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Alternative Credentials: Digital Badging as Accreditation

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 11/27/2013

A variety of educational facilities, organizations and institutions—especially online entities—are considering awarding digital badges as a form of accreditation.

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    These “accreditation badges” would attest to the individual’s skills or mastery of a subject without a formal diploma or certificate. The badge recipients can then post these earned badges wherever they want (online). What are some of the pros and cons of this movement?

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    Could Digital Badges Help You?

    Show off your skills to potential employers and clients. The idea of digital badges is relatively new—Internet companies like DigitalMe and Mozilla provide them. Digital badges represent an innovative mechanism for verifying achievement and attainment of pre-specified skills and competencies.

    Anne Derryberry, an associate of Sage Road Solutions, an organization that works with companies to help them adapt new technologies into their environment, says badges are awarded when “evidence-based assessment establishes that the badge seeker has attained clearly articulated competencies. Badges can also acknowledge skills and abilities that lead up to mastery. This means that people that have not taken courses in a specific topic at a specific institution but have proven real-world mastery or application of that subject should get recognized for it.”

    In other words, badges represent what a badge holder can do, not just the theories learned in the classroom. The “doing” must be proven, not just asserted.

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    Authenticating Your Skills

    As reported in The New York Times Education section this past June 2013, former President Bill Clinton, in association with Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation, announced a project that promotes virtual learning. The goal is to expand the use of Open Badges and online credentials.

    The Mozilla Open Badges code is not proprietary—it’s free software and an open program. That means any organization can create, issue and verify digital badges. How will they be regulated and how are they different from current acknowledgements like LinkedIn endorsements and Klout scores?

    Says Karen Solomon of Higher Learning Commission of North Central Association: “Students earn degrees once they demonstrate mastery of competencies. Accrediting agencies will need to identify peer reviewers that can evaluate institutional preparation and resources available for degrees that are decoupled from the credit hour. Each institution is expected to have policies and processes to evaluate the quality of credits it transcripts, and we review how the institution follows its own processes. The same expectations would be in place if an institution were to award badges based on credits or competencies.”

    The badge itself is more than just an icon or button; its value comes from the information (or metadata) attached to it. According to, the information behind each badge provides justification and validation, including:

    • The issuer of the badge
    • How the badge was earned and when
    • Links back to artifacts, documents, or testimonials demonstrating the work that lead to earning the badge
    • Authentication back to the issuer and relevant standards bodies

    This supporting data reduces the risk of “gaming” the system and builds in an automatic validation system. Also, accreditations would be moderated and controlled by appointed agencies.

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    What Could We See in the Future?

    Technology companies that work mostly in the virtual world and try to be anti-establishment will probably heed the badges. These companies tend to care more about proven results and talent and not as much about official degrees. But will these virtual badges be accepted and recognized by larger corporations and more Blue Chip traditional companies?

    Online degree institutions like Phoenix and Capella are becoming more popular and traditional institutions are adding online options for people who can’t travel and/or afford the full tuition. The virtual education world is therefore gaining acceptance and legitimacy—but it is all still new. Will key decision makers see digital accreditation as credible? We will watch its progression and keep you posted.