Badges and Certificates: Alternate Learning Credentials

Badges and Certificates: Alternate Learning Credentials

There are a growing number of alternatives to the traditional degree, however badges, certificates, and the like are not the same as a degree. This article seeks to explain the difference between them and why the university degree is here to stay.

What are alternate learning credentials

First, we have to discuss what alternate learning credentials really are. Badges and certificates are another way for people to verify skills they have gained that make them more marketable. They’re a way of validating discrete skills and competencies without the need for a class or program. These validations can be held online and shown to employers, much like a traditional transcript (although these are not likely to be accepted as transfer credit when one is applying for a program).

In the past, employers provided on the job training and education however the reality is much different today. Jobs became scarce and America went through a recession; people needed a way to retrain for jobs and stay current in their fields. Additionally, there have been calls by politicians and organizations to increase the amount of education held by Americans, and alternative credentials can satisfy some of that need.

According to an Unbound article, Alternative Credentials: New Ways to Clarify Learning, many Americans need this type of education. “[They] need short bursts of education culminating in targeted credentials that clearly signal what they can do with the knowledge they have.” The article continues by saying learners should be able to stack, combine, and have the credentials readily available.

While there are several forms of alternate learning credentials including badges, certificates, verified certificates, none have gained wide acceptance.


Alternate learning credentials are said to increase student success by developing a greater sense of autonomy. Studies have cited a sense of autonomy with greater happiness in work as well as better results.

Alternate learning credentials give students the chance to try again. Once a subject is taught and tested, the instructor often moves on expecting people to build upon what they’ve learned. However, with badges and certificates, learners are able to try and try again until it is fully understood.

Badges and credentials serve as talking points during interviews and other formal job discussions. This allows the learners to have an entry point to speak about the knowledge they have accrued outside the classroom.

What the critics say

Alternate learning credentials are not widely accepted by employers or society. Many are skeptical about a lack of third-party validation of the quality of the content learned. As such, some view them as resume padding. However, the article The Emerging World of Alternate Credentials alleges that the employer market is sophisticated enough to tell the difference between that and actual performance.

Plus, the content that is taught in the alternate learning course is not necessarily the same as the content that is taught in a similar for-credit course in a degree granting program. Thus, the alternate credential may not be as valuable as a certain badge or certificate indicates.
Champions of alternate learning credentials say they signal a fundamental change in how society recognizes education. They say the mindset is shifting toward multiple knowledge streams and using collaborative, interest-based learning. Still, this is definitely not a replacement for degree granting programs from accredited institutions. As Dr. Kneeland Brown, Dean of DeVoe School of Business discusses, there is no substitute for traditional academic learning.
As stated, alternate learning credentials are not yet widely accepted, and therefore they are not a substitute for a degree program. A degree from Indiana Wesleyan University carries the weight of the reputation of the school IWU has been granting degrees since 1920 and has experience creating programs that meet the demands of students and workforces.


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