MicroPact Blog

Digital Credentials Reflect New Ways of Learning but Lead to New Challenges

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By: Mary Strain

September 20, 2018 | RegulatoryEvents

How do you demonstrate competence? Everyone is familiar with the traditional scenario: you sit through your training, you take an exam, and you’re handed your license (or degree, or re-certification, etc.). This model is used in so many areas that it is rarely questioned. But a new strategy is on the rise in both the public and private sectors. Digital credentials are rapidly replacing the traditional methods of earning and proving qualifications.

Digital credentials, including digital badges, micro credentials, and nano degrees, are the electronic equivalent of a license or certificate of completion—evidence that you have proven that you are competent in a given area to the satisfaction of an authority. Unlike typical licenses or diplomas, digital credentials tend to focus on smaller, more discrete high value learning that better reflects our technology driven, interconnected global economy. Because they are competency-based, digital credentials are lauded for improving equity and access to professional recognition. Because they are digital, they offer greater efficiency and flexibility.

To earn a digital credential, you have to demonstrate that you have the knowledge or skill that is required. Doing so could include sitting in class, or it could mean learning via YouTube, tinkering on your own, or gaining experience over time.

Notice the difference: how the learner (also called the “earner” of the credentials) acquired the knowledge is not as important as the ability to demonstrate the skill/knowledge. There is more emphasis on real time expertise. This represents a seismic shift in the way individuals not only learn but how they are recognized, stay current, respond to real time challenges, and advance through careers and professions.

These emerging types of digital credentials share a basic framework. An issuing organization makes available the requirements for earning the credential. Typically, this includes a description of the competency, the required evidence needed, and a rubric of the assessment. The learner submits the evidence, it gets evaluated, and then the credential is either issued or not. Other organizations then choose whether or not the digital credential meets their requirements. It is about an economy of trust between issuers and “recognizers” —typically with a formal relationship. 

State licensing agencies and boards as well as industry and professional organizations are now issuing and recognizing these new digital credentials. In addition to reflecting the new ways that people learn, digital credentials are highly transparent and portable. The technological architecture behind them allows them to be “timed out” to encourage updated learning. Also, they may be digitally “endorsed” by state boards and professional organizations—enhancing their overall currency and value.

With the increasing use of digital credentials, state licensing agencies will need to consider how they will engage with and manage the growing digital credential ecosystem. Licensees will want to be able to share and store digital credentials as part of their license and endorsements. State regulators will need to collaborate with boards and professional organizations to determine how they will approve, track, and manage both the issuers of credentials as well as the credentials themselves. Licensing agencies will also need a system that is able to effectively store, share, and manage digital credentials.

Digital credentialing must be part of the conversation as agencies plan technology solutions to meet their current and future needs. MicroPact is committed to preparing our partners to embrace innovations like these. Contact us today for a discussion about digital credentials, implications for state agencies, and how MicroPact solutions can support them. The credential revolution will be digitized!

About the Author

Mary Strain has over twenty years of executive leadership experience across the public sector including technology, education, licensing and digital credentials.  In her current position at MicroPact she collaborates with state leaders to drive innovation across the regulatory ecosystem.  Mary has a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and Masters in Public Policy from The City University of New York.