A Primer on the Opportunity Provided by Digital Badges

By Brian McGowan, Ph.D.

Competency 1.1
Apply adult learning principles in CEhp activities/interventions and overall program planning by identifying sources and resources about applicable and appropriate adult learning principles and practices that can be used to support learning and change for healthcare professionals and healthcare teams.

Ginger Malin, Ph.D., founder and EVP at BadgeCert Inc., is one of the world’s leading experts on digital badges. Malin has tremendous insight into the various ways that professional achievement and credentialing are being transformed by this emerging technology, and she shares her most salient points for CEhp professionals. The transcript below has been edited for length and clarity.

What are key drivers for the transformation of the credentialing process?
Credentials matter. To move their careers forward, professionals need ways to differentiate themselves from their competition and ultimately stand out in a crowd. They also need others to understand the rigor, time and effort devoted to developing their professional expertise.

Moreover, in today’s digitally connected world, professionals share practically everything online in ways that can be publically searched and viewed. As such, they must have ways to communicate their verified advanced skills and expertise on the web beyond putting a few additional letters after their names or providing a static paper certificate.

In order for professional associations and training providers to stay competitive and continue to both retain and grow their membership or participant pools, they must also find innovative ways to extend their reach and further engage their stakeholders by providing additional value. This has created a drive and demand for a new currency: Enter digital badges.

What are digital badges?
Digital badges are a means by which associations and trainers recognize their stakeholders’ certifications, awards and other continuing education experiences in a format that can be readily shared online. Without getting too technical, a digital badge is a dynamic, portable icon that is embedded with qualifying information such as who issued the credential, where and how it was earned, and a detailed description of the competencies met. It can also include expiration dates and continuing education units – if applicable, and links to multimedia artifacts such as pictures, websites, videos or documents. When the badge icon is clicked, the information is revealed and the accomplishment can be authenticated and verified by the viewer.

Digital badges are gaining significant traction in the credentialing industry because they are secure and verifiable, protecting the integrity of the credential. They also deliver significant additional value to certificate recipients because they can be easily shared via email, email signatures, social networks, websites or digital resumes. Depending on the vendor, earners can also create an individualized digital badge portfolio to store and manage one or many of their earned badges.

As earners share their digital badges with others, namely employers, colleagues or licensing boards, they essentially act as ambassadors by extending the brand of the issuing organization to a wider network. Once shared, the issuing organization or professional association can track the sharing and opening of badges, accruing vital data about the impact of their programs.

Can you summarize how digital badging may specifically support the community of CE/CME professionals?
With the disparate nature of professional development opportunities available, digital badges may be looked at as a common currency to validate and provide clarity around the nature of credentials, accomplishments and experiences. As noted previously, the lack of such a currency has caused a great deal of frustration and confusion among all of the professional development stakeholders and has made it difficult for professionals to clearly articulate the stepping stones taken along their individualized career pathway. For this reason, I think it is just a matter of time until digital badges are mainstream for both the CE/CME professionals and the healthcare providers that they serve.

How are digital badges issued?
Typically, the issuing organization creates a distinct digital badge for each course or credential. This involves designing the front-facing image and information associated with the accomplishment. Upon completion of the credential, the organization would issue the badge to earners via a software platform. Earners receive an email or similar communication informing them of the issued badge and how to access the profile page. Thereafter, depending on the vendor implementation, it can be shared with the earner’s social networks or via email.

What value do digital badges deliver?

Digital badges offer earners tremendous value, including:

  • Verified skills and expertise: Digital badges provide an easy path for employers, colleagues and licensing boards to verify an earner’s credentials with a single click. They also convey all of the underlying qualifications needed for earning the badge.
  • Differentiation in the job market: The badges help earners differentiate themselves when looking for jobs by showcasing their validated skills and expertise in a cutting-edge way.
  • Convenience: Badges offer a convenient way to digitally record, store and share their certifications and experiences online.

Digital badging also offers issuing organizations significant, quantifiable benefits, including:

  • Branding and marketing: As earners share their badges with others, the issuing organization is able to market its programs virally and build its brand organically.
  • Risk mitigation: Unlike paper certificates, digital badges are 100 percent verified and authenticated, protecting the integrity of each credential. Moreover, some badging platforms allow issuers to set expiration dates and business rules that further mitigate the risk of earners sharing credentials that are no longer current.
  • Analytics: Some platforms offer highly sophisticated data collection tools that allow organizations to analyze market impact by reviewing badge sharing, clicks and views.
  • Cost mitigation: Digital badges allow organizations to reduce mailing expenses and paper processing labor. Moreover, organizations with international earners do not need to be concerned that the paper certificates won’t (or can’t) be delivered properly.
  • Skills: Along with credentials, organizations can create programs to capture and verify skills, especially for renewal purposes.
  • Revenue generation: Organizations can upsell digital badges as an additional value for certification and continuing education courses.
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