Alternative digital credentials are becoming more necessary to postsecondary success.

Why are alternative digital credentials necessary?

There are a multitude of factors influencing the adoption of alternative digital credentials--here's how to respond

Alternative digital credentials are positioned to transform the relationship between higher ed and students. But how can institutions respond to these fast-developing credentials in a way that is measured and thoughtful, but quick enough so as to not be left behind.

Establishing such a credential system will help “create a new and dynamic ecosystem for the evaluation of applied learning in the workplace,” according to The Present and Future of Alternative Digital Credentials, a report issued by the International Council for Open and Distance Education.

The need for and value of a degree won’t change, but these credentials will challenge the workplace efficacy of traditional transcripts and are already highlighting the need for change in higher ed.

Forces contributing to a need for alternative digital credentials

The working group authoring the report notes that calling alternative digital credentials an imperative isn’t an exaggeration, because alternative digital credentials represent the culmination of various influential higher-ed forces.

Alternative digital credentials are already widely-offered–a 2016 study of 190 four-year institutions found that 94 percent were issuing some kind of alternative credential and 25 percent of them were offering them digitally. They’re compatible with traditional degrees and more and more universities are experimenting with them.

Traditional transcripts aren’t necessarily meshing with the modern workforce, because they cannot connect verified competencies to jobs. Alternative digital credentials “clearly link competencies with workforce requirements by identifying and verifying the competencies needed for a job or skills for the future,” according to the report.

Accrediting agencies are starting to focus on learning outcomes. Alternative digital credentials and the data generated through them can help universities move in this direction.

Young adults are demanding shorter and more workplace-relevant learning. Bachelor’s degrees are becoming the minimum requirement for jobs, and young adults who are seeking to distinguish themselves in the marketplace are looking to alternative credentials either in place of, or alongside, traditional degrees.

Recommendations for moving forward with alternative digital credentials

1. Seriously consider the implementation of an alternative digital credential infrastructure and set of services at your institution.

2. Secure support from the senior administration and academic leadership for the adoption of a service system.

3. Assure uniform standards, administration, and oversight of credential issuance.

4. Resolve basic decisions about criteria for issuance, relationships to digital transcripts, competency vs. learning achievement, metadata content, icon design, and quality oversight.

5. Establish an implementation plan that includes sufficient resources (human and financial) to support the success of the plan.

6. Choose a third-party vendor to supply the software and necessary supporting services.

7. Continuously evaluate issuance and use of alternative digital credentials.

8. Be alert to blockchain applications.

Laura Ascione