institutions consider the diploma—the actual degree—as the credential, but that piece of paper encompasses a lot of things. Institutions may be able to articulate the general education requirements their students go through and define what they are capable of, but generally the diploma represents a very broad experience without much detail beyond a bachelor, master or doctorate degree. Badging technologies—including micro-credentialing and competency assessment—can break down the educational experience to showcase on a more detailed level what the student or learner is capable of doing and what experiences and skills they have gained.

How are campuses using these credentials in higher education?

In some cases, it’s about spurring engagement both inside and outside the classroom to show incremental progress in certain programs across a variety of departments at an institution.

Another example might be for honors and awards. Campuses use these formats to commemorate achievements and skill milestones.

Others use this technology with assessment in mind to really verify and validate that a certain learner has a particular set of skills or competencies. In much the same way as focusing on student learning outcomes, this technology has become a way to structure the fact that a student has a given set of competencies.

And that really brings us to the most prevalent use, which is the certification of a credential. A campus can give a learner the stamp of approval and a representative takeaway—a badge—to demonstrate a competency based on the work they completed.

How is this different from what campuses might already be doing for assessment?

Think about the typical types of assessment done at an institutional level: it’s really for the benefit of the institution. Accreditation is done where the standards of institutions require them to provide evidence of their effectiveness. The assessment processes in the classroom are ultimately to show that the instructor, program, major, department or college is effective. What is missing from that is obvious: the student themselves. Not that it’s not valid to collect all the other data, but it is ideal to have forms of assessment that benefit the person being assessed. Badging and micro-credentialing is a form of assessment that gives the learner something tangible to takeaway from their experience to show their abilities and articulate what they’re capable of.

How is encouragement a factor in digital badging and credentialing?

Quizzes, tests, papers and other ways that gauge skill building and knowledge lack a sense of progression or encouragement. The application of digital badging and credentialing can provide encouraging milestones along the way for the learner to understand what level they’ve achieved so far, including feedback and badges at each stage to help them better understand and make meaning of the skills they’re gaining on their educational journey.

What about the student completion conversation relating to those struggling or issues of student debt?

Digital badging and credentialing creates a more structured or granular experience for the learner to breakdown the skills and value they’re taking away from their educational experience. They can be lifted in knowing “I’ve made it so far already” and be driven to continue their journey.

On the issue of debt, a lot of the data we’ve seen from the US census bureau and other areas is a trend showing the current generation of students have significantly lower college debt than their predecessors. Digital badging comes in to help that trend by giving learners an alternative form of credentials to display their skills. It’s not quite as extreme as thinking this will replace a traditional diploma, but it may be a way to have organizations recognize other forms of learning potentially in exchange for credit. Badging will allow the current generation to use a variety of different experiences towards degree attainment without having to incur the same amount of loan or debt as fulltime enrollment.

Is badging and credentialing relevant just for Gen Z or can it be used for non-traditional students?

One could argue it’s just as much or more relevant for non-traditional students! Whether you went to college or didn’t, you may be in the workforce now thinking about career advancement, development or even transition. The types of competencies needed when entering an undergrad are much broader than those needed by someone in a specific field who desires a tightly honed set of skills for their area. Badging and micro-credentials can help service that need.

What does a learner do with all their credentials?

What learners do with their digital credentials really depends on their specific goals, but from speaking directly with learners we usually see them being used in three common ways:

  • a) As a reflective component with career counselors, academic advisors or professional mentors. The badge or credential encapsulates an experience that lets these people discover what the learner can bring to the “real world” that they can help use to make suggestions, give advice or even provide meaningful connections.

  • b) To get their first job or a promotion by showcasing their skills portfolio. Credentials get put on career networking sites, social media pages and are even printed on resumes and cover letters. It helps learners distinguish themselves from others on a more specific level.

  • c) For discovering what’s next. Learners gain a specific sense of what skills they have but also what ones they need to build upon. Whether in an educational environment or in a career workplace, credentials help them understand what they know and then gain confidence for where they can go next.

Where does the digital importance come into play versus a more general paper certification?

When these digital badges and credentials are issued, they contain very valuable “meta data.” This information describes who gave that badge to whom, for what reasons, with what criteria being met, and with what other outcomes it was aligned. The person or institution using the right technology can dig into the meta data and go beyond face value to get a better sense of the credibility of that experience and truly understand what that person can do.

What should be considered by an institution or company interested in digital badging?

There are really two main things that stick out.

First, it’s easy to look at these digital badging and credentialing technologies as a way for learners to get jobs or advance careers. Indeed, that’s an important part of it but companies and institutions need to understand that these technologies help learners articulate their skills. An employer can find great merit in looking at a digital badge or credential but at the end of the day, they are also concerned about the learner being able to confidently articulate their own skills.

The second thing is not to look at this as more work. Digital badging and credentialing add a layer on top of existing programs and services. Don’t start a new program but look at the existing frameworks and see if there are ways to enhance them. It won’t just save on work, but institutions and companies might find that they already have the right curriculum design in place and they can enhance it with these additional components.