Innovative Credentials Are a Win for Learners

November 13, 2023
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Illustration of bringing order to chaos.

By Tiffany Aurora, AACRAO Director of Communications and Marketing.

Learning Agility in a Fast-Changing World 

In 2014, researchers from the Center for Creative Leadership and Teachers College, Columbia University released a white paper on Learning Agility. They found that learning agility - the willingness and ability to continue to learn throughout one’s entire life – is one of the best indicators that a person will thrive. The faster the world around us changes, the more important learning agility becomes. 

What does this mean for us in higher education? 

We are excellent at helping people learn. But we tend to be associated with a handful of fixed-term credentials: Degrees. Credits. Certificates. 

We could become better at facilitating lifelong learning. 

Enter the first-ever Convergence Conference: Credential Innovation in Higher Education. 

Convergence Conference: Credential Innovation in Higher Education (presented by UPCEA and AACRAO)

Presented by UPCEA and AACRAO from November 1-3, 2023 in Washington, DC, this conference brought together over 600 professionals from across the country to discuss new and emerging trends and models in the field of alternative credentials. 

For us to better facilitate lifelong learning, our systems need to change, and innovative credentials – including digital credentials - are one of the tools that will help us make this transition. 

Digital credentials help learners quickly upskill. They help learners demonstrate, in a verified and trusted way, specific skills and competencies that employers want to see in job candidates. 

To fully embrace digital credentials and help build a system of learning mobility, a lot of systems, processes, and programs will need to be adapted. 

And we are the ones to lead this charge. Our collective expertise, innovation, and love of learning will help us get there. 

At the Convergence Conference, leaders and practitioners from across the field of higher education gathered to brainstorm, collaborate, and discuss the next steps in credential innovation. 

There are a lot of details still to work out. We use terms differently (i.e. “micro-credential”). Agreeing about nomenclature is a first step; agreeing on a plan we can all coalesce around will be harder. 

But it’s worth it. Our learners are worth it. And if the energy at Convergence was any indication, our field is excited about this innovation and ready to do the work required to move forward. 

The Role of Learning Mobility 

While learning agility speaks to an individual’s willingness and ability to engage with the continual process of learning, learning mobility refers to the systems, processes, programs, and initiatives that learners can use to verify their learning, demonstrate skills and competencies, move between systems of learning to build their skill sets, and communicate their learning in a trusted way to employers. 

In short, learning mobility is a learner-centered innovation that meets learners where they are and empowers them to gain new learning on an ongoing basis while demonstrating their skills and competencies in a trusted way.

Digital credentials are important because they are one of the tools we can use to create this system of learning mobility. 

Defining Digital Credentials 

It is easy to get caught up in the semantics as higher education continues to define and discover what digital credentials will look like in the future. Is it a digital credential? A microcredential? An alternative credential? A clear answer has not emerged. And while shared language is important, employers and learners care more about what the digital credential means than what it is called. It is important to partner with employers and keep in mind what both learners and employers want out of digital credentials. 

As many of the presenters at the Convergence Conference shared, if a digital credential does not help the learner meet their employment and professional goals, then the credential is not meaningful. By partnering with employers, higher education can help design digital credential options that the employer trusts and values. When employers are looking to hire new employees, they look to the experience and credentials of the candidate to verify what that employee can do for the employer. 

Credential Innovation in Higher Education 

Learners are starting to look at digital credentials as a way to help them gain new skills and meet the demands of employers in an ever-changing world. To stay current, continual learning throughout one’s lifetime is becoming more and more important. While a degree is one avenue to take towards securing employment and building a high-quality life, there are other paths as well, and continual learning is important for degree and non-degree earners alike. 

Innovative credentials – including digital credentials – will help create a way for learners to upskill quickly and communicate what they know and can do to employers.

Join the Digital Credentials Community of Practice 

The key to implementing innovative credentialing will be to continue converging and working together. To this end, AACRAO recently launched its Digital Credentials Community of Practice (CoP). Housed on the AACRAO Exchange, AACRAO’s online member community, this CoP is open to association members and non-members. 

To join, log in to the AACRAO Exchange. Navigate to All Communities under the Communities tab. Click Join next to the Digital Credentials Community of Practice.


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