Is Digital Badging Gaining a Foothold in Certification?
The generally recognized view from a historical perspective is that "merit badging" in the United States dates back to 1910. That's when the Boy Scouts of America, following the lead of its British progenitor, adopted this approach in identifying specific activities its membership had achieved.1
In 2017, badges have migrated from the Boy Scouts to the IT realm. Recent history relative to the idea of badging comes as the result of a number of initiatives that relate specifically to badging platforms, as well as the perceived and actual value of badges.
It is this perceived and actual value of badging issue that is of concern, and is complicated by the simple fact that there are a large number of badging platforms that cloud the resolution of what "badging" means in terms of skills identification and value. The "Badging Alliance" recently served in a voluntary role, providing information relating to badging platforms as that list grew and became more challenging to define.
Its website provides a list of 18 different platforms, issuing a variety of badges that may (or may not) have recognition to a wide range of audiences.2 This past January that role was transferred to the "IMS Global Learning Consortium," now tasked with carrying this activity forward.3
The unfortunate reality is with the large number of "badging platforms," confusion has resulted in attempting to determine who has the responsibility for quality educational control. At my college, that primary responsibility rests with the Academic Senate (sometimes referred to as the faculty senate at some colleges)4. As an accredited higher education entity, we are limited in the sort of credentials we can issue.
Those limitations specifically relate to the issuance of skills certificates, certificates of achievement, and associate degrees. Limitations relating to issuance are purposely present to insure that quality control is available to insure that issuance has some effective constraints to insure quality and value of credentialing is maintained.
In general, when viewing this broad spectrum of "badging platforms," I believe it fair to state that badge quality control does not rest at this level. Perhaps down the road the IMS Global Learning Consortium will fill this role, but that does not appear to be its current focus. Credentialing quality based upon perceived value, is better viewed as the responsibility of the credentialing issuer entity.
This evidences itself in the information technology (IT) industry, where a number of credentialing issuer entities have been providing industry recognized certifications for a long time. Their entry into "badging" is not for the purpose of increasing the perceived value of their certifications, but simply serves as a cost effective method of validating an individual's credential as a certification holder. This is best illustrated by way of example.
Information security associations (ISC)2 issues its CISSP certification to individuals who meet its rigid experience requirements and pass a written exam. Additionally, as an ANSI accredited certification, continuing education requirements are imposed on certification holders.5
In order to provide employers with verification of my certification, (ISC)2 provides access to a website where the employer, after entering my name and certification number, can confirm my certification.6 Through badging, this effort is streamlined in the LinkedIm environment. All a potential employer needs to do is to go to my LinkedIm profile, scroll down to certifications, and click on the title of an individual credential, as shown here:
After clicking the title of this particular credential, you are redirected to the following:
Other IT industry certification issuers have followed this process relating to certification validation. They include:
Given the ongoing emergence of "badging," I suspect it will only be a matter of time before I no longer receive those CISSP Certifications in the mail, serving as both something I can hang on the wall and a receipt for the $85 per year I'm paying as a certification maintenance fee. After all, the days of attaching that certificate to a resume are likely numbered as we communicate ever more exclusively through digital means.
I sense this approach to certification verification will spread to other industries. For example, a close family friend is a "Certified Financial Planner." To verify this status, I need to do some research to find where I can go on the internet for verification.14 Once locating that site, I need to insert data designed to identify her to obtain verification (see results below).15
It would be much easier to simply reach out on LinkedIn and click on the "see certification" link, but that service is not available. In terms of consumer protection, I suspect it will be only a matter of time before entities like this will participate.
1 See Handbook for Boys: Boy Scouts of America (1911) pp. 13-14
2 Badge Issuing Platforms: Badge Alliance
3 About Badge Alliance
4 Sierra College Academic Senate
5 ANSI Accreditation
6 CISSP Custom Certification Verification
7 Cisco Badges
8 Citrix Badges
9 CompTIA Security+ Badges
10 GIAC Badges
11 ISACA Badges
12 Microsoft Learning Badges
13 VMware Badges
14 CFP Certification
15 Thanks to Leslie Castillo (firstname.lastname@example.org) for allowing me to use her verification as an example.