Digital and non-traditional credentials are important, demonstrated by this person e-learning with a laptop.

The 21st-century learning reformation

An upcoming Summit will bring together forward-thinking leaders from all over the world to collaborate and innovate on the standardization of non-traditional credentials

“We need to reinvent higher education,” says Nelson Baker, Ph.D., dean of professional education and professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). “We have to find ways to deliver quality education, new kinds of credentials that recognize that quality, and redefine what a degree means.”

He’s not alone in this opinion, and at the Digital Credentials Summit in Atlanta hosted by IMS Global Learning Consortium next month, he’ll be delivering a keynote on how higher education can adjust to better serve learners in a rapidly changing landscape.

Related content: 4 criteria for high-quality credentials

In today’s global workforce, employers need to be able to recognize and cultivate talent more quickly, in a more complex environment than degree vs. non-degree can satisfy. However, with no current standardized framework for alternative credentials, everyone is trying to make sense of it all.

“Our future workforce will continue to accelerate in these kinds of needs,” says Baker. “Higher education needs to serve people along their entire lifespan.

Baker believes that this work needs to be accomplished collaboratively and globally, especially because of the nature of today’s international workforce. He’s eager to talk with industry and education leaders about shaping a new future that will benefit all learners at all stages of their lives. “We have as many students in our non-degree professional-development programs at Georgia Tech as we do in our degree programs, and that’s not unusual. The debate between education and training is getting stronger.”

Sean Gallagher, Ed.D., is another strong voice in the digital credentials discussion. Gallagher, who is executive director of the Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy and an executive professor of educational policy at Northeastern University, focuses on the employer side of the equation. As he says, “Educational credentials matter more now than they have in past years, so how do we assess them? What should colleges do to make digital credentials more useful?”

At the IMS Digital Credentials Summit, Gallagher will be sharing data from a survey his Center recently conducted. The survey, among other things, asked 750 U.S. corporate human resources leaders to rank priorities that universities should focus on to make credentials more useful. It also determined how many employers have hired employees who have earned digital badges. “It’s important to bring the employer voice into the dialogue and analyze the implications for everyone in this ecosystem,” says Gallagher.

As we think about and deliberate over the kinds of changes that need to occur in higher education, we also need to explore the entire admissions process. Michael Reilly, executive director, and Tom Green, associate executive director of AACRAO (American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers), have been studying the role of the university registrar and how to integrate digital and alternative credentialing with traditional undergraduate and graduate programs.

“As paper records have turned into digital records, we’ve been given the opportunity to reinvent the transcript,” says Green. “We need to design a record that incorporates data and is helpful for the student. When students have a better understanding of what they’re learning, they can tell their own story.”

Green has assembled a panel of university leaders from around the country to discuss the future of the registrar at the IMS Summit. They will discuss different types of learning experiences, microcredentials, electronic transcripts, and other issues that registrars are facing.

At the University of California, San Diego, for instance, Registrar Cindy Lyons has been working on student-record innovation for close to seven years. She is exploring how data on student experiences that occur outside the classroom can be collected, validated, and represented on a student record. Thomas Black, assistant vice provost and registrar at Johns Hopkins, is working with multiple corporate partners to link skills and competencies to learning outcomes and establish a digital diploma.

Like Baker, Green is keen on hearing from people with varied backgrounds and coming up with solutions. “We need to recognize that learning happens at all points in a person’s career and we should have ways that learning can be recognized by employers. All learning does not necessarily come from a degree anymore, nor should it,” says Baker.

The IMS Digital Credentials Summit is an annual event, open to the public, that focuses on the latest collaborative work and trends shaping the workforce of tomorrow. Program details can be viewed here.


Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Laura Ascione