Digital Badge Program Considerations
The IMS Digital Credentials Innovation Leadership Network, representing a diverse group of institutions and institutional roles, developed this checklist to help other institutional leaders think about all areas that may be impacted by launching or scaling a digital badging program.
A crucial first step is identifying how offering digital badges will benefit your institution. It is essential to identify your purpose and for whom you are creating value. Here are some questions we pose to you to think through for your institution.
- How are you defining your digital credentials? Create consistent definitions, standards, and campus-wide consensus surrounding the terminology for alternative credentials, badging, micro-certificates, and other nonstandard identifiers to describe mastery of learning.
- Who is your target learner? Your target learner may be current students, new non-degree bound learners, dual enrollment students, or current staff. These decisions will impact the development of programs and marketing strategies.
- How will you measure if you have achieved your purpose? Developing this definition of success will help with accountability as you build your program. This can be tracked with various metrics, including the number of badges designed, the number of badges awarded, the number of partnerships developed, or the amount of money generated.
- How will you determine which types of badges you will offer? Deciding which type(s) of competencies and achievements will be certified with badges is a crucial first step. Institutions may develop partnerships with various stakeholders, including employer partners, industry associations, or other educational institutions, to identify areas that could benefit from a badging program. Other institutions may use digital badges to document learning experiences like experiential learning, co-curricular, or research activities. Some institutions have chosen to align their badges with skills frameworks or competencies. Decide which type(s) of competencies and achievements areas will be certified with badges.
- Are the objectives transparent to the learner, based on what they need to demonstrate in order to achieve a competency or to be awarded a badge?
Strategic Enrollment Management
As digital badges are learner records, including the registrar in your planning process will help identify what institutional processes need to be considered.
- Will your digital badges be credit-bearing? Digital badges can be issued for a number of different achievements, but a crucial decision is if they will also result in earning academic credit. If they are credit-bearing, you will have additional considerations to address.
- Will your digital badges be included on transcripts? Some institutions have chosen not to badge anything already contained on their transcripts. Others view digital badges as official learner records, resulting in discussion with the registrar to identify what should be reflected on a transcript or a comprehensive learner record.
- Will learners need to go through the traditional admission and registration process? If your target audience is not currently matriculated students or staff, you will need to identify how a person can sign up for the badge at your university. The traditional process and timeline may not align with the needs of on-demand learners.
- What is the financial commitment for learners to complete the badge? If there is a cost, does it qualify for financial aid? Some badges are included in program or course fees, others may be included in a registration fee. If your badge is for credit, does it meet the threshold to be eligible for financial aid? What if they enroll in multiple badges during a single term?
- Will your badges operate on your institution's academic calendar of courses/semesters, or will they operate outside of that (on-demand)? Badges designed for skill attainment may need to have more flexibility in the timeline than your traditional academic calendar. If someone needs to complete professional development they may not wait until the start of the next semester.
- Are you offering badges as part of your strategic enrollment management plan? After a learner experiences your digital badge program, they may want to continue their education at your institution resulting in a matriculated student.
- Will badges become part of a prior learning assessment/transfer credit review? If you are offering digital badges, will you also accept them from other institutions as you review applicants? Some institutions have developed badges to correlate with their transcripted courses. Other institutions have badges that go through their credit for the prior learning process.
Policy, Procedure, Governance
It is important to identify what process and procedures you will implement for your badging program. These questions will help to provide a consistent and clear learner experience.
- What are the minimum requirements for a digital badge to be issued? As you determine the minimum requirements, you may identify that you will have different requirements for different types of badges to allow you to meet a variety of use cases at your institution. Some badges may relate to participation, while others result from an applied learning situation.
- Who will be responsible for the management, governance, and oversight of the digital badge program and system? Identifying leadership helps to allow consistency and visibility across your institution. This also provides a central resource for effective practices, internal and external data systems, and a quality-control process.
- How will you design the look of your badges? Will it align with the institutional brand identity? Your institutional brand tells a powerful story that is important to learners, this is no different for badge earners. Survey data has shown that brand recognition is important to many learners as it provides validity to badge achievement.
- What is the level of administrative support your program will have? Support from the administration is important; this could take the form of being included in the institutional strategic plan, supported by the legislative or governing board, faculty governance support, or senior-level administration.
- Who will be responsible for delivering the badge learning activity and assessing for competency? Identifying how the learning activity will be delivered, is it a part of an existing activity or is it a standalone activity, will help to develop a clear assessment plan.
- How will information be communicated internally and externally? Bringing awareness to other institutional stakeholders is important as they may have ideas for additional badging activities or be able to help promote the existing badging activities. As you look outside your organization, how are you helping potential consumers of these badges understand the value of the badge? Are you communicating the opportunity and value with potential badge earners?
- Will your badges have an expiration date? Depending on the achievement you are recognizing it might be important to include an expiration date, this is about some of the technology software skills and how they aren't relevant forever. Other achievements will continue to be accurate and relevant, so they will not need to expire.
A badging program will incur some expenses. It is important to decide how your institution will manage this expense.
- How do you define your return on investment? Is the goal for your digital badge program to be self-sustaining, or will it generate revenue? Some institutions view this as an operating cost and do not expect the badging program to cover the expense of the program. Other institutions use badges as a recruitment activity or as an alumni engagement opportunity so cost recovery may not be a consideration.
- Will you charge a fee or tuition for your badge? This fee may not have to be charged to the badge earner, so think creatively about who you are developing these badge programs for. Maybe you are working with an employer/organization to offer continuing education, would that employer be willing to pay a fee for your service?
- What kind of staffing will you need to support the program? This could include a group of people who are responsible for sections of the program or a full-time staff member who coordinates and manages all aspects of your program.
How will your badging program align with existing academic programs? Determining the role of badges at your institution will help to determine how aligned your badges need to be with the academic process.
- What are you aligning your badge criteria to? Are the credentials aligned with college-level outcomes? Are they in sync with outcomes defined at that level in the LMS?
- Will badges need to go through the traditional curriculum review and approval processes? Having badges go through your curriculum review process can assist with faculty understanding the rigor of the badge so it can help with faculty buy-in. On the other hand, this review process can slow down the process of developing a new badge, so you will need to consider the pros and cons of both options.
- What type of cooperation and support will you need from the academic colleges and departments? As you develop your badge offerings, will they have a home within the academic colleges or will someone else be responsible for providing oversight? If they reside within an academic college this provides you with subject-matter expertise.
- Who will develop your badge content? Developing the learning experience that results in a digital badge is crucial, this could be done by faculty or outside subject matter experts depending on the content knowledge required.
- Who will review content to ensure it is compliant with accreditation and other college/program-specific accreditations? The accreditation process provides validation to your digital badges making them more valuable to the earners.
- Will credit earned articulate to degree completion or transfer to other institutions? If your badge also results in earned credits, it is important to understand how these will impact a learner as they continue their education. Some institutions only accept these badge-earned credits as electives others allow them to stack to a larger credential.
- How will you assess that a learner has achieved the criteria for the digital badge? What evidence will the learner provide and how will be it evaluated?
- Will your badges be a stand-along achievement, or will they be part of a path or series of badges?
If you are creating new learning experiences that will result in earning a digital badge, it is important to plan for the following instructional design considerations.
- Is the learning experience designed using pedagogically sound approaches? A quality learning experience is crucial to the badge earner gaining the needed knowledge, skill, or ability to reach the achievement. This pedagogy should align with the type of learning experience whether that is synchronous or asynchronous online, a workshop, or some other format.
- What form of assessment will be used to gauge whether this achievement has been earned? Some institutions have looked at incorporating automated assessment to allow the badging program to easily scale, while others have chosen to do a manual assessment so there is a greater variety of assessment options.
- Will there be a consistent look and feel for the learning experience? If your badges are part of a larger experience you should look at a consistent experience for a better badge earner experience. If your badges are not related then you may have the learning experience to be aligned with other related activities.
- Has the learning experience been designed to meet accessibility requirements? Meeting the needs of all badge earners is important, this is easier to accomplish from the start instead of reacting to a learner's need as it arises.
- What instructional materials will be required? Is there an additional cost to obtain the materials? Open educational resources can be a great solution that doesn't require a learner to purchase materials.
Human Resources/Staff Development
Badges don't have to only be offered to your students, some institutions are implementing badge programs to complement their internal professional development/continuing education programs. This can be a great way to expose additional people to the value of earning digital badges.
- What are the skills and competencies that you want faculty and staff to have? Identifying the outcomes allows you to focus on specific areas. Some institutions have implemented badges for some of the required training programs whereas others have implemented them as part of a leadership series.
- Are there incentives for completing a badging program? In addition to the value of a digital badge are there other options for incentives for faculty and staff to participate. One example is an institution that has implemented preferential room scheduling if faculty complete a series of badges related to classroom technology.
- What talent development programs at your institution can be aligned with digital badging? Looking at existing programs allows you to add additional value to a program instead of investing your energy in starting a new program from scratch.
- How do you educate supervisors and/or hiring managers about the value of digital badging? As you go down this path, it is important to consider how you will be communicating the value of the digital badges with your internal audience just like you would if you were working with external stakeholders.
Technology Administration and Implementation
Selecting a digital badge system is likely to be done in partnership with your information technology department as there are many considerations to ensure a seamless experience for all of your stakeholders. There are many important considerations when selecting your digital badge system that can impact the setup and support of your program.
- How will training and support be made available to program administrators, learners, faculty and staff? Will the badge technology vendor provide support and training or must the institution offer it? It is important to know how individuals who are new to digital badging can receive support in using the technology tool but also in general understanding of how to get the most out of your digital badge platform.
- How well does the badge technology platform adhere to the institution’s data and privacy policies? Knowing that student, faculty and staff data is handled securely and sensitively according to your policies is critical.
- How will the digital badge platform integrate with other campus IT resources? To have a seamless user experience you need to consider how the digital badge platform will be integrated. Can the digital badge system integrate with your campus authentication (login) system? If your digital badges will be a result of learning that happens in your learning management system, is there a way to connect these platforms? It is also important to make sure any communication from the digital badge platform doesn’t get treated as spam.
- Should the achievements that are recorded in your digital badge platform be considered official learning records? Will your digital badges appear on official learner records like a transcript? If you want to have them appear on your transcript, is there a process to automate this flow? Another option would be to look at offering co-curricular transcripts, non-credit transcripts, or other comprehensive learner records. Proactively working with your campus stakeholders to identify where these records need to be stored and how they will get there will save you time.
- Is the badge technology platform certified in the relevant open standards? As you consider adopting a digital badge platform, it is essential to consider support for open and interoperable standards such as the Open Badges and Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) standards from IMS. Platforms that are certified as compliant with these standards guarantee that they are interoperable with each other. This means that when you choose standards-compliant vendors, initial setup is made easier and in the future you can more easily switch vendors should you need to. Important related standards that ensure interoperability across systems include Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) and Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange (CASE). The IMS commuity has developed resources for your information or use and our posted on the procurement best practices website.