Increasing the Value of Digital Credentials

The challenges facing higher education and education technology leaders.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rob Coyle


The potential benefits of open, trusted and verifiable digital credentials are clear. They can help learners better express the knowledge and skills they bring to new opportunities, they can improve the hiring process so employers can match the skills they’re looking for with candidates, educational institutions can more easily show the value they provide to learners, and the list goes on. 

We see successes through our 1EdTech members, including the Alamo Colleges District created a pathway for nurses in Mexico to become certified and fill much-needed nursing positions in the US; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) partnered with Montgomery Public Schools, Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove to create a seamless pathway for students to earn 4-year degrees in select STEM fields; and Wichita State University works with local industry leaders to create badge programs that fill specific needs in the community and helps prepare learners for well-paying jobs.  

Working At Scale

Despite the success of individual programs, the benefits of digital credentials will only truly be realized when they can work at scale, across institutional, state and international borders. 

Representatives from the three institutions listed above joined edtech suppliers for a discussion at 1EdTech’s 2024 Digital Credentials Summit. They said breaking down university silos will be key to expanding programs and offerings. 

“We’re working with colleagues in different departments, including student affairs, service learning and professional development on credentialing,” said Collin Sullivan, coordinator of digital credentialing at UMBC. “But, we don’t all use the same system or assessments, so how can we record and articulate those competencies? Digital credentials could articulate the competencies if we can get on the same page.”

Institutions also need help with the technology and making digital credentials user-friendly. 

Making Digital Credentials User-Friendly

“We have 7,000 learners in one college. We teach them why the credential is valuable, how to claim their credentials, and how to use the credentials with their career and educational aspirations,” said Amber O’Casey, online learning coordinator for Alamo Colleges District. 

“The next opportunity for process improvement is an automatic feed to immediately transfer awarded credentials from across platforms, as they are earned, into a single location (for example, a CLR or digital wallet). This way, the learner does not have to do that step manually, which would continue to increase the value of the credentials for the learners by making them even easier to maintain and use.”

The edtech suppliers said they appreciated hearing how credentialing is actually being used on campuses, and where institutions hope to go next. They each said they are working to find the best ways to help the most people. 

“We’re really focused on easing and streamlining the administrative obstacles,” said Rochelle Ramirez, senior vice president of products at Accredible. “Facilitating communication between all the different systems is where we can help organizations. Additionally, we can help you identify the value learners will appreciate so we can effectively break down credentials and translate them for employers and other institutions.”

‘…we can help you identify the value learners will appreciate so we can effectively break down credentials and translate them for employers and other institutions.’

“We’re looking at how we can leverage data in the edtech and digital credentials ecosystem to benefit institutions and learners,” said Tony Parachini, senior product manager for Anthology. “We want to help break down data silos, reduce administrative burden, leverage generative AI to help build badging programs, and not just look at the CLR as an output, but how students will take it and use it to empower themselves.”

“We want to make sure that our suite works across platforms, and is a delightful experience for learners, even with other products that aren’t ours,” said Elizabeth DiRenzo, director of product management at Instructure. “We know we need to move with learners beyond K-20 and into life-long learning. That’s a paradigm shift for us and educators, that we’re all addressing.” 

Keeping Up with the Market

The institutional representatives agreed keeping up with the market is something they hope digital credentials will eventually help them with. Part of the work is happening with the TrustEd Microcredential Coalition, to help showcase skills, especially since some skills can be defined in different ways. 

“Every employer defines ‘critical thinking skills’ differently, but if we bring in a group of employers for a specific profession, they can define what they need and pull out the skill sets,” said  Kim Moore, executive director of workforce, professional and community development for Wichita State University. “‘Empathy’ will be different for someone working at an aircraft company versus working with people who need medical assistance.” 

The community will gather again at 1EdTech’s Learning Impact Conference in Salt Lake City, June 3-6, 2024.

Rob Coyle is Technical Program Manager for Digital Credentials at 1EdTech Consortium. He was previously Assistant Vice President Digital Teaching and Learning for University of Maryland Global Campus. Connect with Rob on LinkedIn


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