So, you’re thinking of going after some digital credentials to expand your skills repertoire and go after a much-desired promotion. Or, perhaps, you don’t have a college degree, but you do have the skills to make it in an emerging industry where you would excel. Digital credentials like badges and certifications are becoming more and more popular for both job seekers and employers. It’s known, by now, that college is a luxury and no longer a given for most applicants and that relevant skills can be learned and perfected outside the classroom.
Your only choice now is what kind of credential you decide to go after. And, yes, there is a difference.
First, some clarification: a digital badge and a certification are not the same thing. They’re not even comparable, really. While a digital certification involves being an active student and taking a course, exam, or other such activities to earn it, a badge does not. A badge is just a representation of a skill you already have. To put it simply:
If you decided to take an online course on, say, Adobe Photoshop to improve your skills as an employee and then passed a test at the end of the course, you’d earn a certificate. If you’ve been an expert Photoshop user for several years and want the signifier to prove it, you could earn a digital badge.
Digital badges and certificates are not interchangeable—badges were never meant to be mini-certifications the way that some people think they are. The two do complement each other, however. You can badge skills or activities gained along the way to a certification to show progress along the way. This instills a sense of accomplishment in students and makes education feel like less of a zero-sum undertaking. In traditional university education, for example, you either earn a degree at the end of four years…or you don’t. Without the degree that comes at the finish line, there’s really no distinction between completing one semester of college or three and a half years. Ask yourself, does this seem fair?
By badging the individual parts or lessons on the way to a certification—commonly called earning micro-credentials—students still have something to walk away with that signifies learned skills. Think about it like this: when you begin studying martial arts, you earn several belts on the way up to a black belt. But even if you don’t ascend all the way to earning your black belt, you still have a lower belt that signifies progress in your martial arts training. By earning, say, a blue belt Taekwondo, you’ve demonstrated that you’ve mastered the associated forms and disciplines of the blue belt and all the belts below it.
The digitalization of education was already coming quickly, but it has only been accelerated by the pandemic. People are looking to change jobs at a higher rate than before—they’re not satisfied with static positions and they’re willing to fulfill educational goals in order to progress in their careers. It’s for this reason that digital badges and certifications have steadily become a more commonly accepted form of education. So which should you choose? Well, though they aren’t interchangeable for all the reasons stated above when it comes to which you should earn, that should be decided based on the course or program you’re looking into. Find the credential that you want and go after it, regardless of if it’s a badge or certification. Just know the process of obtaining one over the other will be different.
From an employer’s perspective, it won’t make much of a difference. They’re not going to question the value of a certification over a badge—but they will notice that you’ve been making efforts to further your education, an admirable trait in any applicant.