Digital Badges and Microcredentials: The Future of Stackable Credentials

Close up off my "Let's get started" digital credential design

Using the free service from, I set up my company (Safetybooks) as an “Issuer” and then designed and awarded a verifiable badge to myself.

I could populate fields such as the earning criteria, alignment to a particular learning framework and the issue and expiry dates.

Click on the verify button and check its ridgy-didginess online.

Let’s get started!

Awarded: 30 Sept 2022


The following is from an essay I wrote for my Graduate Certificate in Innovative Learning Design from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Digital Badges

While researching for this essay, I came across a document titled “The future of work: How digital credentials are going to be more impactful than ever before” by Credly (2021). It was a little “sales-y”, but it did bring up interesting ideas about the near future; one point being that more job applicants will have CVs stacked with relevant micro-credentials instead of an expensive university degree. It also clarified that micro-credentials are only going to grow more mainstream and valued in general society.

“Learning is not just ‘seat time’ within schools, but extends across multiple contexts, experiences and interactions. It is no longer just an isolated or individual concept, but is inclusive, social, informal, participatory, creative and lifelong.”

The Mozilla Foundation et al., 2012

What are digital badges and microcredentials?

According to an Educause report, “Digital badges are validated indicators of skills or competencies, often representing the completion of a microcredential. Badges typically represent competencies not shown on a transcript, including learning from internships, volunteer work, and other co-curricular activities” (Sherri et al., 2019).

The badges contain searchable metadata that quickly verifies things such as who owns the badge and what they did to earn it.

I love this “Rocks in a jar” metaphor

Sankey (2018) explains the above illustration where the jar is the learner and the rocks symbolise the learning done from high school, apprenticeships and university etc. The second jar shows how the smaller micro-credentials can fit in amongst the larger credentials to give a better, fuller picture of the learner.
So, in addition to formal learning, digital badges can be awarded for informal soft skills (like attending a seminar). This extra detail helps us identify knowledge gaps and create innovative, contextualised learning for the student.

Portability of credentials from multiple sources

Digital badges can be “stackable”, meaning that different micro-credentials can be stacked to form unique learning pathways to the learner’s goal. So, suppose someone cannot access traditional education due to cost or time commitments. In that case, they could use badges earned from work and volunteer experience or other certifications to form an alternative learning pathway (UNESCO IITE, 2020). Or they could work at their own pace and complete a degree with incremental micro-credential courses. This flexibility enables a self-determined heutagogical approach where the learner chooses the learning path and process (Blaschke, 2012).

Similarly, employers can create learning pathways based on their future goals. Employees can then see opportunities for upskilling and career progression. When starting a new project, IBM can use the metadata on digital badges to “determine how many skilled individuals are in the area, what skills are missing and what activities should be delivered to create success” (Leaser, 2019).

These badges are portable, so learners can easily send their digital badges to employers and universities for verification purposes. But perhaps even more importantly, learners can get motivation through posting their hard-earned achievements on social media and their websites. “People love rewards. They aren’t robots without feelings. They want to feel special, recognised and important… their self-confidence will increase, and they will be more willing to continue progressing” (Weiss, 2020)

Digital credential “backpack” portability diagram


Digital badges have currency, and the value can be weakened if the badge does not look authentic (Dyjur & Lindstrom, 2017) or if the metadata is not clear about the criteria and evidence provided (Sherri et al., 2019). Enrolment departments and hiring companies require education to adopt and value digital badges (Credly, 2021). Storage and validation of the digital badge can be a problem if the issuing organisation vanishes.

Mock up of a digital badge design

Verification metadata

Open Badges contain detailed metadata about achievements. Who earned a badge, who issued it, and what does it mean? The data is all inside. This is a simple example from the Open Badges specifications at

  "@context": "",
  "id": "",
  "type": "Assertion",
  "recipient": {
    "type": "email",
    "identity": "[email protected]"
  "issuedOn": "2016-12-31T23:59:59+00:00",
  "verification": {
    "type": "hosted"
  "badge": {
    "type": "BadgeClass",
    "id": "",
    "name": "3-D Printmaster",
    "description": "This badge is awarded for passing the 3-D printing knowledge and safety test.",
    "image": "",
    "criteria": {
      "narrative": "Students are tested on knowledge and safety, both through a paper test and a supervised performance evaluation on live equipment"
    "issuer": {
      "id": "",
      "type": "Profile",
      "name": "Example Maker Society",
      "url": "",
      "email": "[email protected]",
      "verification": {
         "allowedOrigins": ""

Blockchain and Digital badges

Merging microcredentials with blockchain encryption technologies, mean the credentials can be protected and stored forever. “Blockchain-based credentials are permanent, borderless, and digitally native. All that is required to access is an internet connection” (UNESCO IITE, 2020).

I did stumble across this interesting art piece which I found explained the concept of blockchains beautifully. See it here:


Digital badging is an evolving solution to capturing and sharing recognition of skills and knowledge in a world where learning is lifelong. A universal standard and well-designed and transparent metadata ensures a credential’s value for learning opportunities and enables a personalised learning experience (Streater, 2018). Educators can make better courses, governments can enact better policies, and employers can get better employees.


Blaschke, L. M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(1), 56–71.

Collectif Bam. (2016). Blockchain vaisselle. Collectif Bam.

Concentric Sky. (2021, February 3). February 3, 2021 Monthly badgr webinar [Video]. YouTube.

Concentric Sky. (2017, September 16). Introducing the Future of Stackable Credentials: Open Pathways [Video]. YouTube.

Credly. (2021). The future of work: How digital credentials are going to be more impactful than ever before [White Paper].

Dyjur, P., & Lindstrom, G. (2017). Perceptions and Uses of Digital Badges for Professional Learning Development in Higher Education. TechTrends, 61(4), 386–392.

Educause. (2017, August 5). Microcredentials and the evolution of badges to recognize learning [Video]. YouTube.

IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc. (2018, April 12). Open Badges v2.0 Final Release. IMS Global.

Leaser, D. (2019, June 18). Do digital badges really provide value to businesses? IBM Training and Skills Blog.

Macfound. (2013, Jun 20). What is a Badge? [Video]. YouTube.

Mathers, B. (2018). Credentials big and small… [Illustration]. Visual Thinkery.

Sankey, M. (2018, May 31). Understanding Micro-Credentials [Video]. YouTube.

Sherri, B., Jeff, B., Trudi, J., Kimberley, M., Mark, L., Cynthia, P., & Anne, R. (2019). 7 things you should know about digital badges [Report]. Educause.

Skipper, W. (2019, August 20). Open Badges Backpack 2.0. Badgr.

Streater, K. (2018, May 14). Digital badging: The future of professional development. BCS Learning & Development Specialist Group;

TEDx. (2019m Dec 14). A Blockchain-based decentralised university | John Domingue [Video]. YouTube.

UNESCO IITE. (2020, January 12). Open badges: new opportunities to recognize and validate achievements digitally. UNESCO IITE.

‌Weiss, M. (2020, January 9). Digital badges: The new digital education currency. ELearning Industry.