How micro-credentials and digital badges help you embrace the learner engagement journey


Micro-credentials and digital badges are the new currencies of education and learning that are gaining in popularity. These bite-size signifiers of learning are transforming how we learn and certify a competency, skill or other achievement.  

With the focus on the student, often micro-credentialing and digital badging add gamification to boost student and learner engagement. This helps pave the way for ‘sticky knowledge’ and lifelong learning.

What are micro-credentials and digital badges? (the cliff notes)

‘Microcredentials’ have become an umbrella term in a fast-evolving learning ecosystem across sectors. It’s about ‘chunking’ learning activities into building blocks.

You might know micro-credentials by other names, such as:

  • Micro-credential 
  • Digital credential
  • Controlled credential
  • Alternative digital credential
  • Nano credentials 
  • Nano degrees (trademarked to Udacity)
  • Microdegree (trademarked to Edevate)
  • Short online course
  • Micromasters
  • Blue badge
  • IBM digital badge
  • Digital technology merit badge
  • Open Badge
  • Digital badge, or
  • Simply, badge.

Confused? The lack of consensus on the nomenclature comes down to the context, who’s using the term, and the subcategories.

For example, a Journal of Learning for Development report describes nano-credentials as informal and non-formal digital badges and certificates. It also says micro-credentials are formal, semi-formal, accredited, and stackable. In other words, you could earn a digital badge in project management, but it could contribute towards a credit-bearing micro-credential. 

Meanwhile, open credentials, such as IMS Global’s Open Badges Infrastructure, tap into common open technology. That means anyone or any organisation can issue them to endorse learning. Each Open Badge has a nugget of embedded data that abides by IMS Global’s leading standard. Such badges transparently link, connect and stack learning. They’re trusted, verifiable and portable - nationally and globally.

Once learners acquire Open Badges in their ‘digital backpack’, they can share those achievements with other institutions, would-be employers or social media, etc. That increases your organisation’s digital footprint, equating to viral social media marketing.

Controlled credentials, on the other hand, see a group of people or institutions control the issuing, like when a university issues a graduate degree. 

Where it all began…

Micro-credentials and digital badges have become increasingly common since the start of the pandemic and are used broadly across K-12, vocational, and higher education sectors. They’re also applied in corporate learning. Google searches for ‘micro-credentials’ peaked in May 2021, with Australia showing the most queries.

What’s the difference between a digital badge and a micro-credential, if any?

As mentioned above, there are still some rough edges around the definitions of badging and micro-credentialing, but it can help to think of them this way. A digital badge can recognise a learning activity, skill, or competency; a set of badges creates a micro-credential, and many micro-credentials can earn a credential.  Also, a micro-credential might not be digital, but an Open Badge always is. 

What’s in a badge?

Your institution can embed specific metadata into a digital image – a visual token to represent an Open Badge, including:

  • Badge name and description 
  • Criteria to earn that badge and how it relates to a professional learning pathway or larger skill sets 
  • Badge issuer 
  • Evidence 
  • Recipient’s name 
  • Date issued 
  • Standards 
  • Tags or keywords to highlight the type of achievement, actual competency, or badge topic 
  • Verification, and 
  • Expiration date (if relevant). 

Adding the expiring date is useful for certifications such as first aid training, for example, that need refreshing.

What the research tells us

According to a literature review, research shows micro-credentials and digital badges are “extremely motivating to learners and can promote community-building, equity and flexibility when implemented well”.

How to use micro-credentials in your teaching

Here’s how they can be used in teaching and learning to represent a:

  • Skill or part of a skill – such as the halfway point in a course 
  • Skill set 
  • Competency or cluster of them 
  • Module 
  • Short courses, such as a MOOC 
  • Certification 
  • Practicum, or 
  • Qualification, etc.

When coupled with an online learning management system (LMS) like Canvas, these badges offer data analytics and boost your institution’s digital footprint. Schools, educational institutions, and corporate learning departments across the globe are using these insights to:

  • Get a close view of participants’ performance across the organisation
  • See a cohort of student's progress toward a goal
  • Sequence learning to give learners more learning transparency
  • Identify struggling learners so that you can message them with extra support
  • Manage professional development and training, especially to track certifications for compliance, and
  • Offer recruiters access to better data to make better hiring decisions.

The power of Canvas Credentials

Your institution or organisation can plug the Canvas Credentials (formerly Badgr) LTI into your Canvas LMS. The next step is to customise it with your credentialing strategy, set up your administrative permissions, and then assign Open Badges anywhere in the learning path.

Canvas customers across 2,200 organisations, in 160 countries, have used these Open Badges. And as well as receiving excellent support from Canvas, you’ll also be part of the Canvas Community. That’s where users co-learn by asking questions, sharing tips, and diving into the knowledge bank. 

As well, if you’re operating in Australia, Canvas Credentials are a great fit with the National Microcredentials Framework, released in November 2021. They give institutions more clarity around credentialing, including offering minimum requirements and standards. We’ll know more in December 2022, when the Federal Government completes its review of the framework’s efficacy and the revisions needed.

Curious to learn more about Canvas Credentials? Meet with one of our experts for your tailored walk-through.

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