Badging & Certification

New volume: How IBM used badges to connect on-the-job learning to academic credit

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In collaboration with IBM, Northeastern University gained recognition as the first academic institution to articulate workplace digital badges for college credit. Now, a new volume, titled Credentials for a new era of work and learning: Lessons and recommendations from industry leaders, highlights the IBM/Northeastern program and shows others how to create similar programs.

The volume is the latest edition of New Directions for Community Colleges, a quarterly journal with a 40-plus year publication history providing practical recommendations on current trends in the field of community college education. The publication includes contributions from community college leaders and researchers through evidence-based and research-oriented accounts that shape policy and practice.


Connecting Workplace Learning and Academic Credentials via Digital Badges

Written by David Leaser, Kemi Jona and Sean Gallagher, the chapter, “Connecting Workplace Learning and Academic Credentials via Digital Badges,” explores the evolution of information technology (IT) industry credentials in a rapidly changing digital skills landscape. The authors explore two interrelated case studies: The benefits of IBM’s development of its own educational programs into digital badges, and the partnership between IBM and Northeastern University that articulates these industry credentials for academic degree credit.

IBM employees, customers and members of the public can use IBM-issued badge credentials toward Northeastern professional master’s degree programs:

  • Analytics Program: Anyone who take courses at Cognitive Class is eligible for advanced standing of 1 elective course in the Northeastern program – totaling 3 credits.
  • Project Management: Anyone who holds one of IBM’s Project Management badges is eligible for advanced standing within a range of Northeastern’s professional graduate programs.

Digital badges have made it possible to convert industry knowledge developed on the job into college credit. IBM Digital Badges are now valued as “digital transcripts” allowing others to validate industry skills in ways we could not have imagined even a few years ago. The Open Badges standard, managed by IMS Global Consortium, makes this possible.

New Directions for Community Colleges includes a wealth of knowledge from industry experts. The volume is considered essential to the professional libraries of presidents, vice presidents, deans, directors, and faculty leaders in today’s open-door, ever-changing institutions. This volume provides expert guidance in meeting the challenges of their distinctive and expanding educational mission.

The volume was edited by Dr. Nan Maxwell, Professor Emeritus at California State University – East Bay and Dr. Sean Gallagher, Founder and Executive Director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, and Executive Professor of Educational Policy.

The volume contains eight research articles, including:


Drivers for Change in Higher Education

by Nan Maxwell and Sean Gallagher This chapter introduces the drivers for change in the credentialing market that has arisen in the new era of work and learning. It analyzes the factors that are driving interest in shorter competency‐based credentials and identifies emerging trends that community colleges might consider when structuring their credentials.


Using Smaller Credentials to Build Flexible Degree Completion and Career Pathways

by Brenda Perea

This chapter describes the role microcredentials can play within the context of guided pathways and degree completion, illustrated through three case studies of community colleges and systems.


Embedding Industry Certifications into Community College Programs

by Russell N. McCaffery , Leslie Backus and Nan Maxwell

This chapter discusses the process Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida used to embed certifications from the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals into its associate and bachelor degree programs. Included is an overview of the process followed as well as challenges encountered. The chapter concludes with recommendations for institutions that are looking to embed third‐party industry certifications into their academic programs.


Quality Assurance for the New Credentialing Market

by Steven C. Taylor and Louis Soares

This chapter provides an overview of the issues that arise when trying to assess quality of credentials in the new credentialing market and discusses elements of an outcomes‐based quality assurance that is evolving.


Reflections on Education in a New Era of Work and Learning

by Holly Zanville

This chapter summarizes trends, themes, and lessons from this volume and key credentialing initiatives supported by Lumina Foundation.

A Dialogue about the Emerging Market for New Credentials

by Sean Gallagher and Nan Maxwell This chapter focuses on the overall themes, priorities, and “calls to action” that emerged from a discussion and reflection among community college leaders on the chapters in this volume.


Building a Consistent Terminology in the Market for New Credentials

by Nan Maxwell and Sean Gallagher

This chapter proposes a glossary of terms related to the market for new credentials, based on established and emerging consensus definitions.


IBM is democratizing IT with its skills programs

By focusing on skills over degrees and geography, IBM wants to shift mindsets in the IT industry and make tech more diverse and inclusive. We want to bring in people with non-traditional backgrounds who build skills through coding camps, community colleges or modern career education programs like our P-TECH model or apprenticeship program. We want to attract people re-entering the workforce or relaunching their careers, and we want to create more jobs for people in parts of the world where tech jobs are scarce. This is about creating tech career opportunities outside the traditional areas. The big picture: IBM has a program for anyone seeking a role in IT.

IBM has developed a broad strategy to rapidly build skills through multiple channels:

  • IBM Skills Gateway: Hosts one of the largest IT training programs in the world and a network of Global Training Providers who provide skills development programs at every level.
  • IBM Skills: Thousands of online courses, free training programs and custom enterprise offerings.
  • SkillsBuild: Provides jobseekers, including those with long-term unemployment, refugees, asylum seekers and veterans, with assessments, training, personalized coaching and the experiential learning they need to re-enter the workforce.
  • Coursera: Certificate Programs, like the IBM Customer Engagement Program, develop skills fast to land a good-paying job.
  • P-TECH: Extends the typical four-year high school to create a seamless six-year academic experience to earn an industry-recognized, two-year post-secondary degree, as well as a high school diploma.
  • IBM Skills Academy: Provides IT training through a network of higher education institutions.
  • IBM Apprenticeships: Allows candidates to develop skills and make real-world contributions – all while earning a paycheck.

David Leaser is the senior executive of strategic growth initiatives for IBM’s Training & Skills program. Leaser developed IBM’s first cloud-based embedded learning solution and is the founder of the IBM Digital Badge program. He is a Fellow at Northeastern University and a member of the IMS Global Consortium Board advisory group for digital credentials. David has provided guidance to the US Department of Labor and the US Department of Education as an employer subject matter expert. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Pepperdine University and a Master’s Degree from USC’s Annenberg School. Connect with David on LinkedIn and on Twitter.  The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of IBM.


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