ATD Blog

Using Digital Badges as Stackable Career Credentials

Monday, August 3, 2015

“Digital badges are a 21st century credential. Why, in today's hyperlinked, online world, would we depend on an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper to carry all the significance of our learning? We've self-reported experience and KSAs for years on paper resumes; 21st century resumes need to be hyperlinked and connected, too. Make a claim, provide evidence.”—James Kerr, Instructional Designer, Capital University

In my May Science of Learning Community blog post, I discussed how digital badges are used as a measure of mastery. Essential, digital badges can be used by professionals to instantly display the skills and competencies they have acquired from professional development opportunities, in addition to providing evidence of memberships with professional organizations. They are currently in use at post-secondary institutions such as MIT and Yale University and organizations such as NASA, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Smithsonian. 

Now, let’s look at how to use these badges as stackable credentials in the workplace. Here’s how it works. 

Whereas certifications primarily function to filter candidates out of positions or advancements, digital badges exist to help candidates compete by showcasing their strengths. Because digital badges enhance an employee’s traditional credentials, they are often referred to as “stackable credentials.” These stackable credentials particularly help as they demonstrate the employees’ competencies that that their employers value most. 


Certifications are typically reported on a pass/fail basis, so there is little indication as to which skills they have mastered and which they have not. For example, a job seeker who just barely passed their phlebotomist certification may be perfectly competent to handle hazardous waste items, but have trouble handling sensitive patient information. This job seeker may pass the certification exam, but then become a liability to an employer.

Meanwhile, as a stackable credential, a digital badge will highlight the specific competencies that employers expect and require from new hires. In this way, candidates and employees can demonstrate to a prospective manager that they have the perfect blend of skills needed to thrive in the workforce—not just that they passed a certificate program. These credentials also help current employees add to their qualifications by showcasing professional development that has taken place since being hired.


Indeed, certifications are great and have become a necessary tool for job seekers and employees in many professions. But they are not without limitations. The benefit that badges provide enables employers to identify specific competencies that an employee possesses:

  • Digital badges/stackable credentials give individuals a HUGE advantage in the competitive workplace world of advancements and promotions. Everybody has a certification, but badges help individuals stand out with credentials that target their employer’s expectations.
  • Digital badges/stackable credentials only reflect the skills that employers care about. Most certification exams reflect all the material covered in a given program, regardless of importance to employers. Stackable credentials, however, are more targeted to employer needs. 

To learn more about the usefulness of badging and how digital badges work, the following resources may be helpful:

Is your organization using digital badges/stackable credentials? Please share your experience in the Comments. 

About the Author

Amanda Opperman, Institutional and Program Effectiveness Specialist at Wonderlic, is a veteran higher education professional with vast experience in and out of the classroom. She leads initiatives to help institutions with the achievement and measurement of outcomes, including assessment implementation and effectiveness planning. She began her career in the field of higher education as a Rhetoric & Writing Studies professor at San Diego State University. Most recently, she served as the Program Director at California University of Management and Sciences. She has also served as Vice Chancellor at Southern States University and Academic Director at Hancock International College. She is currently writing her dissertation about the effects of cognition on the attainment of learning outcomes as part of her doctoral studies in the San Diego State University/Claremont Graduate University joint-PhD in Education. She also holds a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature.

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