Turning Learning Outcomes into Job Opportunities with Digital Badges


It’s no secret today that higher education institutions have to prove that their programs enhance employability for learners. Increasingly, learners also demand concrete returns on their investment in education. At the same time, employers complain about “skill gaps” and seek candidates with the specific competencies needed to contribute in today’s rapidly changing economy.

Learning outcomes represented as digital badges help learners demonstrate their qualifications and tell their professional story more effectively, while enabling employers to articulate skill gaps and identify qualified candidates. Colleges benefit from badges because they serve the needs of both employers and learners, key stakeholders in institutional success, while helping to build the college’s brand as a trusted provider of impactful education programs.

Unlike traditional transcripts, which provide only a high level overview of learning — badges provide a level of detail and transparency that adds lifelong value to a student’s professional record. Because the information they contain is standardized and verifiable, badges are rapidly becoming the preferred currency for communicating learning outcomes and professional capabilities developed in college coursework and programs.

With badges, learners own and control their learning credentials, so they can collect achievements earned across a range of formal and informal settings — from college degree programs and vocational training, to new, competency-based career education programs and third party credentialing programs.

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Best practices begin to emerge
Some innovative colleges are beginning to develop new models for collaboration around badges and learning credentials with their industry advisory groups and third party credential issuers.

  • Madison Area Technical College (Madison, WI) is using badges created in consultation with local and regional employers. New continuing education programs that train workers in specialized advanced manufacturing skill sets will issue badges to identify the learners who have completed their programs and are ready for job openings that are currently going unfilled.
  • Competency-based education programs at innovative colleges like Argosy University, Concordia University-Wisconsin and Northern Arizona University are considering how to use badges to represent program competencies that learners demonstrate. Learners who demonstrate the defined competencies will be able to share their badges with prospective employers, graduate education programs and others, providing detailed, verifiable evidence of their achievements.
  • Third party credentialing groups like Adobe are beginning to issue badges to represent long-established certification programs. Now, when learners earn their Adobe Certified Associate designations, they receive digital badges that are easily shared on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other social and professional networks.

Network Effect: Building more valuable badges
The full impact of badges to reduce some of the inefficiencies of today’s education and labor ecosystem will rest largely on the ability of badge issuing organizations to define badges that are valuable to others. Education institutions using badges now have a new tool to leverage and enhance their existing engagement programs with prospective students, with employer advisors, and with others. One key lesson is emerging: badges created or endorsed by these inter-related groups are emerging as the most valuable – because of the multiplier result that comes from co-creation, collaboration, and validation.

Badges connect lifelong learning with professional success
Using these approaches, colleges are helping students to emerge better prepared to tell their professional story, while cultivating long-lasting relationships with the institutions that conferred the badges. Rather than graduating with an abstract sense of career-readiness, students are set up for success through open badges that represent their verified achievements and help to unlock new opportunities.

To learn more about how badges can be used to more effectively and efficiently share student skills with potential employers, view our recorded webinar, “From Colleges to Careers: Sharing Competencies through Open Badges.”