Credly Is the New King of Digital Badging

Credly is the new sheriff in IT certification's digital badging world.

When it comes to issuing digital badges — which some IT certification vendors are awarding to candidates when they earn a certification — one company has become the industry's top lawman. Digital badging, which we previously looked at in this article, is a recent trend in the IT training and certification industry that provides IT workers with a useful online record of their ongoing tech education.


Digital badges have rapidly increased in popularity in recent months. Microsoft is now awarding badges to candidates not just for earning certifications, but for passing individual exams. CompTIA just recently climbed on the bandwagon by adopting digital badges into its training and certification program. IBM, Oracle, ISACA, and other large organizations are also using digital badging to help IT professionals and others better display their training success.


What's interesting about all this digital badging, is that these IT credentials are all being administered by one company: Credly, a New York-based firm that has established one of the country's largest digital credential domains. Which begs the question, what is Credly? And how was it able to gain control over so much of the current digital badging landscape?


Birth of a Badger


Credly was founded in New York in 2012 by Jonathon Finkelstein, who also serves as the company's current CEO. Credly's mission, described in the words of its founder on the company's website, is to "connect people to opportunity based on their talent and capabilities."


While this may sound more like an undertaking for a staffing or executive search company, Credly's leadership believes that digital credentials are key to helping connect employers and workers. Interestingly, Credly goes a step further by equating the value of digital badges to virtual currency.


"Digital credentials are fast becoming the currency of choice in an international marketplace of knowledge and skills," the site's copy explains. "Credly and its community of users are building that currency and the underlying infrastructure."


Credly also extends the value of digital badges into the arena of social responsibility. "We believe that digital credentials will improve equity and expand access to opportunity, including for populations and individuals who have been traditionally underserved and overlooked." launched in 2013, and companies were quick to invest in the newcomer's philosophy. Credly quickly signed up more than 1,000 organizations to use its digital credentials; today, the number of companies and associations using Credly's services has increased to over 12,000.


Buying Acclaim


In 2018, Credly engineered a significant expansion of its digital badging services by purchasing Acclaim, a digital badge platform created by Pearson, a multinational education giant operating for well over a century.


Pearson is best known to IT professionals as a publisher of high-quality tech education books and materials. Pearson's well-respected imprints include Peachpit, Que Publishing, Cisco Press, and Addison-Wesley Professional. IT pros who have earned certifications are also familiar with Pearson VUE, arguably the most influential computer-based testing company in the world.


Digital badges have quickly becoming an important signifier of IT learning.

Acclaim was Pearson's digital badging initiative created to leverage Pearson's industry relationships with leading IT training and certification vendors. Based on Mozilla's open source standard known as Open Badge, Acclaim touted itself as a simple and desirable way for tech companies to install digital badging into their existing recognition programs.


Acclaim was officially launched in March 2014, and rapidly made an impact on the IT industry. In a Fast Company article from 2015, Acclaim reported it had issued more than 1 million badges through its tech sector customers including Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk, and IBM.


Just over four years later, Pearson accepted Credly's offer to purchase the Acclaim business. Pearson received a minor equity stake in Credly, and one of its executives was given a seat on Credly's board of directors. The purchase was lauded by both companies as a win, though it's unclear why Pearson was willing to give up a successful business that appeared to be on its way to greater gains in the future.


In a move to ensure the Acclaim purchase's future success, Credly brought over long-time Pearson employee Jarin Schmidt to be Credly's new Chief Experience Officer. Schmidt, an 18-year Pearson veteran who began in customer service and advanced through the ranks to a product strategist role, was made the Product Lead for Acclaim the same year it was launched. Schmidt was working as the Senior Director of Acclaim when Credly made its move to buy Acclaim from Pearson.


One Badger to Rule Them All?


The acquisition of Acclaim has given Credly the lion's share of the digital badging market. And, digital badges continue to gain in popularity with professionals who want to display their latest training and certification accomplishments.


This is no more apparent than on LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social network with its mission to help working professionals and their ideal employers find each other. LinkedIn profiles are teeming with digital badges these days, and the profiles of IT professionals are particularly well decorated. The recent addition of tech industry association CompTIA to Credly's badging program is hugely significant — CompTIA has awarded over one million A+ certifications alone, on top of its other tech credentials.


The fact that Credly currently controls as much of the digital badging market as it does may well cause the IT industry's top training and certification vendors some concern.


Credly is a relative newcomer when compared to Pearson, and while a smaller company like Credly arguably has more agility than a multinational publicly-traded megacorp, Credly also has the privileges accorded to private companies concerning transparency and accountability. It's difficult to imagine industry giants like Microsoft, CompTIA, ISACA, VMware, and IBM being comfortable with having a private third-party vendor controlling a significant component across the gamut of the IT industry's certification programs.


Finally, there is the following consideration. There has been a lot of recent media buzz and chatter around tech monopolies, and the usual suspects — Facebook, Google, Apple, and others — have had to power up their defences against political accusations and unflattering large-scale incidents involving data privacy and control.


Credly is now positioned to collect personal data from millions of IT professionals worldwide through its majority control of digital badging services. This is a thought which should give IT companies pause to consider what the attendant risks are with such an arrangement, and if it makes sense to have all of their digitally badged eggs in Credly's basket.


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About the Author
Aaron Axline is a freelance technology writer based in Canada.

Aaron Axline is a technology journalist and copywriter based in Edmonton, Canada. He can be found on LinkedIn, and anywhere fine coffee is served.