Digital Badges

How schools and libraries use them today

May 1, 2019

The ability to articulate specific skill sets can help land a job, get a promotion, or earn a better grade. Digital badges, or microcredentials, are an emerging educational currency that enables the recognition of learning. In essence, they are virtual representations of a skill or knowledge that learners can use to paint a picture of their unique skills. They can be offered for all areas of study and all levels, from beginner to advanced. Libraries use badges in many ways.

In education

Digital badges encourage students to cultivate and showcase granular skills beyond their report cards and prepare them for the workplace. In Teaching with Digital Badges: Best Practices for Libraries (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018), contributing author Amanda Rose Fuller details a workforce-readiness digital badge initiative developed at Aurora (Colo.) Public Schools. This program, designed to help students get internships and on-the-job experience during high school, includes badges for information literacy. The program was extended to students in lower grades to credit their learning of 21st-century skills.

Likewise, higher education provides many roles for digital badges. At Penn State, we use them in undergraduate general-education courses to deliver instruction on information literacy skills. For health policy administration students, digital badges track learning outcomes that are tied to the program’s accreditation. Other institutions use badging systems as well, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. We are also seeing badging used in online courses as a way to track a learner’s progress.

Many institutions use official brands or marks on the badge icon as authentication.

Each step a student takes to earn a badge provides a useful learning assessment tool because the evaluator can review the work and judge whether it passes muster. On most badging platforms, detailed information about progress—such as the number of steps taken, badges earned, and dates completed—can be easily conveyed in reports, either on an individual level or in the aggregate. Educators can use a school’s authentication system to verify the identity of a learner and confirm that they earned a badge. Many institutions use official brands or marks on the badge icon itself as a way of authentication. You could suggest this if your institution is considering a badging program.

In libraries

Public libraries have found that digital badges can reward patron achievements in summer reading programs, writing groups, and book clubs. Some even use badges to certify that a patron is capable of using makerspace equipment. An early and now robust program is the Chicago City of Learning, which offers children and young adults a variety of extracurricular experiences. These challenges are badged to give participants a way to describe their learning journey. Chicago Public Library is just one of many partners in this program, which features such media skills as learning to record or edit video.

In academic libraries, digital badges are primarily used to document information literacy skills. California State University, Fullerton has created a suite of interactive tutorials to guide students through what is often a first foray into library research. University at Albany in New York has developed a hierarchy of four related badges around the concept of “metaliteracy,” a component of information literacy. Similar to public libraries, academic libraries use digital badges as a certification system for operating specialized equipment.

The Association of College and Research Libraries has a Digital Badges Interest Group open to anyone interested in the intersection of digital badges and libraries.


Penn State University student Luz Sanchez Tejada uses the school's microcredentialing platform in Pattee Library to earn badges as part of her peer research consultant training. Photo: Steve Tressler

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