What’s the Difference Between Microcredentials and Badges?

by Chris Sturgis

BloomBoard website

I’m at the IMS Global Digital Credentials Summit and my head is spinning. Everything is competency. Employers are creating competencies for all their positions. They are struggling to develop skill frameworks that are robust enough to have several levels of knowledge and skills, flexible enough that employees can build and demonstrate knowledge and skills in multiple ways, and although you didn’t hear this language, they are building their own assessment literacy capacity.

Which made me wonder – is anyone in a supervisory position one day going to be expected to be able to assess and provide formative feedback on the full range of competencies that their employees need to have?

I was talking with Allison Powell of BloomBoard about what the difference between microcredentials and badges – because it was becoming less and less clear to me. Not that it was ever that clear in the first place.

We (well Allison was the guru on this) came up with three possible criteria to distinguish between the microcredentials and badges:

  • Microcredentials are related to a formally approved or accepted set of standards or competencies;
  • Microcredentials are formally taught by a teacher or mentor who is responsible for (i.e. accountable) ensuring the student learns and demonstrates the expectation for awarding the microcredential;
  • Microcredentials can be stacked up to achieve a credential that is recognized by other institutions;

Badges on the other hand can be for anything, awarded by anyone, and the value is in the learning the specific skill or knowledge.

Does that hold up? Are there other differences? One possibility is to think of microcredentials as a subset of badges. Another is to think of them as two distinct versions of the same idea — badges being highly flexible and microcredentials having more formality.

The problem will continue to be that lots of schools and programs will refer to their microcredential programs as badges for the simple reason is that it is a fun word that is easy to understand.  Thus, the three criteria will be helpful in quickly discerning the degree of formality.

This post was amended on 2/8/19.

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