Digital badges … maybe you’ve heard of them; maybe you haven’t. Maybe you even have one. Or maybe you don’t. So what are they?

Digital badgesSimply put, they’re a digital version of a physical badge that have traditionally been awarded for some type of accomplishment. Over the last five years they’ve emerged in the education world to validate either successful completion of a course, or proficiency in a competency or skill. Some of the advantages are that a digital badge can be displayed on online profiles for all to see, and that they link back to the issuer to further verify the achievement.

Whatever your personal situation or experience with digital badges may be so far, you almost certainly will be hearing more and more about them, and are even likely to get one (or more) at some point – especially if you’re a millennial.

INCPAS, through the CPA Center of Excellence®, knows about digital badges AND has them. Six now with a seventh on the way. A digital badge is awarded upon completion of each of the CPA Center of Excellence®’s six online competency-based courses on critical business skills. The seventh will be awarded for the new online competency-based ethics course, one of two new options for meeting your ethics requirement to renew your CPA license.

Millennials still in college or recently graduated may be among those who already have digital badges or some other form of alternative credential. A recent study conducted by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association along with Pearson (the world’s largest education company) and Penn State University found that 94% of educational institutions offer some type of alternative credentials including digital badges.

While digital badges may be more prevalent at educational institutions, they’re now being offered by professional education providers such as associations. The CPA Center of Excellence® was one of the first to offer digital badges for professional education more than two years ago and remains one of the leaders. Three examples of national associations that have joined the digital badge ranks are the American Alliance of Museums, the National Wood Flooring Association and, just this year, the AICPA.

A recent article in Associations Now, the e-newsletter of the American Society of Association Executives, looked at the growth of digital badges and suggests that associations have a great opportunity particularly with millennial members. The article states, “we’ve learned that millennials want professional development. We’ve also learned that the majority of millennials … value certificate and digital badging programs. So, where should they logically turn? To their professional association, of course.”

The article also cites studies that clearly show millennials are the most likely, but not necessarily the only, generation to embrace lifelong learning in the digital age and desire specialty certifications. Digital badges are the perfect fit. The other piece to the puzzle is employer understanding and acceptance of digital badges, but that is trending upward.

An older article from Associations Now summed up the opportunity associations have with digital badges: “Associations can’t let anyone steal their educational thunder in the move to digital-badging.”

Interestingly enough, that article was published on August 1, 2014, nearly two months AFTER the first CPA Center of Excellence® courses, with their digital badges, were made available.