[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on April 5th of this year, was our #9 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]
Employers today are far less reliant on the four-year college degree than in the past, when the B.A. or B.S. served as a primary pre-hire indicator of future performance. Today, the bachelor’s degree is virtually a commodity. According to an analysis by Burning Glass Technologies, degrees are now to be found among the qualifications of workers in jobs that rarely demanded such a level of education. Clerks, service workers, and assistants are now almost “required” to be degreed.
Since virtually all candidates come with a degree, companies must find other ways to identify the best candidates—the ones with the skills to do the job. Some employers have even worked to identify specific institutions that reliably turn out graduates with grit, which is quite apart from factors like grades, majors, and transcripts.
This ongoing hunt to develop better metrics to identify the most desirable candidates has driven employers to look to institutions that highlight these transferable (and often non-academic) skills and showcase them in a common currency, i.e., the digital credential.
Why micro-credentials and badging is the answer
The concept of a badge is a very deep-rooted one; everyone is familiar with merit badges from scouting. Badges are bite-sized visual representations that denote evidence of skills and experience. So, why are micro-credentials, often referred to as digital badging or digital credentialing, worthy of serious consideration now? Simply, they provide clear evidence about what the learner knows, has done, and should be able to continue to do in language and classifications that are portable, easy to consume, and, most important, trust.
Open Badges are especially valuable because they carry encrypted information about what the learner had to demonstrate to earn the badge, as well as the context for the badge itself. Similar to the transcript or degree, the badge has value because it has been validated by the institution.
Despite the hope that credentialing and badging will solve the challenges that employers face, there are some concerns, most notably, that experiential learning and the holistic nature of a liberal education will be lost. Another worry is that, even with micro-credentials, a steady progression to routine outcomes and ultimately deterioration of the entire experience will be the inevitable result.