How to Make The Business Case for Digital Badges & Credentials

Identifying, developing, and retaining skills have never been more critical, as many industries struggle to recruit and retain employees. That's why skills management is pivotal for businesses facing talent acquisition and employee retention challenges.

Digital credentials emerge as a strategic solution—particularly when underpinned by learning analytics—offering a precise and adaptable method to bolster these initiatives.

This blog post delves into the business rationale for digital credentials and showcases how learning analytics enhances the deployment of such credentials.

In the introduction to our series on building a business case for learning analytics, we encouraged you to select one or two items from a menu of use cases likely to have the most significant impact on your organization.

Our last blog post looked at how to present learner transcripts as automatically updated dashboards, which saves learners and managers time from compiling training records.

Here, we explore badging and digital credentials as a way of recognizing, accrediting, and encouraging skill development in your workforce.

What is digital credentialing?

During the latter half of the 2010s, the conversation around digital badges focused on gamification, a fun way to reward learners with colorful badges for completing training modules or acing quizzes.

Digital badges have since grown up, and many implementing badges now refer to them as “digital credentials.” These credentials are implemented with robust assessment criteria to ensure sufficient value and meaning to sit alongside traditional qualifications on a learner’s resume.

That’s not to say digital badges don’t have a place in a professional context. But when we talk about digital credentials, we’re talking about recognizing significant achievements that carry weight and demonstrate skill and knowledge competency.

Digital credentials in the real world: Not just a trade show presentation

Technology giant IBM has been using digital credentials since 2015 and published a summary of the benefits. Specifically, an initial pilot saw significant increases in learning engagement with a:

  • 129% increase in enrollments,
  • 226% increase in completions,
  • 694% increase in assessment passes, and
  • 225% increase in conversions from course completion to assessment pass.

IBM saw a surge in sales following this pilot. They also observed many benefits in skills development and skills analytics (more on that topic below) from having a standardized skills registry linked to digital credentials.

Finally, they saw a positive impact on their social media presence as learners shared their earned digital credentials on these platforms.

Following in IBM's footsteps, PwC—a Watershed client and leading global services network—adopted digital credentials to facilitate ongoing skills development among their workforce.

This strategy aids in skill enhancement and provides deserved recognition for their employees' accomplishments.

PwC offers two types of badges:

  1. Knowledge Badge. These are earned by demonstrating knowledge of a topic during an assessment.
  2. Skill Badge. These are earned by applying and sharing a skill in a work project. They offer a way for people to demonstrate the achievement of new skills, where traditional qualifications, perhaps earned many years previously, may no longer accurately represent someone’s skills—especially concerning emerging skills.

PwC’s Digital Acumen badge is a knowledge badge that requires completing 25 hours of learning activities, applying the skill in four 1-hour simulations, and a comprehensive assessment following industry guidelines. These credentials are rigorously assessed and require hard work and competence to earn.

Like IBM, PwC also enables learners to share their badges on social media platforms—including those internal to PwC, such as TalentLink and public platforms (e.g., LinkedIn).

As of August 2020, PwC saw an estimated 40 million social media impressions from 100,000 badges shared on social media, differentiating the PwC brand from its competitors.

From the initial 11 earnable badges focusing on digital topics, the digital credentialing program is poised for growth with an expanding skills inventory to cover a broader range of abilities.

Why are digital credentials important?

Investing in digital credentials fosters personal growth and enhances employee retention by offering visible, external validation of a commitment to continuous learning and improvement—which becomes evident as employees display their badges online.

Digital credentials are a powerful tool for talent acquisition and can bolster employee retention. That’s because they encourage individuals to pursue new opportunities within the organization that align with their recognized skills.

Digital credentials extend their impact by enabling a robust assessment and skills accreditation, thereby creating a skills inventory that identifies which employees possess critical business skills.

And with a sophisticated skills analytics platform (Spoiler: That’s Watershed!), this data becomes a strategic asset for talent acquisition and recruiting staff for immediate projects and future roles.

How does Watershed support digital credentialing?

Digital credentials can enhance learner satisfaction, skills development, and employee retention. And implementing learning analytics can unlock further improvements in your digital credentials program and provide insights from untapped skill data.

From a digital credentials utilization perspective, PwC uses Watershed to report on the number of badges earned, the number of people earning badges, and the percentage of badges claimed after being earned.

They also report on the number of badges shared on social media, the number of views those badges get, and the percentage of earned badges that are shared.

All these metrics are segmented by territory. So, people responsible for badging in a specific region can only see their own data, and the global team can compare uptake between regions.

Additionally, these metrics showcase trends over time, offering PwC insights into digital credential adoption.

The data analysis encompasses all digital badges collectively and individually—enabling a comparison to determine which badges generate the most interest externally, as shown by their social media view rates.

This example dashboard illustrates the kinds of reporting you can create around digital credential utilization.

From a skills management perspective, badging data reveals who possesses specific competencies, with digital badges serving as a testament to their abilities.

This data can be significantly more valuable than other skills data sources because a robust assessment process has verified the achievement of the skill. In contrast, skills data from other sources—such as an LXP—might only be based on the learner’s self-assertion of the skill or a recommendation from a colleague.

Analyzing digital badge data in Watershed provides a comprehensive list of individuals with verified skills, which is crucial for skills management and talent acquisition.

This vital intel can help you find people with particular skills for short-term projects or support internal recruitment for vacancies.

It also gives insight into which skills might be missing in the organization, providing the opportunity to address that gap with further training and recruitment efforts.

If that’s not enough, Watershed can also streamline the digital badge assessment and awarding process.

Criteria for earning badges may include learning and assessment activities completed with various tools, and Watershed consolidates all that learning in one place.

From there, you can:

  • present that information in dashboards and reports to those responsible for assessing achievement of digital credential criteria or
  • where appropriate, feed it into a digital credentialing platform’s (e.g., Credly) automatic award of credentials.

These actions can save significant administration time in awarding digital credentials and enable you to scale more efficiently.

Making the case: Watershed & digital credentialing

As you may have guessed from the previous section, the business case for including Watershed in your digital credentials strategy and implementation is multi-faceted.

Watershed provides many benefits—including enhanced learning analytics—all of which you should have in your case:

  • Digital credentials analytics to help keep the implementation on track and ensure credentials are being used to the maximum effectiveness
  • Skills analytics using data generated by digital credentials, helping:
    • increase the use of internal skills over external consultants,
    • match internal candidates to vacancies to reduce turnover and fill positions faster, and
    • provide insights into training and recruitment needs to address skills gaps
  • Aggregated learning data from all your learning systems to inform the award of digital credentials—either automatically via integrations with the credentialing platform or via a person viewing reports and manually assessing credential achievement

It’s essential to include Watershed from the start of your digital credentials implementation because you can analyze the data from Day 1 of your digital credentials launch.

You can also integrate Watershed into the digital credentials system, avoiding any technical reworking that might be required when adding it later. Of course, if you’ve already implemented digital credentials, it’s never too late to start collecting your insightful L&D data.

And if you start the process today—rather than three months from now—you’ll have three months of extra data to help you improve your digital credentials program and analyze your people’s skills.

How can you convince stakeholders of Watershed’s value?

Hiring new employees is time-consuming and costly, so boosting employee retention is critical in any business.

So how can you help ensure employees stay?

Well, a Deloitte research report, “Engaging the Workforce” found that employees are 87% less likely to leave if they feel engaged. And digital credentials are one way to engage employees and make them feel valued.

Investing in digital credentials is a strategic move; similarly, investing in skills management tools to monitor the implementation of your digital credentials is equally essential.

You need to be sure that the appropriate individuals are attaining them, enabling you to make well-informed decisions about:

  • new credentials,
  • changes to existing credentials, and
  • your approach to promoting credentials to the workforce.

You should also inform stakeholders about the benefits of reporting on skills data from digital credentials via Watershed.

Look at how much money the organization spends on external consultants for specific projects. By identifying internal experts, consider the potential cost-savings your organization could achieve.

And consider the ratio of external hires compared to internal promotions. There’s considerable potential to enhance employee retention and foster a learning culture by better equipping internal candidates to discover and apply for new roles while also developing the necessary skills for their career development.

Understand your stakeholders and how they will benefit from learner analytics.

Use the following guide as an example to ensure you’ve included relevant information that will speak to each of your key stakeholders.

Up Next: Use Watershed to detect and address cheating

Digital credentials are a powerful incentive for rewarding learners for hard work and having credible credentials can significantly aid in career progression.

However, the integrity of digital credentials can be compromised if a few dishonest learners exploit a loophole to attain these credentials, bypass a compliance assessment, or top the team leaderboard without genuinely earning it.

While cheating is an unpleasant topic—and we prefer to believe all our learners are always honest—data integrity can sometimes be at risk.

However, thanks to insights from Watershed, several clients have discovered that a handful of learners may occasionally engage in unexpected, unintended, and potentially dishonest methods to achieve assessment success.

In the next post, we explore the business reasons why it might be necessary to use learning analytics to detect cheating and how it can improve the effectiveness and accuracy of your assessments.

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