Digital badges are changing the face of certification in India.A common practice for IT professionals is to include certifications on their resumes. In fact, resumes for job profile vacancies are regularly filtered by a screening team on the basis of certain IT certifications achieved by an applicant.

Unfortunately, recruiters are busy people and have little time, and often inadequate knowledge or expertise to quickly validate an applicant’s certifications. Compounding the problem is the fact that with some certifications, such as the ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) certification, it is necessary to verify that candidates are certified in the latest version. By extension, resumes will also often include certifications that are no longer current, and these need to be identified as well.

The need to identify and differentiate between certifications has led to the advent of “digital badges” as a simple and quick way to help recruiters validate a candidate’s certifications, as well as the relevancy of those credentials to a given job opening.

Digital Badges

In 2011, the Mozilla Foundation kickstarted the Open Badge Initiative and Framework, or Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI), to offer a professional learning and accomplishment validation system for the issuance, collection and display of digital badges on numerous learning and instructional sites.

It wasn’t long before academic institutions took a liking to the digital badges, and followed suit by issuing their own badges for specific disciplines. This effort really got going when the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC), in collaboration with Mozilla, launched the MacArthur Foundation Badges for Lifelong Learning to focus on digital badges as a “means to inspire learning, confirm accomplishment, or validate the acquisition of knowledge or skills.”

HASTAC (pronounced “haystack”) is a virtual organization consisting of more than 12,000 individuals and institutions that support new and innovative methods of learning in K-12, higher education and even lifelong learning. With HASTAC’s emphasis, it wasn’t long before digital badges were popping up everywhere and being issued for various types of learning programs, academic, IT certification-based and even industrial.

A digital badge is best described as a “verifiable and visible proof of learning accomplishment of individual professionals, across various fields, including IT, in the form of a graphic.” This graphic is a PNG file (in JSON format) comprising embedded metadata that helps recruiters easily examine and validate all of a job applicant’s certification credentials.

The Mozilla initiative, OBI, has come to be viewed as the gold-standard for a universal badging system designed to benefit individual IT professionals and organizations. The use of digital badges offers a number of advantages:

Value — Because badges are linked to certifications that entail specific training and knowledge, they have an intrinsic value that is easily recognized

Distinction — Napoleon Bonaparte said that soldiers would “fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” So too will IT professionals. Badges serve as mark of competence and skill for many IT professionals. IT pros are like workers in any other industry — they enjoy being able to proclaim their accomplishments and a digital badge enables them to do so without saying a word.

Portable — Digital badges can be placed on resumes, email signatures, social media profiles and so on. No longer will job candidates have to carry physical certificates to interviews. Digital badges can be easily shared with recruiters via LinkedIn profiles, digital resumes on job portals, such as Naukri and Monster, or as a referral application to other IT companies via friends or in email signatures on cover letters.

Verifiable — IT recruitment teams can get direct access though the digital badges to certification credentials of potential candidates with a quick scan. With a few mouse clicks a recruiter can verify that an applicant has indeed earned a certification and whether or not the certification is current — a great time-saving tool, especially when screening a large number of professional resumes.

On the other hand, however, critics that are quick to point out that there are some notable disadvantages of digital badges:

Overuse — Many critics believe that giving these badges to IT professionals is similar to rewarding them for things that they should already be doing, while rewards should in fact only be given when a professional achieves a milestone that is not expected of him or her, something that is extraordinary.

Also, different institutions are coming up with a number of badges to reward professionals for activities that the individuals may not necessarily be interested in. These are more aligned with the goals of the institution, rather than the goals of the IT professional. And, this gives rise to a trend where professionals just attempt to get more badges, regardless of its importance to their careers or even job profiles.

Question of motivation — Some believe that the desire to earn digital badges may act as an external motivation for IT professionals to be seen as having a badge — instead of an internal motivation to continuously improve and become experts.

Credibility — Can you trust the badge issuer, or do they just hand a badge to anyone who pays the fee? Does the badge issuer maintain the credential so that it is current with industry requirements and specifications?

Another issue of credibility tied to the badge issuer is the performance of the professional with the badge: Did they earn the badge or did someone else complete the learning activity and certification. Again, it is crucial to be able to trust the issuer.

Badge meaning — The meaning of a badge may not always be clear. Does it really stand for certification in a particular domain or technology? What sort of training did it cover? Again it is incumbent on the badge issuer to clearly state the meaning of the badge and the training involved.

Usage of Digital Badges 

India business teamRegardless of where one stands on their usage, Indian IT pros are realizing the impact of digital badges and have begun making the most of such badges offered by renowned IT certification sponsoring companies. For example, they have started using IBM digital badges that have been made available for a variety of IBM’s training and certification exams related to tools, technologies and so on.

There is also an increased demand among Indian IT professionals to earn badges provided by the global security company ISACA. They currently have badges for a number of their popular IT and audit certifications, such as Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) and Certified Information Security Manager (CISM).

The more such digital badges are offered by renowned companies, the more Indian IT professionals are likely to use them.  And with Microsoft expected to start offering badges for their own IT certifications, this trend is likely to grow. In fact, Microsoft has already started using badges for some in-house and partnered training programs related to non-IT topics.

With the early signs being quite encouraging, it will be interesting to witness the future of digital badges in an economy like India, where IT is a major industry.