Digital Badges and Microcredentials

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Summary: Digital representations of achievement and skill in specific areas; used to supplement resumes and degrees


Educational representations of achievement and skill are adapting from artifacts such as cloth badges and certification printed on paper in a digital world. Technology, and game-ful design, afford Open Badges and Micro credentials to impact praxis, administration and curriculum design.


Badges are a part of our daily lives. We see them on backpacks, uniforms, lanyards, and in loyalty or rewards apps representing affiliation, achievement, ideas and experiences (Cambridge, n.d.). In a formal setting, a badge can be a visual or tactile representation of a credential, which is considered a testimonial of ability, experience and skill (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). For many of us, our first experience occurs in primary education with badges and credentials occurs in education with shining sticky stars and diplomas, used to signal that we can play by, or even against, the rules (Botturi & Loh, 2009).

As life progresses the artifacts distinguish accomplishment, rank or rating, qualification, and identification (Beattie, 2001; Gallagher, 2019; Statcan, 2019; Storey, 2010). And, in a less formal setting, we want to acquire badges in our spare time in digital games (Entertainment Software Association of Canada, 2018).

Gameful Design

Games have been a part of our lives throughout history as a mode of human experience where fun and emulation support insight into experiences (Botturi & Loh, 2009). It should be no surprise then that games are used in education to support content that may otherwise be disengaging (Botturi & Loh, 2009). With the advent and implementation of technology in most aspects of life, game attributes have been embraced in education through serious games and gamification (Botturi & Loh, 2009; Landers, 2015). As a reward attribute, badges are used to engage extrinsic motivation through eLearning, but as with other game attributes, they should support autonomy and real-life engagement (Becker & Nicholson, 2016; Landers, 2015). Badges need to level-up as it were, and they have. Digital Badges and Micro credentials transform game characteristics into tools that impact administration, curriculum design, professional development and teaching praxis.

Digital Badges & Microcredentials

As challenges to certification authenticity increase (Barabas & Schmidt, 2016), badges can adapt to become more dynamic and resilient structures. A Digital Badge’s fundamental DNA, or metadata, is augmented with information about achievements and skills (Choi et al., 2019; Hope, 2019). Circumstantially, Digital Badges are also known as Open Badges and can be combined to form a formidable digital tool: the Micro credential. The resulting structure of achievement and skills indicates a specialization or certification (Horton, 2020; Radford, 2019), such as Humber College’s Revit Digital Badges Continuing Education Program and EdX’s MicroMasters (Amado-Salvatierra, 2018; Humber, 2020).

While some Digital Badges or Micro credentials are static, others are securely embedded with information through the decentralized record-keeping systems of blockchain technology (Choi et al., 2019; Hope, 2019). The resulting artifacts afford the attained the ability to share achievements in a concise, substantiated method with potential employers and peers.

Critique and Implications for Education


As higher education students enter the workforce, their degrees are still needed but don’t make them stand out (BasuMallick, 2019; Collins, 2020; Gallagher, 2019; Laverie et al., 2020). To adapt to a changing job market, as well as the introduction of AI into job screening, students exiting formal learning will need to be agile and convey their skills effectively (Gallagher, 2019; Hickey & Chartrand, 2020; Jenkins, 2020; Laverie et al., 2020; Maxwell & Gallagher, 2020). Digital badges and Micro credentials can support success through the deployment and easy integration of digital resumes/CVs and digital backpacks (Collins, 2020; Hickey & Chartrand, 2020; Hope, 2019; Gallagher, 2019). The process of asserting skills within higher education has been called unbundling (van der Zwaan, 2019), and institutions along with their educators must be aware of the process of governing and implementing Digital Badges and Micro credentials (Gauthier, 2020; Hickey & Chartrand, 2020; Hunt et al., 2020; Maxwell & Gallagher, 2020). Higher educations administrators will need to engage both internal and external resources to ensure efficacy in targeted skills, maintenance, and integration (Hunt et al., 2020; Phelan & Glackin, 2020). Also, institutional guidelines will need to be in place to ensure that represented skills accurately convey learning outcomes (Phelan & Glackin, 2020). An effective approach for technology diffusion should occur through an operational committee of key players (Miller & Homol, 2016).


The use of Micro credentials is not without criticism. Current information indicates that Micro credentials on their own have a low completion rate (Burke, 2020). By directing efforts towards a learner’s employment readiness, higher education may be perceived as subservient to the whims of corporations and employers (Ralston, 2020). Also, it is important that regulating bodies can support the ethical maintenance of Digital Badges and Micro credentials to minimize fraudulent offerings (Phelan & Glackin, 2020).

Access and Cost

Pricing to develop and deploy Digital Badges and Micro credentials scale based on information density and deployment. Conceptually, the artifacts can be generated for free through art programs and exported or the entire process can be conceptualized through a platform such as Accredible, Badgr, Credly, or Parchment. A more complex Digital Badge and full Micro credential can follow the same operational process with an entry cost of USD$1000/year and scale up depending on the number of credentials and the level of encrypted data (Accredible, n.d.; Concentric Sky, n.d.). People can share their artifacts through free or low-cost resources like digital hubs known as backpacks, LinkedIn, and through digital resumes (BasuMallick, 2019; Choi et al., 2019; Clements et al., 2019).

About the Author

Chris Craig

Chris Craig is currently engaged in the Education MA through Ontario Tech U and is an associate researcher for the EILab. As a lifelong learner, he can relate with and to diverse perspectives rooted in experiences as an educator, small-business operator, tradesperson, and artist. In a formal setting, Chris engaged in the development and implementation of educational curricula that focus on the implications of physical and mental competencies for emergency and justice services students. Holding a BA (Honours) in Education Studies & Digital Tech, along with a diploma in Fitness and Health, exploratory research to support resilient learners focuses on culture in eLearning environments, OER, and gamified learning.


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