What Do Digital Credentials Mean for Education?

An increasing number of adults and working professionals are seeking education that can significantly boost their skills and knowledge. And this level of demand is having a huge impact on educational institutions in addition to the type of education they need to provide their audience.

With less time on their hands and a pressing need to learn niche skills, today’s students require learning programs and initiatives that can provide them with niche skills and knowledge quickly and effectively.

A recent Deloitte Access Economics study forecasts that soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all roles by 2030, compared to half of all jobs in 2000.

Enter micro-credentials; a new way to accredit students and working professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in an ever-evolving digital age.

In this article, we explore the rise of digital credentialing in the modern age and the measures required to appeal to today’s student-base.

The adoption of microcredentials

The adoption of micro-credentials

The rapid and at times, relentless, pace of the digital world commands constant attention and as such, professionals need to upskill themselves on a regular basis to remain competitive.

Micro-credentials are geared towards providing success in a professional landscape by harnessing the power of today's sophisticated technological developments.

As a direct result of this need for continual learning, droves of professionals have turned to alternative credentialing to stay abreast of market trends while acquiring new knowledge to assist them in their existing roles.

The power of digital experiences on a host of important touchpoints in our everyday lives has seeped into the realms of learning. As a result, expectations are shifting about how educational experiences, approaches, and formats should evolve to include new behaviors and expectations from our digital existence.

A recent study suggests that 60% of industry experts believe that more employers will migrate towards to skills-based hiring by selecting candidates based on what they are able to do, as opposed to than their degree or pedigree. Moreover, 57% of experts confirmed that employers will hold more value in alternative or micro-credentials and that those seeking new roles should strongly consider these educational formats as a way to build their confidence, skills, knowledge base and profile.

Micro-credentials in universities

Micro-credentials in universities

The exponential rise of edTech has started to turn the traditional classroom learning model on its head - and as a direct result of this shift, more and more forward-thinking universities and institutions have begun to adopt micro-credentialing as part of their ever-expanding curriculums.

Increasingly, modern universities are realizing that learning new skills and acquiring fresh credentials don't have to be arranged into rigid multi-year chunks. And in a time where professionals need to refine and evolve their skillset on a continual basis, micro-credentials are the obvious solution.

Institutions like the University of Wisconsin -Extension and have embraced the potential of emerging technologies and innovative learning models to offer alternative digital credentials that help people learn new skills in a digestible format tailored to their specific needs and professional goals.

Along with five other universities including The University of Texas at Austin, the Wisconsin-Extension has been posting micro-credential-based courses through a third-party digital learning portal for over 2 years. Here learners can purchase courses and take an assessment to earn a badge for between $25 and $150, committing to three to 30-hours of learning time. And as more institutions jump aboard, more and more professionals are likely to take advantage of these types of digital credentials.

Here, Phil Long, Associate Vice Provost of Learning Sciences at the University of Texas, speaks on the micro-credentials and the evolution of badges to recognize learning.

The rise of the digital badges and certificates

The rise of the digital badges and certificates

In many cases, the completion of a digital credential-based course earns a learner a badge or certificate, both of which act as a confirmation of completion or achievement that are possible to access or verified online.

Despite being in their relative infancy, digital badges are fast-becoming industry recognized, allowing learners to showcase their credentials to potential employers and progress their careers.

Having realized the potential of digital badges and alternative credentialing early, IBM recently launched its  Badger App, a portal where learners can master (and earn credential badges) for sought-after digital skills including cloud tech and advanced data analytics.

What’s particularly interesting is the fact that of the notable 214,000 users that have utilized the portal to earn digital badges, 40% are aged 50 and older. This data alone is a clear indication of the wide appeal of digital badges and certification in the digital age.

The short-term, work-centric credential is growing in popularity as students use them to land jobs or, eventually, earn degrees, while those long into their careers are leveraging their bespoke convenience to remain relevant or gain a competitive edge in a cutthroat professional world.

As educational models evolve and more people migrate to alternative credentials that fit into their demanding work lives, as stated, many industry experts believe that employers will start looking to these achievements over traditional degrees to assist them in making critical hiring decisions.

“Alternative credential opportunities offer convenience, flexibility, and affordability - features that are valued by adult learners and that may propel adult learners toward degree attainment.” - Tina Goodyear, COO, The Presidents’ Forum, The Council of Experts, Excelsior College

Whether or not micro-learning will eventually replace the traditional college or university entirely is up for debate, but what's clear is that alternative credentials will grow in value, meaning the demand among students and working professionals is likely to increase in the near future, and beyond.

Driving value with digital credentials

Driving value with digital credentials

To deliver maximum value though digital credentials and offer learners an experience that is tailored to their specific needs and desired goals, there are elements an institution should consider for success:

  • It's important to develop a strategy that identifies the particular learning functions, performance level standards and lifespan of every badge or certificate. It's also critical to develop training content that links to industry relevant competencies to increase the integrity of the award and its perceived value to employers as well as employees.
  • Where necessary, seek external backing from professional institutes, CPD providers, or training partners to enhance the usability, value and integrity of your micro-credential offerings.
  • Ensure your institution’s micro-credential and badging system is fair across the board by training in-house team members to manage, deliver and validate the course evidence. Testing each course and mapping out your learner journey to ensure the best possible user experience is also critical to ongoing success.
  • Make sure that the core of your institution’s strategy addresses the way micro-credentials will be revised in response to industry changes, trends and evolution. It's possible you will have to update course standards and content regularly, so making your credentials adaptable is essential. 

In today’s fast-moving professional landscape, the skills required for the workplace change and shift at a rapid pace. In fact, it's estimated that by 2020, 60% of new jobs will require less than 20% of the skills we as professionals currently possess or value.

While this could be considered a grand prediction, it does highlight that fact that we live in a time where not all of the skills of today won't necessarily pack as much punch tomorrow. As such, the traditional degree or learning model is too static to offer a lifetime of professional value.

Alternative credentials provide clear-cut opportunities to advance careers and expand skillsets and for cutting-edge institutions that cater for the needs of today’s budding as well as established professionals, success and longevity is inevitable.