Published on 2019/04/22
The EvoLLLution | A Practical Guide To Issuing Badges At Your Institution
While many postsecondary leaders are quick to dismiss digital credentials, their accelerating adoption by governments and employers alike should be impetus for reconsideration.

The International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) recently published the first public document to provide practical advice to institutions considering the issuance of alternative digital credentials (ADCs).

The growth in university issuance of ADCs, also called badges, is clear. A 2016 study conducted by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) of 190 four-year institutions found that 94% of them were issuing some form of alternative credentials and 25% were issuing them in digital form. The ICDE report, titled “The Present and Future of Alternative Digital Credentials”,  lists 27 institutions that are experimenting with ADCs now and the list is growing.

The popular press is spreading the word. “We are starting to see digital credentials as building blocks of digital pathways that will shape the future of higher education,” The Wall Street Journal wrote in 2015.

In many cases, the institutional adoption of ADCs is being driven by the continuing education (CE) units that traditionally are focused on work-place relevant courses. The transition from a student’s “learning achievement” attestation to competency-based assessment, when housed in a CE unit, is a logical and more natural institutional expression of the ADC movement. But be warned: Once an institution institutes an ADC in one part of the organization, its other units will soon realize the advantages and want one as well.

After defining ADCs, the report makes a compelling case for higher education institutions to adopt ADCs and begin issuing them to matriculated students, as well as to students in continuing education or in the community. The report declares ADCs as a higher education “imperium.” This is something that will become a permanent feature of the higher education landscape and will transform the relationship between universities, their students and regional economies.

Evidence is clear that ADCs are, indeed, a growing and permanent force:

  • Large numbers of ADCs are now being offered by universities and corporations;
  • Traditional transcripts are not serving the current workforce;
  • Accrediting agencies are demanding evidence of learning outcomes;
  • Young adults are demanding shorter, more workplace-relevant learning;
  • Open education is demanding some form of attestation of accomplishment;
  • Employer hiring practices are increasingly based on digital searches, and;
  • International ecosystems are developing to support ADCs.

One major critique of badging is the fear that issuing ADCs now is premature, because employers are not recognizing them. To counter this concern, the ICDE report offers significant evidence that the adoption of ADCs by employers may be at a crucial tipping point. Technology leads the way with major companies such as IBM, Oracle and Google issuing their own badges. Governments—including New Zealand, Australia and Malta—are adopting ADCs as part of national strategies for workforce development. In addition, many companies are forming partnerships with universities to issue badges that are important to corporate training needs.

The report stresses how important it is to act quickly before ADCs are issued for everything under the sun. It provides very specific and practical advice on the governance of ADCs, the design of iconography, the content of metadata, platform selection and gaining institutional buy-in.

Perhaps most importantly, the report proposes criteria for the issuance of ADCs. What to badge and what not to badge is an important early decision that should be made institution-wide. The range of possibilities is enormous, from the careful and rigorous assessment of workplace-relevant competencies to badges issued for simple participation in activities such as public service or safety programs.

The report concludes with eight recommendations, including that all institutions adopt an ADC issuance program, that issuance be according to agreed upon standards and oversight, and that sufficient resources be provided for the success of the project.

ADCs are here to stay and are becoming more important every day. Institutions must adopt ADCs and then administer them competently with published criteria and rationales.

Learn more by downloading the ICDE’s report, “The Present and Future of Alternative Digital Credentials.

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