There is a lot of talk nowadays about digital skills or digital credentials, and rightfully so: both are becoming more important to shape our collaborative professional future. But there is some overlay between the two, which is confusing at the least, and can lead to serious issues in the worst case. So let’s check what each of these mean and where they come from.

1. Digital Skills

As a good first stop to illustrate our point, searching for “Digital skills” on Wikipedia will not give you any given one-page definition. Between a series of private providers of training on topics in the digital world and things around 21st century skills or Digital literacy, you would be excused to think things are not clear.

The thing is, where the term “digital skills” might appear to some as the digital representation of any skill, it will rather mean skills that serve to handle the digital world (meaning essentially computer-derived technologies) to others.

So let us be clear: because the term “Digital credentials” exists, this term of “Digital skills” can be left to effectively represent those skills that are required to make use of the digital world.

Things like

  • using a computer (keyboard, mouse, screen),
  • browsing the internet,
  • using search engines,
  • sending and receiving e-mails,
  • using “chat” systems,
  • recognizing a threat to your online security,

So the term “Digital skills” should be used exclusively to represent those types of skills.

2. Digital Credentials

On the other hand, the term “Digital credential”, searched on Wikipedia, will send you to a page considered by Wikipedia as a “personal reflection” at the time of writing this article, meaning it doesn’t present enough sources to be considered rightfully credible. Another sign that things can be confusing to the common person.

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Digital credentials are (the article says) a proof of qualification, competence or clearance, that is attached to a person.

So, to put it simply, a digital credential would be something like a certificate. A document, that is digital in nature, and that represents one of those things (qualification, competence, clearance).

As the Wikipedia page points out, in the English language, the “digital credentials” term can also be understood as the login and password you need to enter a software application.

Add a connection there between credentials and physical badges like the ones used by the Boy Scouts, and you got yourself a segway to our next topic…

3. Digital Badges & Open Badges

The term “Digital Badge” was used as a base by the Mozilla Foundation to explain their “Open Badges” standard in 2011, as a combination of a digital image and digital information representing a credential.

The Open Badges standard was the first open standard to clearly express how the credentials for a qualification, competence or clearance should be represented, what information it should contain, and how to provide guarantees that said badge had been truthfully emitted by a known organization (preferably an organization known for evaluating the corresponding qualification, competence or clearance). The standard also focuses on achievements rather than using the “qualification, competence or clearance” definition. Indeed, an achievement is anything you have achieved, so it puts the focus back on the personal effort.

The Open Badges standard’s stewardship was then passed over to the IMS Global Learning Consortium (also stewards of the LTI, QTI, Common Cartridges and a series of other standards for digital learning), which in turn developed version 2.0 of the Open Badges standard, which is the current version that any organization willing to digitalize their credentials system should adopt.

Today, the Open Badges 2.0 standard describes Open Badges as follows:

Open Badges are information-rich visual records of verifiable achievements earned by recipients. The Open Badges standard describes a method for packaging information about accomplishments, embedding it into portable image files as digital badges, and establishing resources for its validation and verification. In other words, Open Badges contain detailed metadata about achievements such as who earned it, who issued it, the criteria required, and in many cases even the evidence and demonstrations of the relevant skills.

So, noteworthy enough, Open Badges, unlike any other credentials systems, require a credential to be represented as an image (in PNG format), the same image for all people getting the corresponding skill, which contains metadata transported inside the same image. That metadata is, of course, different for each person getting the skill, but that difference is not visible to the naked eye, it is mostly processed by systems (software) that understand the Open Badges standard.

4. Conclusion

While Digital Skills, Digital Credentials and Digital Badge may all sound very similar, they are, in fact, 3 distinct things that should not be confused, would you want to avoid confusing your listeners.

  • Digital Skills are skills for the digital world
  • Digital Credentials are ways to represent, digitally, a qualification, competence or clearance
  • Digital Badges are a visual (and digital) representation of a digital credential, focused on “achievements”

Open   Badges is a standard, initially developed by the Mozilla Foundation and now under the stewardship of IMS Global