What Are Digital Credentials?

What Are Digital Credentials?

The traditional crediting system has been around for hundreds of years. Most of us are familiar with it. You go to school, attend classes, gain credits, and eventually graduate with a piece of paper certifying your accomplishment. This system, while time-tested, has serious flaws that modern, digital credentialing systems aspire to correct. To understand the implications of a new credentialing system, we first need to explore the meaning of the term digital credential.

So, what are digital credentials?

Digital credentials represent a learner’s academic accomplishments electronically. They typically contain a description of the student’s achievement, what gaining this credential entails, the student’s learning outcomes, the assessment process, and a reference to the issuer’s website. They are secure, modular, easy to verify, and easy to share at the student’s discretion. Digital credentials, unlike traditional paper credentials, do not require long processing times to distribute and are nearly impossible to counterfeit. 

What credentials can be digitized?

The digitization of an individual’s credentials is virtually limitless. Recently, essential documents like passports, driver’s licenses, and membership certificates are becoming increasingly digital. In education, students are demanding that institutions make their degrees, diplomas, and transcripts available online. However, these certifications amount to only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digitizing credentials. 

When filling a vacant position, employers rarely ask to see an applicant’s transcripts. They base their decision, in part, upon whether or not the applicant has completed a course intended to prepare them for work in that field. Even if an employer does ask for transcripts to further assess a candidate’s suitability for a particular role, the information transcripts provide rarely offers insight into the candidate’s specific skills. With the increasing popularity of skills-based hiring, students are looking for specified and verifiable credentials to make them more employable.  For this reason, micro-credentials and badges have become more popular. 

What are micro-credentials?

Unlike the traditional, time-based credentials, which require students to spend anywhere from two to four years in a classroom to earn a degree, micro-credentials are issued based on skills and knowledge. Micro-credentials outline the specific skills the student has, for example, speed typing. In this example, a micro-credential might explain that earning a qualification in speed typing involves completing three typing tests and achieving a score of at least 80 words per minute on each exam. An individual, who completed the qualification, scored a typing speed of 100 words per minute, 90 words per minute, and 93 words per minute on each respective test. A company looking to hire a speed typer can access this information, research the institution that issued the credential and verify the process to confirm that the candidate has the skill for the job. The specific details offered by the digital micro-credential makes this applicant more appealing than a computer science graduate that advertises a fast typing speed without providing any evidence of their ability. 

Micro-credentials can have applications in traditional degree programs as well. Students can highlight specific assignments within a course to illustrate how they developed a particular skill. These skills are verifiable by the institution, which helps to improve the student’s credibility and create a positive image for the school. Institutions can think of their programs as an accumulation of micro-credentials when earning a degree, rather than the more traditional and familiar course credit system.

What are digital badges?

Simply put, digital badges are just visual representations of micro-credentials. They gamify learning by rewarding the student for their accomplishment. Often, they are small, clickable illustrations that contain all of the information about the micro-credential. Digital badges are an easy and fun way to store and share information about an individual’s accomplishments. After earning a badge, you can easily share your success on social media channels like LinkedIn, in email signatures, or on your resume. Potential employers can learn all of the details about your micro-credential and verify its accuracy with the click of a single button. 


The conversation around digital credentials is relatively new, but as employers turn towards skill-based hiring processes, demand for verifiable skills is sure to continue increasing. The benefits of digital credentialing are not limited to post-secondary institutions and their students either. The game-like nature of earning badges makes learning fun for younger students. Experienced workers can improve their eligibility for advancement in their careers and gain a competitive edge by earning qualifiable abilities. We have been watching the world become quickly more and more digital for the past several decades. It is time for educational qualifications to follow suit.

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