Digital badges may help bridge certification credibility gaps

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The current bounty of available IT certifications boosts the odds you can find a certification that’s exactly what you need, or at least somewhere in the ballpark. It also creates a bit of credential chaos: How can potential employers know what a particular certification signifies? And how can they confirm that yours is current and valid?

For some recruiters and employers, scrutinizing a certification is just too much work, especially when screening a large collection of resumes. They may never have heard of your certification, or be uncertain exactly what it means. Perhaps most crucially, they may not know how to verify that you actually have it. It’s so much simpler to ignore a certification, as if it isn’t even there, and rely on other indicators. Boo. Hiss! You earned that cert, and you deserve all the benefits, including the resume boost.

If you’re thinking that a central registry of certifications might solve a lot of problems, then you’re not alone, but efforts to pull that off have languished. It’s extremely political — who gets to define and run it, who can/will participate, etc. — and very technical. Imagine specifying data formats and keeping properly formatted data flowing and updated from hundreds, or even thousands, of certification organizations.

It’s a lot of teamwork and cooperation to expect from cutthroat competitors, even for the benefit of the IT pros they share. Take a peek at the Information Technology Certification Council’s (ITCC) TechCert Registry as an example. Ever heard of it? Chances are your average tech recruiter hasn’t — and the registry was launched in 2010.

Digital badging and Mozilla’s Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) may be just what the career doctor ordered to help solve this thorny problem. The OBI is a freshly minted standard that lays out a universal badging system designed to:

— Clearly communicate the meaning of a credential and the rigor behind it
— Validate that the credential is current and held by a particular individual
— Do so with one click

A digital badge is a graphic that you can add to your social media profiles, e-mail signature, digital resume, or anywhere else you’d like to show it off. You’ve no doubt seen them propagating around the web, and maybe you already have a collection of your own. The open badge initiative catapults digital badges from eye candy and into meaningful career tool.

An open badge contains metadata about itself embedded into the PNG file in JSON format. When someone clicks on it, all that stuff that was previously too much trouble to look up instantly appears via the associated link. Now a recruiter, or any other interested party, has one-click access to what your certification signifies, as well as verification that you currently hold it.

Open badges are the most visible portion of the decentralized Open Badges Infrastructure, which includes free, open source API for badge issuers and tools for managing, verifying, and displaying badges. It’s young, and still a bit rough around the edges, but offers substantial promise for increasing the value of IT certifications by clearing away some of the confusion surrounding them.

In early April, ISACA began providing open badges to individuals who have earned its popular Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT) and/or Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) certifications. Clicking on an ISACA open badge verifies the certification, qualifications, and the process to earn it.

Expect more certification vendors to follow suit. It’s an open standard with a growing supply of associated open source tools, so anyone can self-implement. ISACA chose to embrace the premise but wanted to let someone else handle the technical details by utilizing Pearson VUE’s new Acclaim service.

The conundrum of sorting out and verifying credentials isn’t specific to IT certification, and neither is the use of Open Badges. Because it’s a need that crosses industries, there’s a strong probability of the kinks getting worked out, followed by widespread adoption of a digital credentialing ecosystem. That’s a very good thing, because it’s adoption and maturation rate could stand to be accelerated.

The mere fact that something has an open badge associated with it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, as far as merit, because open badges can be created for virtually any purpose, and with virtually any degree of rigor. The open badge infrastructure, however, introduces the potential to have vital information about a credential and its holder just one painless click away. Even an extremely busy recruiter or potential employer has time for one click.

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Anne Martinez


Anne Martinez is a certification industry veteran and the founder of She has been observing the industry and writing about IT certification since 1998.

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  1. Pingback: Pearson brings digital badging to Adobe certification - CertMag

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