Digital credentials lower the odds in favour of good employment outcomes

Before digital credentials, what alchemy helped employers and educators match the right graduates with the right jobs; making sure that the right knowledge, skills and attributes were squared off against appropriate roles to the satisfaction of all parties? 

On the flipside, who missed out on well-matched jobs because their valuable skills couldn’t be communicated or verified effectively?

These are largely unanswerable questions, like ‘what did we do before cars or the internet?’ Clearly, we made it happen; and more often than not, the right people ended up in the right jobs (which is how we ended up with cars and the internet). But there’s always been an element of serendipity that made it work most of the time.

So, what makes digital credentials so much of a game-changer that they’re considered a ‘before and after’ milestone?

Simply put, they significantly reduce the element of chance; they lower the odds in favour of good employment and talent development decisions, and they reduce the many corporate risks associated with poor human resource investments.

Consider the benefits of digital credentials from the perspective of higher education and training institutions; the key motivation here is all about optimising employability, and continually pushing for better answers to the question: How do we provide students with a richer profile of their competencies (that accurately reflect market demand), so that they can launch their careers as effectively as possible?

There’s an ever-increasing body of evidence indicating that implementing digital and micro-credentialing strategies is an important part of the answer to this question, and I recently came across a couple of standout reports that bear this out.

These two excellent papers, prepared by the digital credentialing pioneers at Deakin University, help clear the path ahead for other education and training institutions. If you’re aiming to improve future employment prospects for graduates, then I encourage you to read both:

  1. Deakin University hallmarks: principles for employability credentials

(Jorre De St Jorre, Trina, Johnson, Liz and Oliver, Beverley 2016, Deakin hallmarks: principles for employability credentials, in ASCILITE 2016 : Shaping the future of tertiary education : Proceedings of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education 2016 conference, ASCILITE, Adelaide, pp. 305-311).

Deakin University implemented its Hallmarks digital credential program in 2015-2016, describing an initial range of badges as ‘non-credit-bearing university awards that warrant achievement in specific graduate capabilities with more detail than is possible through grades’ (p 306). In the process of developing and monitoring the program, a set of basic criteria was laid down to express ‘learner-centred’ (p. 306) applications to guide future programs:

  1. Combining in-course and extra-curricular learning by:
  2. a) aligning learning outcomes for degree programs and associated employability credentials,
  3. b) clear identification of the distinct criteria and standards for the added credential,
  4. c) criteria expressed as holistic judgments.
  5. Relevance to future employment by:
  6. a) focusing on learning outcomes that are prized by associated industries,
  7. b) collaborating directly with industry to ensure relevance.
  8. Acknowledging the potential of all students by:
  9. a) rewarding outstanding achievement that is not recognized by academic marks and grades,
  10. b) making the award available to all students regardless of grades.
  11. Ensuring the credibility of the award by:
  12. a) rigorous institutional oversight
  13. b) publication of the criteria and standards of the award
  14. c) publication of evidence of achievement for individual students.

Beyond laying down fundamental ground rules and covering key outcomes, the report presents a cautiously optimistic view of the future of the hallmarks program, noting that: ‘Digital credentials have emerged as a way to combine the advantages of digital evidence in a summarised form with the authority of an institutional brand’ (p. 309).

The report concludes: ‘…future employment requires more than academic achievement; employability includes awareness of employment and careers (Bridgstock, 2009). Deakin Hallmarks are an example of a new type of credential that prompts students to link achievement with careers’ (p. 309).

  1. The potential of digital credentials to engage students with capabilities of importance to scholars and citizens

(Miller, Kelly K, Jorre de St Jorre, Trina, West, Jan M, Johnson, Elizabeth D 2017, Deakin University, Australia, published in Active Learning in Higher Education, Sage Publishing, and available for purchase here).

This second paper takes a deeper look at the mechanisms, motivations and outcomes of the Deakin Hallmarks program, and at digital credential application more generally. Rather than paraphrase, I reproduce the report abstract here (my italics):

‘Digital credentials (or badges) allow evidence of achievement to be more detailed than is possible through grades and can be shared more broadly than is possible through the academic transcript.

Here, we (Miller et al) illustrate the potential use of digital credentials in higher education through sharing an approach that utilised digital credentials to recognise the achievement of students who demonstrate outstanding achievement of specific graduate attributes.

More specifically, we (Miller et al) explore the potential use of digital credentials to contribute to the development of citizen scholars through engaging students at the course (degree) level, promoting experiential learning and facilitating public sharing.

The credentialing strategy described was designed to enhance employability, and the standards and criteria associated with the award were developed in collaboration with industry partners to give students the opportunity to differentiate themselves in the graduate job market.

However, student applications, perceptions of the application process and feedback from industry partners who assessed the submissions suggest that an unintended, but positive, outcome of the credentialing strategy was promotion of students’ personal identity and broader social engagement.

We (Miller et al) suggest that digital credentials at course level could be a useful tool to engage students with graduate attributes, foster graduate identity and develop graduates who are active and engaged citizens.

Our credentialing strategy appears to have united students’ immediate motivation of employment with self-awareness, passion for social change and communication of worldviews. In doing so, it gave students the opportunity to demonstrate both their employability and the ‘hallmarks’ of a citizen scholar, including creativity and innovation, resilience, working across teams and across experiences and design thinking(e.g. people-centred and ethical leadership) (Arvanitakis and Hornsby, 2016a)’.

In conclusion, there’s no suggestion in these two reports, or in any other that I’ve come across, that the traditional ways we educate, train and prepare individuals for employment will be less valuable now that we have digital credentials. It is more a case of new technology providing a richer level of competency detail and a more secure, trustworthy way for educators to present new job candidates to the market and lower the odds in favour of good outcomes.

In future, when we look back at the pre-digital credential age, we may well wonder how we got by without them.

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