Digital Credentials: Tech evolution drives a positive L&D revolution

Whether you’re after real data to drive a business case for further L&D investment, or simply wanting to make your LMS attractive again, digital credentials have an awesome future role to play.

While digital technology has fundamentally altered almost every aspect of Human Capital Management, the underlying motivation to apply it remains timeless, universal and powerful.

The desire for organisations to evolve through learning and practice – to gain a competitive advantage while improving the bottom line, or to improve the lives of individuals and communities – is fuelled by new digital tools and techniques, not quenched by them.

It is an inevitable cycle that as soon as a new tech application becomes widely adopted and becomes the norm, we look for the next adaptation – the next commercial advantage.

Experimentation is rife and new applications, designed to make the lives of L&D practitioners easier and more productive, are springing up with increasing and mind-numbing frequency.

So, with limited time and budget, and an economic imperative and insatiable desire to improve and grow, how do we sort the tech fads from the fantastic – the risky from the rewarding – to make wise investments?

The short answer is to consider every new application in relation to its capacity to solve timeless problems.

Take digital credentials as an example of a relatively new application of technology. Do digital credentials address universal corporate challenges from a L&D perspective, and will they stand the test of time?

The following five challenges consistently rank highly in annual L&D sector surveys:

  • Not having enough budget
  • Getting employees to make time for L&D
  • Not having a big enough L&D team
  • Demonstrating L&D ROI to senior management
  • Aligning to the company’s overall strategy

According to LinkedIn’s 2017 Workforce Learning Report, which surveyed 500 L&D professionals, these challenges are at the top of the list.

It would make good commercial sense for organisations to adopt digital credentialing technology if it could be shown that, over at least the last five years, that these challenges have been effectively addressed by the application of digital credentials.

What are Digital Credentials?

Digital credentials are devices that help individuals to securely communicate achievements and skills online. They can contain a wide variety of data, (including its criteria), who has earned the credential, learning evidence, and who has endorsed it. All of this information is securely held within a compact badge image file that can be displayed via online CVs and social networking sites.

Digital credentials are a skill ‘currency’ held in a secure host ‘bank’ and accessible directly by the earner (or indirectly via various integrations with corporate LMS or HRMIS).

Most digital credential service providers offer platforms built on standards held and managed by the IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS/IMS Global), a non-profit member collaborative that works with employers, and technology suppliers to create a future edtech ecosystem.

What benefits do Digital Credentials deliver?

The LinkedIn 2017 Workforce Learning Report makes the case that the top L&D challenges are likely the result of not being able to clearly demonstrate business impact – pointing out that it’s very possible the L&D department isn’t getting budget or additional headcount because it’s not clearly proving ROI.

It follows then, that if the over-arching benefit of digital credentials is to help address the universal ‘big ticket’ challenges facing senior leadership (not just the L&D team), and that this could be proved, adopting this new technology application is worth serious consideration.

The business case for adopting digital credentials put forward by the L&D team may ultimately lead to bigger budgets, a high-level senior management push to provide time and incentives for employees to undertake L&D activity, and approval to grow the L&D team to optimise productivity.

There is now good evidence that proves the efficacy of digital credentials in human capital management, and that corporate purse strings are being loosened to allow greater investment in L&D to implement the underpinning technology.

Microsoft, IBM, Ernst & Young, Apple, Google, McDonalds, Deloitte and many other global organisations have kicked off a digital credentialing ‘gold rush’ because the facts are in – digital credentials at a macro, micro, and even nano level do make a measurable, positive difference.

The answers to how digital credentials address the big corporate challenges are available from many sources, so rather than present all the facts and figures in this article, here are six example ‘big ticket’ questions to ask prospective providers (and a few short guiding answers) as you develop your initial research:

How do digital credentials help reduce staff turnover?

Employees offered opportunities to develop and progress along well-mapped (digitally credentialed) learning pathways, and who can widely show and share their skills and accomplishments, are generally more satisfied and less of a ‘flight risk’ than those working at organisations where the learning pathways are less well-defined or marked.

Reduced staff turnover has a direct financial impact on profitability and an indirect positive impact on productivity as a result of retained skill and experience.

How do digital credentials compress the time between recruitment of new hires and their optimal productivity?

Organisations designing L&D programs in collaboration with education institutions (or offering internal programs on the open market, such as IBM’s are recruiting based on candidate’s digital credentials, in the knowledge that the secure metadata within those digital credentials has been pre-validated as CV-worthy.

How do digital credentials simplify succession planning?

Line managers working with team members during quarterly or annual review cycles are more able to provide direct advice on career progression or new project opportunities if learning pathways with digital credentials are clearly mapped against role or project requirements.

Increased succession planning capability in the hands of line managers reduces HR workload, improves line management effectiveness, and creates stronger and better-balanced teams.

How do digital credentials drive increased course completion rates?

Courses comprised of a series of modules that stack toward a certification or qualification are more likely to be completed if the benefits of each module can be ‘unlocked’ and applied on the job earlier. Digital credentials awarded along a course program can be shared as ‘just-in-time’ learning and applied for the benefit of the learner and issuer earlier in the program. This reinforces positive behaviour and extracts greater value from corporate learning programs.

How do digital credentials extend the value of existing Learning Management Systems?

The positive behaviour reinforced by unlocking the value of online learning with digital credentials earlier in corporate learning programs encourages increased traffic through Learning Management Systems, extending the value of previous L&D investment.

How do digital credentials improve the overall bottom line?

In summary, digital credentials effectively address many key corporate challenges. They encourage a culture of learning, improve organisational capacity to create project teams comprised of complimentary skill sets by aggregating talent via digital credentials, and they keep talent within the organisation for longer to deliver more enduring value and a competitive advantage.

When shared via social media, websites, blogs, or signature blocks, digital credentials amplify brand value and become ‘trustmarks’ for the issuing organisation, demonstrating enlightened human capital management practice.

There are good case studies, readily available, that provide strong evidence that digital credentials lead to improved organisational performance and profitability.

Once you have completed your research and established relevant proof points, it is recommended that you establish a supported trial to engage vendor expertise to set success measures and build a business case for future investment.

Because digital credentials are verifiable and trackable, it is now easier to gather and quantify evidence to justify greater investment in, and support of, a wider variety of L&D programmes.

Due to the rise of digital credentials and their positive impact on L&D, it may be that future Workplace Learning Reports will report on a different set of challenges.

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