Are Digital Badges The New Measure Of Mastery?

Across the globe, institutions of higher education and professional organizations are harnessing the power of digital badges to motivate, demonstrate, and verify training. Digital badges are currently in use at postsecondary institutions such as MIT and Yale and organizations such as NASA, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Our modern era is characterized by a rapidly changing economy that requires members of the workforce to seek training opportunities constantly. Earning a certificate or degree from a postsecondary institution is only the beginning of a lifelong learning process that includes recertification and professional development. Digital badges can document what skills and competencies an employee has acquired from professional development opportunities, which take place outside of traditional postsecondary educational institutions.

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Digital badges show that a job seeker or an employee has demonstrated mastery of specific, granular skills and competencies that are expected to improve future performance. Mastery of a skill can be measured in a variety of ways: for example, with scenario-based assessment items that represent real-world experiences. Badges can represent incremental learning and progress, in addition to larger, more comprehensive capstone achievements. As such, badges are becoming an increasingly popular way for employees to more fully document the breadth and depth of their achievements.

Members of professional organizations may present at conferences about the work they’re doing, attend breakout sessions and workshops on specific topics to hone a skill relevant to their position, or serve on various boards or committees. With the emergence of digital badges, there now exists a mechanism to verify or authenticate those experiences. Just some of the outcomes that can be verified include the development of knowledge, skills, and abilities that results from participation in professional conferences, workshops, and conventions. The assessment and verification process comes through an independent third party to support the validity to the badge.

These days, most career-minded individuals have profiles on social and professional networks such as LinkedIn, which they use to nurture and generate strategic relationships. Digital badges help individuals display their knowledge, skills, and competencies to current and potential employers. They can serve as symbols of job-specific achievements that solidify an individual’s membership in their professional community, or allow a user to demonstrate growth along a lifelong learning path to set themselves up for career advancement opportunities. Badging incentivizes continued learning by providing concrete, marketable rewards for employees who work to grow their skills through professional development programs.

Additionally, digital badges have the potential to change the way employers find candidates to fill their open roles. Imagine a future in which hiring managers are able to list the concrete skills required to do a certain job, enter them into an online job matching search engine, and find individuals who have been verified to have the skills by a respected source. This could reduce the degree of uncertainty employers currently have when scanning resumes and determining if a candidate’s prior educational or work experiences translate into preparedness for a given role.

The digital component of digital badges is what gives them their authenticity and ease of use. There are several digital badge providers out there, and the badges they store are typically accessed electronically via a link. In most cases the badge issuer is separate from the badge provider, and it is this badge issuer that usually controls badge expiration, so a link will only work as long as the badge is “viable.”  Such controls enhance the validity of badges and make them easier to verify than traditional credentials like official transcripts or letters of recommendation.

I’ve written previously about the communication gap that is often mistaken for a skills gap, and perhaps the greatest beauty of digital badges is that they bridge this communication gap between job seekers and employers by translating the self-reported claims on a resume into verified claims about specific job skills and competencies. These claims are backed by evidence that can be achieved with the simple click of a mouse. For example, when a job seeker states, “I am a team player who collaborates well with others,” an employer has to take that individual at their word or rely on a professional reference to back up that claim. However, with digital badges, a job seeker can hyperlink their claim so that the phrase “team player” links to a digital badge dashboard that includes their Teamwork Skills badge.

These clickable credentials provide employers with immediate support for claims on a resume, and the result is a win-win for the competent job seeker and the employer.


The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.




Innovation, Skills Gap, Technology,
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