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Top 3 Concerns Educators Have About Digital Credentials: And Why You Should Offer Them Anyway

A stylized illustration of a college administrator lying awake in a cozy bed, looking thoughtful. Above their head, thought bubbles depict various certificates, badges, and credentials without any text, symbolizing achievements and goals.

The promise of digital credentials has had many people in education and employers excited for years. Offering recognition for skills and knowledge gained over time in a digital format that can be shared and verified quickly and easily appears to be the answer to many of the challenges facing higher education today. From highlighting the value of higher education, to showcasing the skills learners bring to future employers, to improving equity across the board, the potential of digital credentials is thrilling.

So why aren't digital credentials everywhere by now?

During a roundtable discussion, "What Keeps You Up At Night? Ask Your Questions About Digital Credentials," at 1EdTech's recent 2024 Learning Impact Conference, three concerns emerged as the primary challenges.

1) Employers Don't Know What to Do With Digital Credentials.

Several attendees mentioned that when they talk to employers there is confusion over what a digital badge is and the purpose it serves. It's possible that those working on digital credentials fell into the trap of assuming that because we have been working on this for so long, everyone else knows what we're talking about. There is also the problem that the jargon and terminology are varied and change over time, so it can be confusing, even for those who regularly work with digital credentials. (We try to clear some of that up here.)

Instead, the community suggested that when talking to employers, we switch the conversation from badges and credentials to skills, and more specifically, the skills employers are looking for. Some institutions and organizations, like Western Governors University, offer skills libraries to help define skills and competencies and match them to labor market needs.

Other institutions suggested working directly with specific employers in one industry or region to help bridge the gap of understanding. For example, Wichita State University worked directly with industry organizations to help define exactly what was needed from students, ensuring all stakeholders were on the same page.

By starting a credential or badging program in a smaller area, or to fit the needs of employers in a specific industry or region, credential issuers can help bridge the gap of understanding with employers, showcase the value of digital credentials, and fill the skills gaps challenging employers. In this way, educators can draw a direct connection between the credentials an institution offers and the skills employers need.

1EdTech is also working with HR Open on a new Learning and Employment Resume standard that incorporates digital credential standards. This standard will incorporate an individual's skills, knowledge, and achievements in a more digitally verifiable way using a résumé standard human resources is already familiar with.

2) Learners Don't Know How to Use Them.

Another concern raised was that even if employers took the digital credentials, learners don't know how to access the credentials to share them.

When it comes to issuing digital credentials, all stakeholders will need some guidance. While the wallet or digital badge provider may send instructions to the teacher or student, there is no guarantee they will read or understand those instructions. Yes, the platform should make it easy, but the issuer also has to help the learner understand what the credential is and how to use it.

Discussing the credentials and their value can also help your learners understand and communicate the skills they gained to earn the badge. So, even if employers don't know how to process the specific technology, your learners will be able to better represent themselves and their abilities moving forward.

3) There Is No Guarantee Digital Credentials Can Be Used Outside the Organization

Finally, educational institutions worry that digital badges and credentials aren't as versatile as we hope. They are concerned that learners will be forced to use the same digital badge supplier forever if they want to continue sharing their credentials, or that the digital credentials won't be accessible outside of the issuer's ecosystem.

This is where standards and the community come in.

First, when selecting a provider, ask that they follow open standards so that if your learner ever wants to move their credentials out of the current wallet, they can do so easily to another wallet or system that follows the same open standards. This will give the learner ownership over their credentials instead of hindering them by the technology.

Second, there are ongoing efforts to create larger and more open marketplaces for storing and sharing digital credentials. For example, the Digital Credentials Consortium (DCC) offers a Learner Credential Wallet (LCW), and Digital Promise is working on an open source badging platform.

Moving Forward

When it comes to digital credentials, there is a lot to consider and a lot of work still being done to get us where we want to be. Several national efforts, including 1EdTech's TrustEd Microcredential Coalition, Digital Promise's Badging Coalition, the LER Accelerator Coalition, and many others, are helping educational institutions take the next step, regardless of where they are in their digital credential initiatives.

Anyone interested in continuing deeper conversations on these topics, or looking for partners can join 1EdTech's member community, and save the date for the 2025 Digital Credentials Summit in Phoenix, March 3-5, 2025.

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