Digital Badges: The 21st Century Credential

By • July 23, 2018

The shift to digital in nearly every facet of daily life has majorly impacted the ways in which we interact on a daily basis. Think about it- we shop, stream TV, send countless texts and emails, take classes and telecommute – all online. Now it’s just part of our day-to-day.

Twenty-first century business culture no longer supports the idea that once you earn your degree your learning career is complete. Our jobs, and how we do them, are evolving- meaning our skillsets should be too. This necessary growth and the competitiveness of business are fueling demand for continuing education.

More than ever, individuals are seeking resources for continual learning to enrich themselves personally and set themselves apart in the job market.

Online trainings, courses, tutorials, webinars and other forms of continuing education allow individuals personal and professional enrichment from qualified institutions in formats much easier, and usually much less costly, to access than education in a traditional classroom setting. Much of the time, these qualified institutions are associations.

Continuing education credits serve as means for individuals to stay relevant and competitively equipped in their field and workplace; allowing experience and out-of-classroom learning and training to translate into credible and recognizable qualifications.

Employers are increasingly more concerned with the application of job-required skillsets- a degree is still important, but a candidate’s continuing competency is vital. “The degree will always be an important credential, but it won’t always be the gold standard,” said Jim Fong, director of UPCEA’s Center for Research and Marketing strategy.

A formal degree is a luxury not everyone can afford, and the presence of one doesn’t always do the best at communicating who’s best for the job; hence a need for additional means of validating other qualifications and skills.

Enter digital badges.

Digital badges are digitized records of an individual’s achievements, skills, abilities, knowledge and competencies. Each badge holds integrated data like endorsements, examples of the badge earner’s work, and other evidence of a person’s mastery. Unlike traditional measures of education in which the level of mastery is rarely indicated, digital badges directly relate to proficiency level.

Badges can be created by the issuing authority, allowing companies or organizations to customize each badge’s criteria and prevent fraud through encryption. Or a badge may be imported from another platform and customized with objective measures for required qualifications. This serves candidates and employers alike; they may rest assured knowing that the individual chosen for a position will be the best candidate for the job. The objectivity of a badge eliminates any uncertainty or worry of selection based on misreporting, fraudulent claims or embellishment.

Benefits for Individuals

Digital badging (also “digital credentialing”) provides job-seekers with a way to accurately portray their skillsets and provides employers with a reliable means of assessing their potential fit. Badges tell how proficient a candidate is in a skill/ability or if they’ve barely met the criteria for passing a certification. In the online job search world, an individual with digital credentials is viewed six times more than one without.

Being able to represent your achievements digitally is great for success in the growing gig economy. Digital credentials quickly serve as proof that an individual can perform the tasks they claim they can, allowing more time for performing a job and less on proving qualification.

Benefits for Associations

Creating and issuing digital badges formalizes internal training or mentorship programs between senior skilled workers and novice professionals. The awarding of a company-sponsored digital badge gives junior employees something to show for an otherwise uncaptured/immeasurable trade skill. The National Wood Flooring Association used digital credentials to address the field’s growing skilled labor shortage with this same practice, using it to revive the industry’s talent pool.

According to data provided by LinkedIn, the job-hopping trend is accelerating. To increase retention, LinkedIn recommends frequently exposing employees to new things, like offering training and development. Associations are in that same fight for member retention; 24 percent of association members leave within 1-5 years of joining. An organization offering enrichment opportunities is more likely to retain its members, and the opportunity to earn credentials rank as a top 3 reason to join an association. For both Millennials and Gen Xers, professional development is what makes members feel most engaged.

Associations can also use digital badges to increase employee engagement. Digital badge training and testing can be gamified. Whether the motivation is competition, entertainment, professional enrichment, or a combination, earning digital badges through skill-based games adds an enjoyable element to training.

Engaging members through digital badging helps to ensure that associations are continually aligning their members’ skills to organization/industry standards. As an added bonus, the integration of digital badging is a potential source of non-dues revenue.

Digital Badges In Person

As more and more of the virtual world integrates into our real life, one of the most immediate ways to start implementing credentials is at events. Think about how easily digital badges would fit into event timelines: Attendees verify their credentials at check-in. They can choose to attend workshops or discussions catered to their badge-verified qualifications, more easily know who they’d like to network with based on a nametag displaying badge credentials, and even receive a badge for attendance.

For event hosts, the badges would aid in gathering quick, real-time data about the event and serve immediate improvements for future meetings. Badge data could answer questions like who’s attending, who is contributing, and who is just there for the finger food.

Credentialing services are an emerging new resource that associations should start taking advantage of. The integration of digital badging is a potential source of non-dues revenue, will increase visibility, fight résumé fraud and promote organizational diversity.

About The Author

Shelby McKeown is a former marketing account specialist with Naylor Association Solutions.