Badges have emerged as one of the most-talked about types of what Cathy Sandeen, vice president of education attainment and innovation at the American Council on Education, calls microcredentials.

These credentials can be used to provide a more nuanced view of existing learning, like Bowen proposed, but also to help provide credit for prior learning to students like veterans with military training.

Sandeen said only 25 percent of students are now what many consider “traditional,” meaning three quarters of students are people balancing courses, family, and work. Microcredentials can help those students work toward a degree, she said.

Currently, less than 40 percent of Americans between the ages 25 and 64 have any sort of degree.

“This whole world of alternative credentialing is incredibly important to our attainment goals,” Sandeen said.

Badges aren’t the only type of alternative credential growing in popularity, however. Though currently in a state of upheaval at some platforms, massive open online course (MOOC) certificates are also being eyed by universities and employers.

Peggie Koon, president of the International Society of Automation, said she finds the certificates valuable, but they aren’t a replacement for on-the-job training, especially in STEM fields.

“MOOC certificates are great to get one started, but to actually have a career in these areas, you need on-the-job training,” Koon said.

Where badges and certificates can come in handy is helping to differentiate students who do have the right amount of training and education, Bowen said. They can go deeper than a transcript to show which candidate is a better fit for a certain position, he said.

“How do we find the Waldos among all the other Waldos?” Bowen said.


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