Digital Badges at Syracuse University: Recognizing and Authenticating Microcredential Moments in Higher Education

As higher education continues to anticipate and react to the needs of an evolving workforce, new programs and various modalities have been introduced to provide just-in-time learning opportunities that meet the needs of hard and soft skills sought by employers. Microcredentials give learners a pathway to quickly upgrade or enhance professional skillsets or interests in the form of short-form, topic-specific learning opportunities.

Female student sitting on couch with laptop smiling at camera.

Microcredentials: Filling Skill Gaps and Expanding Opportunities

Microcredentials play a unique role in helping students to upskill or reskill to be more competitive in the job market. By providing short and focused learning experiences, when and where students need it, microcredentials allow students to build a portfolio of demonstrated learning in a short amount of time, whether for professional advancement or personal interest.

The Office of Professional Acceleration and Microcredentials within the College of Professional Studies at Syracuse University was launched in 2021 to expand the University’s portfolio of alternative learning credentials, including noncredit certificates, courses and workshops. Alongside the launch of this new office is the introduction of digital badges. While official diplomas issued by accredited institutions remain the gold standard for credit-bearing certificate and degree programs, digital badges are fast becoming a similar standard for marking the successful achievement of professional microcredentials.

The first digital badges awarded by Syracuse University were to completers of the ‘Leadership and Governance During Times of Crisis’ certificate program at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, which has for decades offered distinguished, non-degree offerings in short-course formats to domestic and international audiences.

“Microcredentials expand our ability to publicly recognize and certify qualifications our alums have earned,” says Daniel Nelson, director of Short-Courses in the Maxwell School Executive Education Program. “It’s a valuable tool for the School and representative of the ways we continually expand our offerings of flexible education pathways. Microcredentials are a great tool to support immediate learning objectives as well as offering opportunities to “stack” these achievements towards enrollment in and completion of a traditional Maxwell degree.”

Digital Badges: Validating Learning Experiences

Through our digital badging platform, Syracuse University will recognize successful completion and demonstration of learning by issuing digital badges at various learning levels such as foundational, intermediate and advanced.

“When a Syracuse University College, School or special other unit awards a digital badge for an achievement, it means the achievement has been assessed and is now being recognized by that College, School or unit,” says Arthur Thomas, executive director of professional acceleration and microcredentials.

Digital badges serve as more than just an icon that can be shared on social media platforms like LinkedIn. The earning criteria listed on the digital badge help external evaluators and employers determine how to value the achievement of a particular digital badge against their own competency expectations.

Each digital badge provides specific information about not only the type of digital badge awarded, who it was awarded to and the date it was earned, but also what was necessary to achieve it and the awarding organization. The result is an online validation of an authenticated learning experience.

“When clicked on, the digital badge icon takes the user to a dedicated page on the badging platform where that badge is amplified, and its unique background information can be seen and verified,” Thomas says. “The authentic validation that accompanies these digital badges allows these individual journeys to become more “readable” by the viewing public, empowering individuals to show details about what makes them truly unique.”

Powerful Packs of Learning: Personalized Learning and Stackable Badges

Individualized learning goals can be created, tracked and met due to the ability to pursue microcredentials at various levels and on different topics. Students can choose to customize their learning journey by pursuing one or multiple microcredentials that round out their skills for a specific career path or goal. Students may also take advantage of pre-designed pathways featuring courses of advancing depth, which allow for increased knowledge of a specific skillset or subject and earn more advanced digital badges.  

“The ability to assemble microcredentials into a combination that is unique for a particular individual serves to define their professional brand,” Thomas says. “A student can assemble a powerful portfolio of digital badges that tells the story of their academic journey.”

The Office of Professional Acceleration and Microcredentials will work with all schools and colleges on the Syracuse University campus who want to issue digital badges to their students.

“We have an existing catalog of microcredential programs on campus that are currently recognized with printed certificates,” Thomas says. “We want to empower our students to not only pursue their lifelong learning goals but to also share their accomplishments with their networks. Digital badges allow us to give them that opportunity.”

In Summer 2022, a new and expanded catalog of microcredential programs will be launched alongside the integration of existing microcredentials into the badging platform.

To stay up to date on new programs and how to register, please visit the professional acceleration and microcredentials webpage.

About the College of Professional Studies

The College of Professional Studies is a global, inclusive and future-facing college, providing access to diverse students and learners seeking a Syracuse University degree, credential, certificate or education experience.