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Alternative Digital Credentials: Have Your Say on the Changing Academic Landscape

Diversifying and expanding our credential ecosystem requires buy-in for transformation. Getting this buy-in requires us to share our experiences and relevant research in the space.

The world of academic credentials is going through a rapid change that has seen the emergence of alternate digital credentials (ADCs). Among these are micro-certificates, digital diplomas, and open digital badges; all of which provide a digital record of learning and which have the possibility of not only altering the landscape of academic credentials, but transforming the relationship between institutions of higher education, their learners, and society.[1]

ADCs are a validated indicator of a specific accomplishment, skill, and quality that can be earned in various learning environments. They can be added to a digital portfolio or a professional networking site such as LinkedIn for others to see.[2] Since they contain metadata about what was accomplished in order to earn the badge, they provide more detailed information about what the recipient learned than traditional paper credentials.[3] The use of these digital credentials can provide an information-rich record of career relevant skills and competencies, which could (in time) render traditional university transcripts increasingly irrelevant and obsolete.[4]  

While traditional degrees will remain somewhat important to employers, alternative forms of learning verifications are quickly creating a new system of skill and knowledge validation for the marketplace. ADCs can be used to not only validate knowledge and skills related to competencies typically associated with careers, but also to the many soft or transversal skills which are key in succeeding in today’s workplace.  

Currently, institutions control the issuing of learning attestations and academic transcripts by placing them behind secure walls that require transcript fees to be released. And when they are, they are controlled by confidential distribution rights. ADCs give students control over the choice of content and the avenues of dissemination of their individual learning accomplishments thereby being able to better communicate their skills to employers, colleagues, professional associations, or anyone else in the public realm.[5] Casilli & Hickey illustrate how ADCs can change credentialing and assessment enabling a new level of transparency in facilitating the inclusion of actual student-generated artifacts as well as completed assessments.[6] This is really a game-changer that provides the learner with true ownership of their own learning records.

ADCs not only lend themselves to the assessment of technical skills and knowledge, but also soft skills—the types of skills that individuals must demonstrate to be truly successful in the 21st century.[7] Many of the new skills needed will be proficiencies such as attentive listening, critical thinking, digital fluency, active learning, problem solving, teamwork and flexibility, as well as virtual communication and collaboration, to name a few.[8],[9] These are skills that automation and artificial intelligence will not replace but will certainly be in high demand in what we now refer to as the new digital economy.[10],[11]

Why Alternative Digital Credentials Make Sense

There are a number of reasons why incorporating ADCs within academic programs makes sense. Not only do they contribute to increased motivation on the part of the learner, but they can also lead to further digital credentials for group accomplishments, often recognizing soft skills.[12] And while group work is typically challenging in academic contexts, it is an ability sought after by employers in today’s dynamic workplace.[13]

Incorporating ADCs within traditional academic courses also benefits students who are looking for alternatives to traditional assessment of learning tools, such as exams, particularly as it applies to test anxiety. Tests are not always the best indicator or measure of learning, particularly across a broad spectrum of students.[14] Digital credentials can therefore serve as a form of less stressful assessment. As students move throughout atypical semester, ADCs such as digital badges can be awarded and tied to the assignments or activities in which students demonstrate specific competencies. 

In this manner, “the badging process becomes a type of informal, continuous, and traceable assessment, providing similar benefits to traditional assessment, without the stress that is placed on students during formal examination.”[15]

Finally, ADCs work well within the digital economy demanding more and more versatility and adaptability from the workforce. Traditional resumes may no longer be adequate or convenient for inventorying all of an employee’s or a workforce’s skills. Moore points to how the recruitment industry is beginning to focus on specific skill training as pre-requisites for work.[16] ADCs would be an ideal way to validate such skills. 

Despite the above-noted advantages of ADCs, my recent work in this area points to a lack of clarity from students as to what digital credentials are and what they can do with them. There is also a lack of knowledge about digital credentials from an industry perspective. So as academic institutions gear up to enter this exciting arena of evolving credentials, training is necessary to educate the public, students, and industry. Only when all of these stakeholders understand the value of ADCs, will we see a strong uptake.

Share Your Insights: Call for Chapter Submissions

In an effort to allow academic institutions to share their success and challenges in this quickly evolving world of digital credentials, I would like to take this opportunity to cordially invite you to submit your work for consideration in a forthcoming publication entitled Handbook of Research on Innovations in the Use of Alternative Digital Credentials to be published by IGI Global, an international publisher of progressive academic research. 

If you are presently involved in research or have carried out work in the area of alternative digital credentials, I am certain that your contribution on this topic and/or other related research areas would make an excellent addition to this publication. 

Please visit for more details regarding this publication and to submit your chapter proposal. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. I hope to hear from you by December 2, 2020. 


Disclaimer: Embedded links in articles don’t represent author endorsement, but aim to provide readers with additional context and service.



[1] Gooch, E. (2019). Micro-Certifications. ECampusOntario.

[2] Carey, K. (2012, April 8). A Future Full of Badges. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

[3] Devedžić, V., & Jovanović, J. (2015). Developing Open Badges: A comprehensive approach. Educational Technology Research and Development, 63(4), 603–620.

[4] Matkin, G. W. (2018). Alternative Digital Credentials: An Imperative for Higher Education. Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS), 1–8.

[5] DeMillo, R. (2017, May 30). This Will Go on Your Permanent Record! How Blockchains Can Transform Colleges in a Networked World. The EvoLLLution.

[6] Casilli, C., & Hickey, D. (2016). Transcending conventional credentialing and assessment paradigms with information-rich digital badges. The Information Society, 32(2), 117–129.

[7] The Conference Board of Canada. (2019). Employability Skills. Employability Skills.

[8] Bates, A. W. (2019). Teaching in a Digital Age Second Edition (2nd ed.). Tony Bates Associates Ltd.

[9] Royal Bank of Canada. (2018). Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption (p. 44).

[10] Bates (2019)

[11] Hart Research Associates. (2015). Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success.

[12] Schenke, K., & Tran, C. (2014). Motivating Learning with Digital Badges. Design Principles Documentation Project.

[13] Murgatroyd, S. (2018). ALBERTA 2030: Four possible futures for educational change. ATA Magazine, 98(4), 8–11.

[14] Fanfarelli, J. R., & McDaniel, R. (2017). Exploring Digital Badges in University Courses: Relationships between Quantity, Engagement, and Performance. Online Learning, 21(2), 144–165.

[15] Ibid

[16] Moore, A. (2018). Do you have a badge for that? TD: Talent Development, 72(2), 23–25.

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