How to Make The Business Case for Digital Badges & Credentials

Identifying, developing, and retaining skills have never been more critical in a rapidly changing world, where many industries are struggling to recruit and retain employees. Digital credentials can support these efforts—especially when the implementation has data and analytics at its core—as they provide a targeted, responsive approach. This post explores the general business case for digital credentials before outlining the value that learning analytics adds to a digital credentials implementation.

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 that are 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 using badging and digital credentials as a way of recognizing, accrediting, and encouraging skills development in your workforce.

What Is Digital Credentialing?

In the mid-to-late 2010s, most of the conversation around digital badges was in the context of gamification—a fun way of motivating learners with colorful badges for completing training or passing a quiz.

Digital badges have since grown up, and many of those involved in 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 an increase 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.

Watershed client and global professional services network of firms PwC has implemented digital credentials to help their people: develop, maintain, and prepare for new skills. This approach also helps ensure learners receive recognition for their achievements.

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 an actual 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 the completion of 25 hours of learning activities, application of 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.

These results are from just 11 initial earnable badges to address skills relating to digital topics. This  number is expected to grow as the credentialing program expands to additional skills areas.

Making the Case: Why Use Digital Credentials?

Digital credentials are a way to invest in people and demonstrate that investment with tangible, external proof of commitment to learning. This is especially true as those outside the organization see employees sharing their badges online.

Not only can digital credentials help attract potential job candidates, but they also can contribute to reduced turnover as people are motivated to explore new internal opportunities that match their recognized skills.

But digital credentials go beyond motivating learners and retaining employees. By implementing a robust assessment and accreditation of skills, you are generating data about which employees have particular skills needed for the business. And with the right skills analytics platform in place (Spoiler: That’s Watershed!), you can harness that data to recruit staff with the required skills for both short-term projects and new roles.

How Does Watershed Support Digital Credentialing?

You can implement digital credentials without analytics and see benefits in employee satisfaction, development, and retention. But to do so misses out on insights required to improve and develop your digital credentials as well as all the insights from skills data that you’re simply not using. Using Watershed to analyze your digital credentials data enables you to do both of these things.

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. In addition, these metrics are presented as trends over time, so PwC can see how the use of digital credentials is developing.

The data is analyzed in aggregate for all badges and by individual badges. As a result, badges can be compared against one another to identify which badges are most interesting externally (those with the highest social media view rate).

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

From a skills analysis perspective, badging data tells you who in the organization has particular skills. This data can be significantly more valuable than other sources of skills data. That’s 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 badging data in Watershed gives you a list of people with verified skills relating to each badge you offer. 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 help with badge assessment and awarding. Criteria for earning badges may include learning and assessment activities completed in various tools. Watershed pulls all that learning data together 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 credentials and enable you to scale.

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 implementation is multi-faceted. Watershed provides many benefits, all of you should include 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 have the benefit of analyzing the data from Day 1 of your digital credentials launch. You also can integrate Watershed into the digital credentials system, avoiding any technical reworking that might be required when adding it in later.

Of course, if you’ve already implemented digital credentials, then it’s never too late to start collecting your insightful data. And if you start the process today—rather than three months from now—you’ll have three months of extra data that can help you improve your 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 employee retention is an important metric 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.

So if investing in digital credentials is worthwhile, then investing in tools to monitor your digital credentials implementation is also beneficial. You need to know that you’re offering the proper credentials and that the right people are achieving them so you can make informed decisions about:

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

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

Look at how much money the organization spends on outside consultants for specific projects. How much of that could you save by identifying existing internal experts?

Consider the number of external hires compared to internal promotions. How much scope is there to reduce staff turnover by better supporting internal candidates in finding and applying for roles and developing the needed skills for the next steps in their careers?

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 great for rewarding learners for hard work, and good credentials can be significantly beneficial in helping learners progress in their careers. But what if a few less-than-honest learners found a loophole to earn those credentials, pass a compliance assessment, or get the top score on the team leaderboard—all without putting in the work?

Cheating is not a particularly nice topic to think about, and we like to consider that all our learners are always honest. But thanks to the data in Watershed, a few clients have discovered that some learners occasionally take unexpected, unintended, and potentially dishonest routes to 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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