Digital Badges: What They Are, How They Work, And Why You Should Use Them

Recognizing professional achievements with digital badges

Credentials matter. To move their careers forward, professionals need ways to differentiate themselves from their competition and ultimately stand out in a crowd. They also need others to understand the rigor, time and effort devoted to developing their professional expertise. Moreover, in today’s digitally connected world, professionals share practically everything online in ways that can be publically searched and viewed. As such, they must have ways to communicate their verified advanced skills and expertise on the web beyond just putting a few additional letters after their names or providing a static paper certificate. 

Additionally, in order for professional associations and training providers to stay competitive and continue to both retain and grow their membership or participant pools, they too must find innovative ways to extend their reach and further engage their stakeholders by providing them with additional value. 

Enter digital badges.

 

What are digital badges?

Sometimes referred to as digital credentials, digital badges offer associations and trainers a meaningful way to recognize their stakeholders’ certifications, awards and other continuing education experiences in a format that can be readily shared online.  A digital badge is more than just a visual image or logo. Rather, it is a dynamic portable icon that is embedded with qualifying information such as who issued the credential, where and how it was earned and a detailed description of the competencies met. It can also include expiration dates and continuing education units – if applicable, and links to multimedia artifacts such as pictures, websites, videos, or documents. When the badge icon is clicked, the information is revealed and the accomplishment can be authenticated and verified by the viewer. 

Digital badges are gaining significant traction in the credentialing industry because they are secure and verifiable, thus protecting the integrity of the credential. They also deliver significant additional value to certificants because they can be easily shared via email or on email signatures and on social networks, websites or digital resumes. Depending on the vendor, earners can also create an individualized digital badge portfolio to store and manage one or many of their earned badges. 

As earners, or certificants, share their digital badges with others, namely employers, colleagues or licensing boards, they essentially act as ambassadors by extending the brand of the issuing organization to a wider network. Once shared, the issuing organization can track the sharing and opening of badges, accruing vital data about the impact of their programs.

 

How do digital badges work?

Typically, the issuing organization creates a digital badge for each course or credential. This involves designing the front facing image and information associated with the accomplishment. Thereafter, upon completion of the credential, the organization would issue the badge– via a software platform–to earners.  Earners receive an email or similar communication informing them of the issued badge and how to access the profile page.  Thereafter, depending on the vendor implementation, it can be shared with the earner’s social networks or via email.

 

What value do digital badges bring to earners?

Digital badging offers earners tremendous value including:

  • Verified skills and expertise: Digital badges provide an easy path for employers, colleagues and licensing boards to verify an earner’s credentials with a single click. They also convey all of the underlying qualifications needed for earning the badge.
  • Differentiation in the job market: Badges help earners differentiate themselves when looking for jobs by showcasing their validated skills and expertise in a cutting-edge savvy way. 
  • Convenience: Badges offer a convenient way to digitally record, store and share their certifications and experiences online.

 

What value do digital badges bring to organizations?

Digital badging also offers issuing organizations a number of significant, quantifiable benefits including:

  • Branding and Marketing: As earners share their badges with others, the issuing organization is able to market its programs virally and build its brand organically. 
  • Risk Mitigation: Unlike paper certificates, digital badges are 100% verified and authenticated, thereby protecting the integrity of each credential. Moreover, some badging platforms, such as BadgeCert, even allow issuers to set expiration dates and business rules that further mitigate the risk of earners sharing credentials that are no longer current. 
  • Analytics: Some platforms offer highly sophisticated data collection tools that allow organizations to analyze market impact by reviewing badge sharing, clicks and views.
  • Cost mitigation: Digital badges allow organizations to reduce mailing expenses and paper processing labor. Moreover, organizations with international certificants do not need to be concerned that the paper certificates won’t (or can’t) be delivered properly. 
  • Global: Digital badges can be rendered in multiple languages. 
  • Skills: Along with credentials, organizations can create programs to capture and verify skills, especially for renewal purposes. 
  • Revenue generation: Organizations can upsell digital badges as an additional value for certification and continuing education courses.

 

Digital badges engagement

Digital badges provide secure digital proof that recognizes achievements.  They are a verifiable demonstration of competencies and skills and are a component of identity.  In addition, badges can be readily shared on digital media such as social networks and allow the earner to publicly demonstrate and advertise their competency.  And moreover, they offer the credential issuing organization the ability to gain brand awareness and viral marketing as a result of the earner’s desire to promote both the accomplishment and the organization from which it was issued.

Once posted on social media with comments such as “I’m happy to share my achievement,” the network is compelled to chime in “congratulations” with waves, thumbs up, and additional commentaries.  Each of these represents meaningful engagement for both the earner and the issuer of the credential.

Our study of several recently shared digital badges on social media as shown below showed that on average, a posted badge received 500-1k impressions and 25 interactions, of which, 4-5 were actual comments.  We found that the number of connections and days since posted lead to increases in the number of interactions.  Engagement seemed to plateau around 4-5 days and those with several hundred to 500+ connections were most likely to receive numerous interactions.  Location – whether the US or abroad did not seem to matter, suggesting the power of social media is universal when it comes to engagement.

These observations are strong evidence of engagement via social media using digital badges and represent a meaningful way for organizations to gain recognition and brand awareness via digital badge initiatives.  Unlike paper certificates that sit in one’s office (or desk drawer), cropped in the corner of our Zoom screen, a digital badge remains an active component of our online identities while driving brand awareness.

 

What are micro-credentials?

As stated earlier, professionals are eager to find ways to further differentiate themselves in today’s competitive job market. They want to be recognized for their areas of expertise, specializations and competencies, which may not be directly represented by their current certifications. As organizations constantly strive to provide additional value to their stakeholders, while also identifying alternative ways to generate revenue, they have begun to develop specialty certificates, or “micro-credentials.” 

This nomenclature has caused significant confusion within the credentialing industry. To set the record straight, the term “micro-credential” is often associated with the term “digital badge,” but they are not the same thing. Digital badges can be used as a tool or currency to represent a micro-credential, but they are not micro-credentials. The confusion may be related to the fact that the concept of micro-credentialing and digital badging emerged around the same time.  As organizations began to develop micro-credentials to grow their program offerings and support the needs of their certificants, they also decided to adopt the most current way to represent these smaller, more competency-based certificates. 

Digital badging technology also facilitates the ability to automatically “stack” or “level-up” badges to represent the hierarchy of developing skills and knowledge. This ability enables organizations to be quite creative as they consider how to develop new specialty programs and certification offerings. Along this line, one of the newer applications of “stackable” digital badges involves a professional requesting an “endorsement” from a manager who can attest to applied competencies or skills in the workplace. Much like a letter of recommendation, an “endorsement” badge enables a professional to be recognized in a verified manner for their advanced level of expertise. 

Micro-credentialing has also been a concept used by training providers and higher education institutions. Instead of issuing a paper certificate for successful completion of continuing education courses and competency- based activities, these organizations use digital badges to represent and validate the accomplishment. As mentioned earlier, when all stakeholders within an ecosystem (i.e. professionals, certification providers, training providers, employers) adopt badging as the common currency, the resulting utility for all parties is significant. 

Finally, a recent advancement in recruiting technology has contributed to the movement towards adopting digital badging as a currency and essentially propelled it to the proverbial “tipping point” in the career development space. Many job boards are now making it possible for candidates to include their verified credentials on their profiles, and are also enabling recruiters to search for candidates who have validated or authenticated certifications and skills. Now that digital badging is emerging as a highly valuable currency for key stakeholders in workforce development, what was once a “nice to have” technology is quickly becoming a “must have” strategic tool.

 

What’s the difference between digital badges and digital credentials?

Digital credentials are forms of digital evidence that third parties use to certify the acquisition of a skill or set of skills. Digital badges are visual images that act as vehicles for transmitting that information.

 

What do organizations need to consider when investing in digital badging? 

Digital badging clearly delivers value to both organizations and individuals. However, not all badging platforms are created equal.  As such, before choosing and investing in a specific digital badging software platform, an organization needs to consider its overall objectives and goals. 

Some questions the organization will want to consider:

  • Does the platform include a badge creation and authoring tool?
  • Does the platform include open interfaces that can be readily integrated with existing credentialing processes?
  • Do the digital badges include underlying data describing the accomplishment, or are they easily reproducible static images?
  • Can the embedded data fields encapsulate the organization’s requirements and can they be customized to meet other objectives?
  • Does the platform track and communicate expiration as well as cluster continuing education courses that can be leveled-up into a certification?
  • Does the workflow align with the organization’s volume and frequency requirements?
  • How is the digital badge profile to be shared and communicated to both the issuer and the industry?
  • Does the platform track badge analytics such as “clicks” and sharing?

 

Platforms for digital badges

BadgeCert

BadgeCert is an enterprise-class platform for creating, issuing, storing and sharing digital badges that verify earners’ skills, credentials and continuing education experiences. With its enhanced functionality ensuring 100% real-time authentication for viewers, BadgeCert is the proven credentialing solution for associations, trainers, regulatory agencies and educational institutions.

Founded: 2012

Headquarters: Northbrook, IL

 

Credly

Credly helps people connect their verified skills to opportunities, and organizations make better and more equitable human capital decisions. Credly is a Pearson company.

Founded: 2012

Headquarters: New York, NY

 

Accredible

Accredible is a digital credentialing platform that helps organizations securely issue, manage, track, and verify credentials.

Founded: 2013

Headquarters: Mountain View, CA

 

Badgr

Badgr, now part of Instructure, is a digital credentialing platform where anyone can issue unlimited badges. Badgr has been at the forefront of the digital credential space since its origination and continues to be one of the key players in the market.

Founded: 2015

Headquarters: Eugene, OR

 

Badge List

Badge List helps educators, companies and professional development organizations create Open Badges to guide learning and recognize achievement. Each badge is backed by expert reviews and a portfolio of evidence. Badges are linked together to form pathways guiding learners to their academic and professional goals.

Founded: 2015

Headquarters: San Francisco, CA

 

Badgecraft

Badgecraft offers a multilingual platform and complimentary mobile applications to manage any achievements using Open Badges.

Founded: 2017

Headquarters: Baile Uí Bheoláin, Clare, Ireland

 

Bestr

Bestr is a digital platform based on Open Badges: the meeting point between learners, employers and trainers.

Founded: 2015

Headquarters: Casalecchio di Reno, Bologna, Italy

 

Hyland Credentials

Hyland Credentials provides a complete system to issue official records using a blockchain-anchored format. Digital credentials are easily shareable and instantly verifiable anywhere in the world.

Headquarters: Westlake, Ohio

 

Moodle Badges

Moodle is an ecosystem of learning solutions built around Moodle LMS, the open source learning management system used by hundreds of millions of learners worldwide.

Founded: 2001

Headquarters: West Perth, Western Australia

 

How do I get a digital badge?

Today, with the advent of blockchain and other verification technologies, it’s possible for anyone with sufficient proof and evidence to earn a digital badge that represents their skills and knowledge. There are plenty of ways to get a digital badge in this day and age. Let’s go over some of them and how they work.

Typically, when you’ve completed a certain number of tasks, a badge-issuing organization or person may award you a form of digital proof that you’ve done the work. For example, if you received passing scores on 20 written exams, you might be awarded a digital badge for ‘Outstanding Written Assessments.’

You can also get badges by completing courses or other learning modules. Sometimes these badges are issued by the instructors themselves; other times they’re issued by an agency or accrediting body that oversees the course.

In addition, some organizations may require that you perform a project before they will award you a badge. This is often true for coding projects, where your final project is usually used as proof that you know how to code well enough to enter the field as an employee.


How to create and issue digital badges

If you’re an accredited institution or organization, you can design and issue digital badges through a platform like BadgeCert or Credly, Accredible, Badgr etc. These platforms allow you to create your course badge so your students can show off your badges (and add additional context about what they learn and where). Let’s see the main steps.

  • Develop test or course criteria/curriculum. Make the curriculum available to individuals (can be free or paid, online, or in person).
  • Score or evaluate those who enroll in or complete the course, to determine who will receive the badge.
  • Design and issue the badge via a digital credential platform. These can be integrated in your current CRM or just with a friendly user interface.

 

Digital badging for certification providers

Many of the largest and most prominent certification providers in the world have decided to adopt digital badging to represent their certifications. 

They do so for a variety of reasons including:

  1. Mitigate risk: Credentialing organizations need to protect the integrity of their credentials and mitigate the risk of someone tampering with a paper certificate. Digital badge technology provides the security needed to verify the authenticity of credentials.
  2. Expiration: Digital badges can be set to expire and this feature insures that only certification holders whose credentials are current and up-to-date can share their badges. The BadgeCert platform also has tools to communicate impending badge expiration to earners.
  3. Digital verification: Certificants want the added value of being able to digitally share their credentials with others who can instantly verify them with a single click. This capability also allows certification bodies to reduce the burden of manually validating their stakeholders’ credentials for third-parties.
  4. Meta-data: Often, third-parties do not understand the nature of an earned credential. Badges are embedded with underlying metadata or information that further describes and qualifies the credential.
  5. Marketing: Organizations need to promote their credentials to other potential candidates and maintain their viability within their respective industries. Because digital badges can be shared across social networks, on email signatures and websites, they have become a powerful marketing tool. Several digital badging platforms also allow the issuer to review digital badge sharing data and analytics that helps them to further understand how their brand is being seen in the world.
  6. Reduce costs: Digital badging eliminates labor and materials costs associated with issuing paper certificates, thus providing a large cost savings for issuing organizations. 

 

Digital badges for employees

When it comes to upskilling and reskilling, or frankly any L&D program, learner engagement has been an age-old challenge for learning leaders. One great way to address this is through incentivizing learning. And what better way to make learner engagement activities more fun than to implement digital badging in your employee training!

To put it simply, a digital badge is a proof of an accomplishment or skill that a learner can display, access, and verify online. But it’s only one kind of digital credential (e.g. digital certificates and test-based digital credentials).

Interestingly, there are a lot of benefits to implementing badging in your L&D strategy aside from boosting learner engagement. Digital badging:

  • Helps learners see the goals they want to achieve;
  • Offers learners an avenue where they can showcase their accomplishments for their colleagues and other networks to see;
  • Provides a tangible “reward”, encouraging learners to obtain badges and incentivizing future accomplishments;
  • Helps learners gauge their performance by seeing how they compare to their peers in a common learning environment.

 

Digital badges for students

Badges can be used to encourage learning and motivate students, particularly those who may be struggling or remote learners. Students enjoy collecting badges and take pride in their digital portfolios. They also make it easier for students to share their achievements. There are thousands of courses providing digital badges, for example with Coursera and Udemy.

 

Digital badges for teachers

As the quality of teaching has become recognised as a crucial component of student learning, we’ve seen an increasing emphasis on teacher professional development. Numerous studies explore the characteristics of effective teacher education programmes in low- and middle-income countries but few pay attention to how teachers’ professional learning is evidenced and recognised outside the award of formal qualifications. Most professional development programmes merely distribute certificates of participation or completion. However, capturing and validating improvements in teachers’ classroom practice is important. It rewards teachers who engage actively with professional development, supports their planning of future learning and provides evidence for career advancement.

That’s why it is so important that schools and colleges invest in global digital badging initiatives to support the recognition of teachers’ skills and competencies acquired through their participation in various professional development activities (including online courses). What’s more, badges are recognisable images that can be shared across social networks. They allow for the articulation of specific competencies and achievements and can be used to construct identity profiles, highlight skills, build personal reputations and demonstrate one’s commitment to lifelong learning.

 

How to add digital badges on LinkedIn

There are two simple ways to add a digital badge to your LinkedIn profile:

 

Option 1:

Check if the email you received for your badge has the LinkedIn ‘Add to profile’ button. If so, click on the “Add to profile” button in the email you received.

 

Option 2:

Visit badgecert.com or your platform private area and log in with your credentials. Click on the badge -> Click on ‘Share’ button -> Click on ‘Add to Profile’ button.

June 15, 2022

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