Dr. Ginger Malin is an award-winning professor and technology entrepreneur with almost 25 years of experience in the learning and development space. Ginger is founder and CEO of BadgeCert, which provides an enterprise-class platform for creating, issuing, storing, and sharing digital badges that verify earners’ skills, credentials, and continuing education experiences.
In this episode, Leading Learning Podcast co-host Celisa Steele and Ginger dive into digital badges, including how they benefit employers, earners, and issuing organizations alike. They also discuss microcredentials, stacking, and blockchain, and Ginger shares expert tips on what it takes to build or grow a successful digital badge offering.
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[00:00] – Intro
[01:27] – Would you tell us about BadgeCert and the work that you do?
Ginger came across digital badges about 12 years ago through the Mozilla Open Badges framework. As a professor of education, she started using them in her classroom as a way of recognizing different competencies and skills. She saw there was a lot of opportunity in badges for professional use.
She created BadgeCert to broaden the opportunity to use digital badges to recognize professional development, training, certification, and licensure.
Benefits of Digital Badging
[03:21] – What are the benefits of digital badging?
Expiration was an important feature for the types of organizations BadgeCert works with, particularly those in the certification and licensing world. Those organizations’ revenue is tied to people re-certifying and renewing their licenses. Digital badges are a good fit because the issuing organization can send out automatic reminder e-mails through the BadgeCert platform letting earners know their badge is about to expire and what to do to renew.
Expiration is also interesting for engagement. Many organizations want to engage meaningfully with people who’ve gone through their programs. If the badges expire, then the issuing organization has a natural opportunity to re-engage with those people.
Revocation is another important feature. Issuing organizations have the ability to take away or take back a badge.
Another benefit of digital badges is marketing because credential holders are a great way to spread the word about the programs offered by the issuing organizations. As earners share their badges on social media platforms, in e-mail signatures, etc., they become an important piece of the marketing puzzle because they’re spreading the word organically with their broader communities.
A paper certificate is something you put in your door. We no longer have walls, a lot of us. So we’re not getting that plaque anymore and hanging it on our wall unless we’re the only ones that want to see it. So, again, the change or that tipping point really occurred as people were living their lives online and then wanted to have something that’s verifiable that they can share again on social media, but also on resumés and job boards and all those other kinds of things. So they can really legitimize the kinds of experiences that they’ve had personally and share the digital badges and means to do so.Dr. Ginger Malin
Verifiability of Digital Badges
[07:03] – Do expiration and the revocation fall under the verifiability heading, or do you think about verifiability in additional ways?
Expiration and revocation are two necessary pieces for that verifiability. A digital badge allows others to click and see that it is up-to-date and relevant, and it allows others to see the experiences that led to the individual earning the badge. A paper certificate fulfills some purposes, but it doesn’t have the underlying metadata to help somebody understand the nature of that credential. You can say you’re an expert in whatever technology, but a digital badge helps employers understand there is some rigor behind that credential.
Celisa adds badges can also include a link to an earner’s work or a portfolio to potentially to further speak to what the earner did to get the badge. Those kinds of support are called artifacts, and you can insert links, pictures, and files that can all be included in a badge’s metadata.
Something else BadgeCert is seein is linking badge metadata to relevant experiences. Or if you’re a contributor to a specific industry (e.g., through a blog post or a podcast interview), your contribution can be part of the badge. Digital badges can do a lot of different things depending on the goals you have.
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Digital Badge Standards and Guidelines
[10:35] – What are the guidelines and standards a learning business should be aware of if they’re going to implement digital badges?
There are standards that all the vendors comply with related to metadata, what to include, etc. There’s also underlying technology that all vendors use. But, ultimately, each vendor offers proprietary software. Each vendor has its own differences and nuances. While there is some interoperability with that, it’s still very siloed.
Ginger often gets questions about blockchain, and she’s very excited about that the technology. She and her team are working with some large organizations to start building out what’s possible using blockchain technology. But, until we find a universal way of reading the different digital credentials on the blockchain, it’s not ready for widespread use.
Many things are credentials—e.g., driver’s licenses and passports. There’s only certain information that somebody needs to know from a credential that’s relevant to the situation. For example, a waiter at a restaurant needs to know you’re 21 if you order an alcoholic drink, but they don’t need to know your address.
When Ginger looks at the broader opportunities for digital badges in the future, she’s excited by the possibility of having a universal wallet that can be used to share the relevant information with specific groups. Blockchain is promises to produce that true interoperability.
Digital Badges As Marketing
[14:05] – Would you tell us more about how digital badges can serve a marketing purpose for learning businesses?
The metadata fields that underlie digital badges offer marketing potential. Some metadata fields are required, but many are completely customizable. For marketing purposes, Ginger suggests adding an “About Us” or “Learn More” section where you can have links in the badge metadata to an e-commerce page or a landing page for a course, etc.
So, again, the individual who’s sharing their badges becomes a conduit, so to speak, for an organization to really put the word out there that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to do on their own through traditional marketing avenues.Dr. Ginger Malin
We’re past the tipping point with digital badges. Ginger spent her early days at BadgeCert making the case for organizations to try digital badges—less expensive, less labor, less paper, and less mailing. Now organizations realize understand these savings, and they’re looking beyond to see what else they can do with digital badges, such as using them as marketing avenues.
[16:50] – There are opportunities when people share their badges with their employers, showing, for example, that they’ve completed an executive program at a university. Ginger has heard of some large companies then going to that university and asking if they can create a program for them.
So there aren’t only opportunities to sign up for a particular program, but there’s also the chance to create new opportunities.
BadgeCert reminds its clients that marketing has to happen, and the organization issuing the badge needs to provide the foundation. To get earners to share their credentials online, you provide clear guidance on how and when they should. There is some innate understanding of digital badges, especially now that many people have one, but it’s still important to provide guidance.
Organizations should have a plan to help earners understand the benefits to them to share their badges broadly online. Then those earners become a conduit for organizational marketing. BadgeCert advises clients to actively remind people that they’ll receive a badge at the end of an experience and the benefits to them.
Earners need to see both intrinsic and extrinsic value to earning a badge. BadgeCert offers a marketing launch kit with tools to help their stakeholders.
Microcredentials, Stacking, and Pathways
[20:24] – Would you share some of the possibilities for stacking smaller digital badges and creating pathways around microcredentials?
Digital badges help support the pedagogy around building microcredentials. For microcredentials, it’s the capability to structure content so somebody can see that an earner completed a series of smaller learning experiences to demonstrate a skill or competency.
Many organizations are stacking microcredentials, and what badges can do—on top of what the concept of microcredentialing does—is offer technology and a visual representation to help individuals understand how they move through those programs.
A badge can represent each layer, or step, towards building up to mastery, with the final piece of mastery being the microcredential. Learners like to see their progress, and it can be helpful to have a digital badge as an acknowledgment that they’ve completed certain steps—and it can help them see what other steps (also represented by digital badges) are needed to earn the microcredential in a specific skill or competency area.
There are many opportunities for organizations to rethink how they approach credentialing. For example, if you’re a credentialed gastric nurse, but you also work in pediatrics, you’re not recognized for being an expert in that area. Microcredentials can be used to recognize those complementary experiences and allow the issuing organization to recognize skills that aren’t necessarily under the umbrella of their main credential.
When and If to Use Digital Badges
[24:49] – Do you have any advice around using digital badges to represent both big-picture certification and micro skills? Does it potentially create confusion, or can digital badges can fit all types of achievement?
Ginger say “resumé-worthy” is a good metric. If you’re going to put it on your resumé, that’s a good reason to give somebody a badge for it. The fear of badge oversaturation is a concern, but the metadata helps because it can be used to distinguish lighter-lift achievements from more rigorous ones. Also, an individual can choose whether and when to digital badges; just because they have one doesn’t mean they have to share it in all circumstances.
If an achievement is something that you would issue a paper certificate for, then it’s badge-worthy.
The Current State of Digital Badges
[26:55] – What’s your view on where things stand with digital badges in terms of implementation, uptake, and familiarity?
The tipping point has happened. Many individuals have already earned digital badges.
Organizations offering digital badges span all sizes and industries, and digital badges offer benefits to earners of every age.
Digital badges have reduced costs for many organizations that are saving money on labor, mailing, printing, etc. Many organizations are moving to digital badging as their key method of recognition.
Ginger likes to think of badges as a currency.
Organizations that adopted a digital badge for just one of their credentials are being pushed to offer more—their learners and customers now expect a digital badge.
Badging platforms are evolving as work evolves (e.g., the gig economy and upskilling).
People are changing their industries far more rapidly than they ever did before. All those other things are reasons why people want digital badges and need them because it’s no longer that you’ve worked in the industry for 20 years, so therefore I have different skills and competencies. I may be zigzagging between lots of different types of industries…. And so digital badges are really the medium of choice for people who don’t necessarily have the years of experience, but they may have the learning and development types of experiences that allow them to enter into new careers.Dr. Ginger Malin
The Future of Digital Badges
[31:03] – When you think about the future of digital badges, what comes to mind?
Microcredentialing and stacking credentials come to mind. BadgeCert is already involved with both, but Ginger sees these as growing trends.
There is a push and a pull in the looking at the future of digital badges. In some cases, the market is demanding more badges. In other cases, Ginger and her team are pushing organizations to do more, and she has a bird’s eye view that other organizations don’t because of the sheer number and variety of organizations she works with.
Blockchain is another area of interest. Its use for digital badging isn’t there yet, but it’s time will come.
Lessons Learned About Digital Badging
[32:53] – What lessons have you learned that you can share with learning businesses looking to get into or increase what they’re doing with digital badges?
The more organizations help their earners know what to do with digital badges, the better and more successful those organizations are. One of the lessons learned that Ginger shares with every new clients is the importance of creating a plan for marketing to the people who receive the badges.
It’s also important to help the recipients use the badges to get them to the next level. Providing context on how the badge will help the individuals and support them in their professional life is an important lesson to take from successful programs.
With analytics, organizations can see how often digital badges are shared, with whom, and on what platforms. LinkedIn is the platform where the most earners share their badges, but Facebook is also popular. Knowing where customers live online and which badges are being shared most are key data points that give organizations insight.
Ginger points out that data coming from expiring badges or other information from a digital badging platform can give organizations added insight into what courses to create and supplement data collected through, for example, job task analyses.
You may think you have a pulse on what your industry looks like, but you may be too far removed. You need to dig into the people in your industry are looking for. Digital badges can provide a natural way to take the pulse as you re-engage people as their badges approach expiration.
Digital badging technology itself isn’t as significant as really understanding how to use the technology to support strategic goals and provide rich marketing data and opportunities.
[37:10] – Wrap-up
Dr. Ginger Malin is founder and CEO at BadgeCert.
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