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Report: 3 Ways to Build Connected Credentials

About five months ago, a report from Third Way explored the hurdles to the widespread adoption of credentialing in the workforce. Now the author of that report is back with some recommendations, especially pushing state and federal policymakers to get into the act.

According to "Solutions to Build a 21st Century Connected Credentialing System," the big problem is the fragmentation of the postsecondary credentialing system. It's hard, wrote Senior Policy Advisor Kelsey Berkowitz, for people "to store, share and display their learning experiences over time"; and there's no "common way to describe and understand the DNA of any given credential," meaning the skills the credential represents.

The first step, suggested Berkowitz, is for the feds — agencies such as the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, Commerce and Defense — to develop a set of "connected credentialing principles" and a "credentialing innovation badge." The former would offer a roadmap for institutions, employers, vendors and others to follow as they set up their credentialing infrastructure. The latter would serve as a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," for those organizations to show they followed the principles. As a reward, those who attain that badge could then be given priority in various activities; for example, a vendor could go to the front of the line in procurement processes.

Second, Berkowitz advised, state and federal governments could fund credential innovations — once those have reached the prototype stage. When an organization has developed a scheme for allowing competency data to be more accessible or to give people greater control over their data, as an example, it could apply for funding to test the innovation.

Third, the paper recommended that federal agencies help fund state efforts to develop and implement "Comprehensive Learner Records" (CLR). This is a digital record that would offer information about a learner's skills, especially those gained outside of the classroom, and possibly link to an online portfolio. Berkowitz wrote that a good place to set aside this funding would be during the reauthorization of the "Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act"; people enrolled in WIOA-funded training programs could have a CLR assigned to them.

Another area explored in the report is credential transparency. As Berkowitz noted, "There is no widely used language to describe the skills the credential-holder can be expected to have and, by extension, what tasks a worker can be expected to do." One way to get over that hurdle, she offered, would be to adopt something like the "Credential Transparency Description Language," developed by nonprofit Credential Engine. Another element to the solution: to encourage training providers to "identify the skills they teach" and make that information more broadly available.

The complete report is openly available on the Third Way website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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