The unbundling of education and innovations in career pathways point toward a brighter future. The Institute for Credentialing Excellence provides an excellent of the emerging role for Digital Badges. This ICE Digest article covers the bases of opportunities, methods, challenges, and benefits. Fortune 500 employers confirmed their optimism in focus group research conducted by Professional Examination Service.
“Digital micro-credentials would help them narrow a pool of applicants to those most likely to have the specific skills for a position. And the promise of one-click, secure verification of a claimed micro-credential — including confirmation of whether the credential was current — eased a pain point for many employers.”
Opportunities and Methods for Credentialing
An open badge that is rigorous enough in how it’s developed, in how the skills or knowledge are assessed, and in the criteria for awarding can represent a “micro-credential” — essentially, a more granular form of credential that is displayed as an open badge. Yet it represents a type of credential because:
- It is not earned until certain criteria are met that are established by the micro-credential sponsor or issuer: demonstrated skills, assessed knowledge or achieved experience;
- No matter how or where it is displayed by the earner, the micro-credential image carries metadata inside of it that, when clicked, securely validates for what it was issued, by whom and when it expires and might require recertification; and,
- Validation of the individual micro-credential remains under the control of the issuer (even as the earner can freely share or stack credentials), so unlike a static digital image or a paper certificate, a micro-credential can expire, be revoked or renewed.
So how might a digital micro-credential work for a credential sponsor? In several ways (none of which are mutually exclusive):
- As a precursor to a traditional credential. Certain parts of a full credential might be “chunked” to provide a scaffolded starting point for a larger credential; a separate, less intense entry-level micro-credential could be developed; or an assessment-based micro-credential, created by a credible third party, might satisfy some eligibility requirements for an established credential.
- As an add-on to a traditional credential. These micro-credentials could reflect additional specialized skills that go beyond the full credential, or reflect accomplishment of a certain number of continuing education units or ongoing professional study.
- As a standalone, new credential, reflecting an area of practice that is either emerging or not broad enough to merit a traditional credential, yet is in demand by employers or the market.
In all of these cases, the digital micro-credential has the benefit of being purely digital (no paper handling) and is based on an open standard that no one vendor controls.
The obvious challenge to micro-credentials represented as open badges is that they’re new. Not everyone has thought through both the implications and the applications.
Perhaps less obvious, but equally important:
- Employers have to value digital micro-credentials as much as they do traditional credentials now. (Early research indicates that’s likely because they are specific, and are easy to verify.)
- Candidates have to be able to find digital micro-credentials that represent skills, knowledge or accomplishments that are important for them, professionally, and augment traditional credentials.
- Career and social networking websites have to make it simple for earners to display digital micro-credentials (a task Mozilla hopes to ease with its Displayer API for sites, and by not taking a proprietary approach as can happen with a technology driven by one company).
One challenge may be more semantic than technical: psychologically getting over the childhood connotation of the term “badges.” That’s why some organizations, such as ProExam, have begun calling the workplace versions digital micro-credentials that happen to be displayed as a badge. (Sorry, Scouting.)
Ultimately, once the barriers are hurdled, digital micro-credentials could have tangible and unique benefits:
- Employers would be able to more quickly identify specific skills they desire in a large candidate pool and more easily verify a claimed credential.
- Candidates could incrementally earn a traditional credential, or reflect post-credentialing achievements, or create their own by combining several micro-credentials.
- Credential sponsors could assess, and issue credentials for, more granular skills or knowledge than they can today in a more cost-effective manner, replacing computer-based or paper testing sites for lower-stakes credentials with Internet-based testing and remote proctoring. And sponsors could monitor the status of issued micro-credentials by building in expiration or recertification dates.
Digital micro-credentials may appear on the surface to be totally new. But embedded in their small size may lie part of the future of credentialing, building in digital bits upon the best practices of the past.
Frank Catalano is the chief marketing officer of Professional Examination Service and is a strategist, author and veteran analyst of digital education and consumer technologies. He writes a regular column for the tech news site GeekWire and has been a contributor to the NPR/KQED education site MindShift and the edtech news site EdSurge. He tweets both from @FrankCatalano and @ProExam.