UMUC Collaborates on Digital Badging Initiative

The University System of Maryland (USM) William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation is collaborating with UMUC and other USM schools on a USM Digital Badging Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to design, implement, and evaluate a constellation of complementary digital badges aimed at validating and communicating graduates’ employability skills. The next year will be spent collaboratively developing one badge for testing as a proof of concept at each institution that participates.   “Today’s learners are looking for new ways to gain and communicate career relevant skills and digital badging is an opportunity for universities to help their students recognize and share their learning experiences more widely,” said Karen Vignare, Vice Provost for UMUC’s Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success.  “We’re excited to be collaborating on this initiative.”

Digital badges are an example of micro-credentialing, where individuals can gain skill sets in a specific area in a relatively short period of time and also receive a recognized credential to demonstrate those skills and share with others. Micro-credentials are a way to demonstrate skills acquired through a variety of informal and formal learning experiences that employers may use to screen and hire more efficiently and effectively.  For example, critical thinking may be a competency or qualification that is broadly associated at the macro level with a conferred degree from any number of given universities.  Digital badging, on the other hand, can certify at a micro level the demonstrated application of critical thinking capabilities to very specific domains of practice (Ahn, Pellicone, & Butler, 2014). Other examples of micro-credentials are nanodegrees, such as those offered by Udacity in partnership with industry to train for on-demand technical skills, ( and computer coding bootcamps, which can be free or fee-based and offered in person or online.

A digital badge is designed to be an online representation of a skill that has been earned, validated, and verified by others. A badge may include information about the issuer, the criteria to earn the badge, and the relevant evidence, such as a work sample.  Examples of digital badging in higher education include Purdue Passport ( University of Michigan M-blem ( Students and graduates may curate badges as part of an e-portfolio or digital “backpack” and add them to a resume or online profile.

Open badges are designed to be portable. Mozilla’s Open Badges platform ( is free software that can be used by anyone to create a badging system or to collect and display individual badges. Credly ( is another example of a platform that can be used to collect and display badges by an organization or an individual that can be used for free or a fee. With open digital badges, a learner can curate, organize, and present themselves differently in different networks. For example, a learner can share a badge for being an effective team leader with prospective employers, and a badge on being an effective study partner with their peers. In addition to the role of digital badges in micro-credentialing, some education researchers are also examining the use of digital badges to scaffold structured learning pathways, support collaborative and peer learning, and increase student motivation and engagement (Abramovich, Schunn, & Higashi, 2013; Ahn, Pellicone, & Butler, 2014; Jovanovic  & Devedzic, 2015; O’Connor & McQuigge 2013).  Others are examining the usefulness of digital badges for recognizing cross-disciplinary competencies such as information literacy (Ford, Izumi, Lottes, & Richardson, 2015). Digital badging has the potential to help make the milestones of student learning more visible and transparent, and also to create a model of “stackable” credentials that supplement or even replace a more traditional educational pathway.

Banner image credit: Projectcreditnet (contributor taxonomy): J. Scott, L. Allen, A. Brand et al.; BioMed Central Design (badge designs)/Creative Commons 4.0



Abramovich, S., Schunn, C., & Higashi, R.M. (2013). Are badges useful in education? It depends upon the type of badge and expertise of learner.  Educational Technology Research and Development 61 (2), 217-232.

Ahn, J., Pellicone, A., & Butler, B. S. (2014). Open badges for education: what are the implications at the intersection of open systems and badging? Research in Learning Technology, 22.

Ford, E., Izumi, B., Lottes, J., & Richardson, D. (2015). Badge it! A collaborative learning outcomes based approach to integrating information literacy badges within disciplinary curriculum. Reference Services Review, 43(1), 31-44.

Jovanovic, J., & Devedzic, V. (2015). Open badges: Novel means to motivate, scaffold and recognize learning. Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 20(1), 115-122.

O’Connor, E. A., & McQuigge, A. (2013). Exploring badging for peer review, extended learning and evaluation, and reflective/critical feedback within an online graduate course. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 42(2), 87-105. Retrieved from

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