Learners Expect Credentials with Market Value

Many educational institutions are responding to shifts in the market that increase the number of people seeking digital credentials, rather than traditional degrees, for professional development. Adult learners in particular are attracted to innovative credentials as ways to get the education they need for job and career advancement more efficiently. Credentials such as certificates and badges can generally be achieved more flexibly than a 2- or 4-year degree, in a shorter amount of time, and with more targeted results. Learners’ demands for credentials with specific employment value call attention not only to the types of credentials that are available, but also to how individuals can share their learning achievements with employers.

Credentials have rapidly evolved in recent years to meet these demands in our knowledge economy. But a lack of transparency and clear communication about what credentials include can cause confusion and mistrust, inhibiting the development of valuable ecosystems. Individuals often don’t know which credentials are valued by employers. Educational institutions have trouble transparently articulating what their credentials represent. Learners, employers, government officials, policy officials and educational leaders are asking challenging questions about the value and relevance of all types of credentials. These stakeholders need to work together to make credentials more transparent and relevant.

Traditional Credential Records Lack Transparency

The first step in improving credential transparency is to acknowledge that current credential records such as transcripts are not meeting the needs of the knowledge economy. Traditional transcripts do a poor job of communicating what an individual has learned and can do. Information such as course titles and grades do not adequately represent a learner’s competencies, skills and behavioral traits that hold market value for employers and others outside the educational institution. For example, most students learn valuable skills such as critical thinking, teamwork and communication as part of their coursework—and these skills are in high demand by employers—but none of this valuable learning is explicitly communicated in a traditional transcript.

Furthermore, traditional credential records lack digital structures that would make it easier for learners to control, organize and share their learning achievements. Advances in analytics and linked data on the web provide unprecedented opportunities for connecting potential employees with jobs that match their desired career pathways—but current transcripts do not allow these types of connections. Digital credentials that transparently articulate specific skills and learning achievements (available to share on the web) can help bridge the skills gap that is hindering both employers and individuals who are trying to reap the value of their credentials.

Open Standards Support Transparency in Digital Credentials

Digital credentials change the way we think about education by shifting the focus to learners and their goals. By enabling learners to control their own academic records of achievements, we make credentials more valuable for the people who work hard to earn them.

But credential holders will not realize this value if employers and others outside the educational institution cannot understand and effectively “read” their credential records. Open standards for digital credentials provide a common structure and metadata to support systems that read, compare and share the information inside credential records.

IMS Global is leading the way in developing these open standards. IMS Global is a non-profit collaborative advancing educational technology interoperability, innovation and learning impact. IMS standards for digital credentials currently include Open Badges, Comprehensive Learner Records (CLR) and Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange (CASE), with future work to include learning pathways and advanced verification. IMS actively coordinates with other related open standards organizations, such as Credential Engine, whose Credential Registry provides digital structures for describing types of credentials, the institutions that issue them, and the quality assurance organizations that back them.

Together these organizations and the standards they have developed make digital credentials interoperable, machine-readable and more valuable.

Comprehensive Learner Records Provide Market Value

Comprehensive Learner Records (CLR) (formerly called Extended Transcripts) are digital credentials that use the IMS CLR open standard to communicate an individual learner’s achievements at a specific educational institution. Unlike traditional transcripts, which typically include only courses and grades, CLRs provide structured metadata for representing many types of learning experiences and achievements, including courses, certificates, badges, competencies, skills, co-curricular achievements, prior learning, internships, and experiential learning. And unlike traditional transcripts’ constrained sharing processes, CLRs empower learners to securely share verifiable digital records as they choose to, including as linked data on the web that can be searched and analyzed by potential employers.

CLRs promote credential transparency, which is a critical dimension of credential quality. All CLRs use the same metadata structure to communicate learning achievements, including links to evidence such as learning artifacts and assessments. This provides not only consistency across CLRs, but also interoperability with other systems and standards. For example, a CLR can include Open Badges, and both CLRs and Open Badges can reference full information about a type of credential listed in the Credential Registry.

CLRs are structured yet flexible enough to meet the needs of learners, academic registrars, and employers. The vision for CLRs is transformative in its potential for unleashing the market value of innovative credentials.

Our Commitment to Improving the Credentialing Ecosystem

At Learning Objects, we collaborate on standards-based initiatives like Comprehensive Learner Records, Open Badges, and the Credential Registry because they support ecosystems where stakeholders can more easily communicate the value of credentials. We can help educational institutions articulate what’s included in their credentials; learners make decisions about which credentials to pursue; employers signal which credentials they endorse; and government agencies and industry associations promote valuable, relevant credentials.