5 Things Educators Need to Know About Alternative Credentials

In a hyper-connected digital age, budding and long-standing professionals are looking for new ways to acquire relevant skills and showcase their value to potential employers. 

As a result, alternative credentials including badges, certificates, and micro credentials have seen an enormous rise in popularity due to their flexibility, accessibility and demonstrable practical value.

With the digital landscape changing the way people work, communicate and approach professional activities in a number of ways, alternative credentials boast a tailored means of adults mastering very specific skills in niche areas of expertise. 

In this article, we explore 5 key ways that alternative credentials are essential to higher and professional education.

A Rise in Demand for Alternative Credentials

73% of education institutions confirmed that alternative credential programs are pivotal to their future success - UPCEA & Pearson

Alternative credentials are in demand right now. Students and employers alike crave more flexible and relevant qualifications to maintain a certain pace and flow in today’s fast-changing and increasingly competitive labor markets.

To meet a growing demand for alternative credentials across sectors, 1 in 4 institutions now offer some form of digital skills badges. As new disruptive technologies continue to emerge, the demand for alternative credentials is expected to increase and the institutions that offer a robust choice of badges, certificates and micro credentials stand a greater chance of offering maximum value, remaining relevant to prospective students as a result.

The popularity of alternative certification programs is having a significant impact on teaching and learning.

How to Integrate Credentials into a Strategy

How to Integrate Credentials into a Strategy

As the professional world migrates towards a knowledge-based economy, colleges, universities and training providers have a chance to set the tone on how alternative can meet the needs of students, workers and employers - appealing to a broad and valuable range of prospective students.

Lifelong learning is no longer an optional part of an individual's career; now it's a necessary component of professional survival. As such, those that offer a means of upgrading one’s skills with a flexible, tailored approach will position themselves as leaders in continuous professional development, benefiting from an influx of budding professionals, individuals progressing their careers, and businesses looking to introduce sustainable programs to their employees.

Among the droves of professional institutions implementing alternative credential strategies as a part of their educational offerings, MIT has propelled itself into the digital age with its Digital Plus program. Their program uses innovative blended learning courses which merge interactive valuable face-to-face events, convenient online instruction and other progressive technology—such as internet collaboration tools, multimedia, and mobile—to create a highly personalized and more productive learning experience with better outcomes.

“We have always worked with corporations and companies, it’s part of the DNA here at MIT in terms of our research and innovation. But, Digital Plus, is an evolution of our existing digital programs." - MIT's Clara Piloto, Director of Global Programs

This example is a clear indication of the value of alternative credentials in terms of contemporary educational strategy.

Alternative Credentials Can Drive Revenue

According to a recent study, the global alternative credentials market for higher education is expected to grow at a CAGR of almost 32% to 2021.

So, despite being in its relative infancy, alternative credentials are growing at a significant rate with a clear-cut level of value that transcends the industrial spectrum.

The likes of digital badges and certification play a critical role in helping employers to identify the acquisition of skills by students or potential employees while accessing vital details about the program and student - and as alternative credentials become more recognized in the professional world, their value can only increase.

Moreover, in the face of increased artificial intelligence and machine learning adoption, a significant number of key job roles are yet to be developed for 2020, and beyond.

That said, alternative credentials will not only help to upskill people quickly in many niche area, but this new wave of educational offerings will also serve to close the growing digital skills gap, boosting economies while providing a host of fresh revenue-boosting opportunities for educators and employers alike.

Corporate Adoption of Alternative Credentials

Salesfroce Discovery learning program

By their very nature, alternative credentials are focused, concise, flexible and universally appealing, making them ideal for working professionals and a corporate setting. As a result, more corporate organizations are becoming interested in offering alternative credentials to staff members at all levels to standardize skills across a business.

Take tech colossus, Salesforce, for instance. In a bid to provide its growing workforce with the skills required to compete in an ever-shifting professional landscape, the company launched an innovative, tailored learning & development program for its employees.

Placing employee success and engagement at the heart of its corporate mission, Salesforce launched its very own lifelong learning platform Trailhead, to great acclaim.

Based on the principles of digital badges, certification and microcredentials, this engaging, interactive and personalized employee development platform offers its staff continuous training opportunities that are tailored to their individual aims, goals and preferred areas of study.

While official statistics are yet to be published on the specifics of this new educational platform, Trailhead has been incredibly well-received in-house. Moreover, the innovative corporate learning initiative has so far created around 300,000 new jobs this year alone, with around 3.3 million roles to be created in the Salesforce ecosystem by 2022 - an impressive projection, indeed and a testament to the power, potential and rising relevance of alternative credentials.

Help Create Defined Learning Paths

Alternative credentials help people to boost their skills in specific areas of expertise with ease and affordability. Not only do they create viable paths to modern employment but with a learning model that suits fits around the often demanding personal and professional life of the learner, they offer a sustainable means of developing new skills and acquiring fresh knowledge, indefinitely.

The demand for postsecondary credentials is clearly on the rise, and alternative credentials provide an ideal solution for many individuals to obtain the necessary credentials for meaningful work, swiftly and in ways that help them remain engaged - which in turn, provides an incentive to continue learning.

Concerning ongoing professional development, alternative credentials offer all of the critical attributes for sustainable success:

  • Personalized and self-directed learning opportunities.
  • A deep focus on the needs of educators, students and businesses.
  • Competency-based, professional recognized qualifications.
  • Practical, rapidly-evolving educational solutions aimed at real-world activity and strategy.

Drive Employment Opportunities

Get away from the digital dust

Currently, 53% of U.S. bachelor’s degree holders under the age of 25 are either without employment or underemployed, an 11-year high.

By offering an accessible means of expanding on current skill sets and acquiring new niche qualification suited to the demands of today’s employers and enterprises, alternative credentials are changing the way that we as a society view education.

While degrees are still of vital importance, increasingly, we are moving away from traditional learning models and, instead, migrating towards the practical, vocational, adaptable arms of alternative credentials, which in turn, are closing the digital skills gap, boosting the economy, enhancing profitability, assisting development and helping people increase their chances of a bright, prosperous digital future.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela

Alternative credentials are essential to higher education and if you’re an educator, offering these types of learning opportunities today will offer you, your partners and your prospective students a raft of opportunities tomorrow.

Dan Hughes
Content Marketer