Digital Badges

Report Brief
ITCILO Digital Badges
Establishing Internal Guidelines

Original report by:

Learning agents and common sense


1. Background


The credentialing system of the ITCILO has undergone fundamental changes against a background of global digitalisation in which the Centre and its partners are playing their part.


Before September 2020, ITCILO staff members were still printing, archiving, and mailing course certificates to participants. Then in the span of four months, the Centre made the permanent switch to digital credentials as part of its digital transformation.


In addition to the already established ‘Certificates of Participation’, ‘Certificates of Achievement’, and ‘Diplomas’, digital badges are increasingly being used and awarded to learners at ITCILO, mostly coupled with certificates recognizing the same learning achievements.


The purpose of the report is to provide evidence-based recommendations and to uncover new opportunities for digital badges to encourage and recognise capacity development beyond training.


Digital badges have developed rapidly since the introduction of Mozilla Open Badges in 2011. Individual badging concepts have often developed in very different directions, ranging from quite informal interventions such as event participation to highly structured and formal settings, such as courses and longer programmes that require rigorous summative assessment. A key objective for this report is to make strategic sense of this variety of global practice in the context of the Centre’s culture, mission, goals and activities.

2. Digital Credentials in the ITCILO: Baseline assessment


The Centre’s three-tier certification framework was implemented and published as an internal Circular in August, 2019 and is still being followed for all training activities of the Centre as the standard reference framework for certification of training participants. Evidence from the interviews and other consultations with ITCILO staff indicate that this framework has been very effective in supporting a clear quality system for the issuing of certificates at the Centre.


The Centre implemented digital credentials in September 2020. The service has proved very popular with learners. By the end of 2022, 48,766 digital credentials were issued to more than 36,000 recipients and shared more than 30,000 times.

The availability of digital badges as a feature of the newly introduced digital credentials has been communicated from the very beginning. However, in contrast to the clear framework for training certificates, there is no complementary framework for digital badges. In addition, the Centre has begun to explore use cases for learner engagement and skills development beyond training, such as in events and conferences, which may be more appropriately recognized with digital badges alone.

For these reasons, the ITCILO plans to establish a standard approach for the use of digital badges within the scope of both its training and non-training services.


Key takeaways:

  • Consider strategies to use digital badges to encourage self-directed co-created learning experiences for individuals, seeking opportunities outside of standard course delivery, such as work-integrated learning and events
  • Explore opportunities for recognizing workplace and organisational development with digital badges that leverage the concepts of learning organisations which can combine interventions at the individual, institutional and systems levels
  • Seek opportunities to integrate the issuing of digital badges with strategies (and platforms) for communication, collaboration and knowledge exchange as well as standard course delivery
  • Consider thoroughly exploring the current data analysis opportunities of the digital credentialing platform and seek opportunities to analyse behaviour change that may result from non-training services
  • Consider exploring elements of Community of Practice to build more persistent Social and Cognitive Presence among ITCILO learners
  • Explore how certain types of digital badges may stack into certificates
  • Consider establishing an explicit alignment between internal ITCILO learning and recognition terminology and global usage with Glossary of terms
  • Consider strategies to generally align terminologies between ITCILO and third party service providers
  • Consider exploring how Membership feature set and guidance might be adapted to analogous use cases in the Centre’s context, such as communities of practice, which incorporate softer concepts of membership and professional identity
  • Consider using digital badges to recognize specific competencies/skills developed within training courses and programmes that may be immediately relevant to workplace needs.
  • Consider providing content requirements and templates for digital badges based on a pragmatic taxonomy similar to what is currently provided for digital certificates.
  • Consider exploration of awarding badges to “learning organisations”
  • Consider adapting the Creative Commons brainstorming tools and content templates for ITCILO use
  • Consider providing a Glossary of terms aligned with international usage as part of a public framework that would explicitly frame the Centre’s approach to Certificates and Digital Badges
  • Consider developing a visual language to illustrate an ITCILO digital badge taxonomy and framework
  • Consider encouraging ITCILO learners to add evidence to their badges and to explore other ways for them to “socialize” their badges to benefit individual careers and learning communities


The digital credentials platform currently used by the Centre enables the issuing of digital credentials that can be published as:

  • Certificates only, using an industry-leading online publishing toolset
  • Certificates accompanied by digital badges
  • Digital badges only.

The digital badges comply with the Open Badge standard including metadata, and both Certificates and digital badges appear to share the same underlying metadata.


Recipients store their credentials in personal web wallets, and can further share some or all badges to mobile app wallets. Additionally, there is a wide variety of options available for sharing to social media.


Based on the findings of an internal staff survey taken by the members of ITCILO's nine ITCILO Training Programmes early December 2022, and to which 41 responses have been collected, the overall awareness of the ability to issue digital badges was high (90%) but engagement with issuing badges was low (34%). A high proportion of respondents supported a standardized approach to the issuance of digital badges to a great or moderate extent. Most respondents saw value in providing digital badges, particularly if there were guidelines provided for their use with or without certificates.


As a follow-up to the Survey, the research team convened two interviews  in December 2022, with small groups of Activity Managers and Assistants. Digital badges were widely viewed by interviewees as being easy to share casually, such as in email signatures - less formal than certificates, an attractive detail in one’s digital profile. Because of their highly visual, iconic nature, badges are displayable as visual collections. Also, badges can support gamification of learning and development, such as tracking progress in self-paced learning.That same perception of casualness was seen by some interviewees as leading people to see badges as lightweight in comparison to certificates.

3. Global Good Practice in the Use of Digital Badges


Digital credentials platforms can vary in terms of the spectrum of recognition that they support.They are increasingly adding learner empowerment and community socialization features and creating guidance for non-training use cases.


Badges could be awarded for completion of training and education courses which could be used to support job applications, but also for more ad hoc recognition and socialization of achievements of any kind, including event participation, experiential learning, volunteer service, etc.


Starting around 2015, significant numbers of post-secondary institutions began exploring “micro-credentials”, which generally took the shape of a more academic version of digital badges, or a more modular or deconstructed version of larger institutional credentials, incorporating desired or required characteristics such as industry relevance, institutional backing, alignment to competencies (or at least outcomes), summative assessment and quality assurance. 


Essentially, micro-credentials were viewed as modular certificates and diplomas, which could provide more specific information on micro-skills to potential employers when compared to diplomas and certificates for longer education programs.Many organizations outside the education sector see value in employing less formal approaches that can focus more on appreciation than verification.


One important element that helps describe a microcredential is its granularity or “size” and relative importance in a credential system, typically expressed in hours or credits. It is expected that most micro-credentials will have a volume of 1 to 15 credits. (1 ECTS = 25-30 hours). ITCILO itself does not use the term “microcredential”, and the term is growing in global popularity. “Certification” can be used as a generic term for being recognized with credentials, or it can describe a specific credential standard.


Global guidance for effective practice in digital badges indicates that clear definitions and consistent content for badges should be supported by effective graphical design that communicates their meaning and helps recipients and consumers navigate the overall badge system.


Flexible approaches to digital badges can open up new opportunities for sharing, connecting and building community. Badges can be shared to social media, and badge collections can be part of a learner’s platform profile or shared as an engaging email signature file. Badges can also be shared in wallets and curated with other content in portfolios. Even further, badges can be enhanced after being received, with the addition of recipient-supplied evidence after reception and endorsement of the recipient by third-parties.


Some global best practices that can be relevant to the context of ITCILO:

  • The types of credentials and programs an institution awards should be clearly identified and defined, including how they might fit together
  • To increase the visibility of the offering program and also recognize the learners’ accomplishments, develop mechanisms that encourage micro-credential earners to “claim” their credentials upon completion, and to display and share them
  • Develop a standardized institutional approach to the design and visual representation of micro-credentials
  • Determine if levels of credentials may be stacked to lead toward larger credentials
4. The Way Forward


Generally accepted practice indicates and most ITCILO participants agreed that digital badges can add value in the following ways:

  • Socialization, easy/casual sharing of accomplishments, marketing courses
  • Low stakes, more agile recognition for shorter interventions, self-paced training, non-training development
  • Progress tracking, gamification
  • Highly visual: solo or as part of a collection
  • Potential for mass customization of learning (tailored to learner)
  • Learner demand

In terms of further use cases, global practice suggests new applications for digital badges such as:

  • Events (conferences and workshops)
  • Membership
  • Learning application (workplace observation, learning deliverables - documents, etc.)
  • Mentoring, coaching
  • Interests, goals,
  • Community of practice connections and recognition
  • Organisational transformation
5. Recommendations

the Centre should establish a coherent terminology that aligns with global usage as a first step in the development of a badging system. Clear definitions of key terms that will be used by the Centre in its digital credentialing policies should be provided.

This should explain the purpose of digital badges and explain how they are different from (and complementary to) certificates.

The badging framework should be published publicly with the 2019 Three-Tier Training Certification Framework as a dual framework.

The Centre should provide a clear visual language for the taxonomy to ensure high recognition value for its badges.

The use of badges for events makes a good early use case for piloting and implementation because it matches well with the Centre’s goal of exploring more digitalised and scalable solutions for development.

The intersection of Membership with communities of practice and “softer” concepts of membership (e.g. self-declared, unpaid, etc.)  aligns well with the Centre’s strategic goals of “Individual and institutional capacity development” and “Organisational collaboration and co-creation”.

Digital badges can recognize specific competencies/skills developed within longer training courses and programmes that may be immediately relevant to workplace needs.

This meets the goal of co-creation with more autonomous learners and personalisation of their learning experiences that can map to outcomes that can map to the capacity development goals of the Centre and its partners.

The concept of learning organisations as holistic entities that are more than the aggregate sum of their “parts” (ie people) is one that can help the Centre’s training and non-training services to work together to recognise workplace and organisational development as an integrated whole.

Learners should be encouraged to accept, show and publicly present their badges based on a badging system that includes all of the Centre’s development activities. This will not only improve learners’ autonomy and social recognition but will would also allow reports and Big Data tools to be used to better track and assess learning activities and knowledge transfer within the ITCILO.