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Increasing the Value of Digital Credentials: The Challenges Facing Higher Ed and Edtech Leaders

The potential benefits of open, trusted and verifiable digital credentials are clear. They can help learners better express the knowledge and skills they bring to new opportunities, they can improve the hiring process so employers can match the skills they’re looking for with employee candidates, educational institutions can more easily show the value they provide to learners, and the list goes on.

We see successes through our 1EdTech members. Just to list a few, the Alamo Colleges District created a pathway for nurses in Mexico to become certified and fill much-needed nursing positions in the US; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) partnered with Montgomery Public Schools, Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove to create a seamless pathway for students to earn 4-year degrees in select STEM fields; and Wichita State University works with local industry leaders to create badge programs that fill specific needs in the community and helps prepare learners for well-paying jobs.  

Despite the success of many programs around the country, the benefits of digital credentials will only truly be realized when they can work at scale, across institutional, state and international borders. 

Representatives from the three institutions listed above joined edtech suppliers and an audience of more than 100 for a panel discussion at 1EdTech’s 2024 Digital Credentials Summit. The discussion was open and honest, covering the challenges currently facing badging programs and the opportunities to improve the experience for administrators and learners. 

Higher ed leaders say breaking down university silos will be key to expanding programs and offerings, as well as having one central place to store the credentials.

“As we continue to grow our successful micro-credential programs, we’re working to link a lot of siloed systems, and it’s a manual process,” said Amber O’Casey, online learning coordinator for Alamo Colleges District. “Additionally, some things are happening on platforms that I can’t access, so I can’t see what needs to be done as efficiently and effectively as I would like. We need systems that talk to each other and can provide some automation to the process to best support the continued scaling up of our programs.”

“We’re working with colleagues in different departments, including student affairs, service learning and professional development on credentialing,” said Collin Sullivan, coordinator of digital credentialing at UMBC. “But, we don’t all use the same system or assessments, so how can we record and articulate those competencies? Digital credentials could articulate the competencies if we can get on the same page.”

Institutions also said they need help with the technology and making digital credentials user-friendly.

“I need to select a Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) for the university, a wallet and a smart resume. I’m looking at three products and it’s overwhelming because I’m not a technical person,” said Kim Moore, executive director of workforce, professional and community development for Wichita State University. “It’s hard to know where to start, so I start with the standards because I know I need all the products to integrate.”

“We have 7,000 learners in one college. We teach them why the credential is valuable, how to claim their credentials, and how to use the credentials with their career and educational aspirations,” said O’Casey. “The next opportunity for process improvement is an automatic feed to immediately transfer awarded credentials from across platforms, as they are earned, into a single location (for example, a CLR or digital wallet). This way, the learner does not have to do that step manually, which would continue to increase the value of the credentials for the learners by making them even easier to maintain and use.”

The edtech suppliers on the panel said they appreciated hearing how credentialing is actually being used on campuses, and where institutions hope to go next. They each said they are working to find the best ways to help the most people.

“We’re really focused on easing and streamlining the administrative obstacles,” said Rochelle Ramirez, senior vice president of products at Accredible. “Facilitating communication between all the different systems is where we can help organizations. Additionally, we can help you identify the value learners will appreciate so we can effectively break down credentials and translate them for employers and other institutions."

“We’re looking at how we can leverage data in the edtech and digital credentials ecosystem to benefit institutions and learners,” said Tony Parachini, senior product manager for Anthology. “We want to help break down data silos, reduce administrative burden, leverage generative AI to help build badging programs, and not just look at the CLR as an output, but how students will take it and use it to empower themselves.”

“We want to make sure that our suite works across platforms, and is a delightful experience for learners, even with other products that aren’t ours,” said Elizabeth DiRenzo, director of product management at Instructure. “We know we need to move with learners beyond K-20 and into life-long learning. That’s a paradigm shift for us and educators, that we’re all addressing.” 

The suppliers said they’re currently looking to partner with institutions at the beginning of their credentialing process to help address some of the challenges.

“The challenge lies in aligning all stakeholders across an organization simultaneously, ensuring access to resources for technical implementation and even access to multiple data sets needing consolidation," said Ramirez.

“Building the solution as fast as educators and learners need it is our challenge,” said DiRenzo. “It takes close collaboration between us, institutions, employers, and learners to make it happen. It's a landscape that is evolving daily, keeping up with the pace of change around market direction and needs is top of mind."

“We are interested in understanding how we can help institutions evaluate employer needs,” said Parachini. “As we know, the market is ever-evolving, new jobs emerge, and demand for skills fluctuates. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to track and surface relevant changes over time. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how we can help you keep up with the ever-evolving market.”

The institutional representatives agreed that keeping up with the market is something they hope digital credentials will eventually help them. Part of the work is happening with the TrustEd Microcredential Coalition to help showcase skills, especially since some skills can be defined in different ways. The panelists said working with employers and industry leaders is key to moving forward.

“Every employer defines ‘critical thinking skills’ differently, but if we bring in a group of employers for a specific profession, they can define what they need and pull out the skill sets,” said Moore. “‘Empathy’ will be different for someone working at an aircraft company versus working with people who need medical assistance.”

“We need to hear from employers. Do these credentials have utility in the hiring process, and are learners using them?” asked Sullivan. “Universities should not only push for other organizations to be thoughtful about implementing credentials in the hiring process, but we can do that too.”

The community will gather again at the 2025 Digital Credentials Summit in Phoenix, Arizona, from March 3 to 5.

About the Authors

Kelly Hoyland

Kelly Hoyland serves as the director for higher education at 1EdTech, where she works with members to meet the challenges they face in the rapidly growing and evolving digital teaching and learning landscape. This includes working across K-12, higher education, and corporate education to make life achievements more accessible, personalized, and equitable for every learner from the start.

Kelly began her career in K-12 education, serving as a teacher, virtual school coordinator, and technology director. She then transitioned to higher education as the Director of Learning and Client Technology Services at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, where her department was responsible for supporting academic technology and end-user support. Her focus has been to find ways to use technology to support teaching and learning.

Rob Coyle

As 1EdTech’s program manager for digital credentials, Rob Coyle is committed to expanding the success of digital credentials with Open Badges and the Comprehensive Learner Record Standard to support learning and acknowledge the skills and competencies mastered through formal and informal education and life experiences. Rob recognizes the limitless opportunities that arise from meaningful discussions between education institutions, edtech suppliers, and learning providers to understand the needs of all stakeholders.


Published on 2024-06-13

PUBLISHED ON 2024-06-13

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Kelly Hoyland
Director, Higher Education Programs
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Rob Coyle
Digital Credentials Program Manager
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