SXSW EDU is an annual conference and festival that fosters innovation and learning within the education industry. Education stakeholders can expect to listen to a diverse array of speakers and sessions, competitions, performances, and film screenings.

Our team attended both of these conferences and found some common themes in the conversations, sessions, and questions asked by the educators, associations, professional development providers, and awarding bodies who attended these events. Here are a few top trends in digital credentialing we’re seeing emerge from the Digital Credentials Summit and SXSW EDU.

3 Digital Credential Trends Emerge from 1EdTech and SXSW EDU 2023

1. Micro-Credentials And The Shift Toward Skills-Based Learning

The world of learning is evolving. As the number of career paths continues to grow and segment, education programs must transform to meet their students’ needs. Roles that previously existed are now broken down into specialist areas or replaced by automation. First-time graduates or individuals without a degree worry that they won’t be able to find work in their desired field.

A recent report from IBM on Global Skills and Education indicates that 61% of students, job seekers, and employees think they’re not qualified to work in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math because they don’t have the right academic degrees. Educators and instructional designers are taking note: skills-based learning, or competency-based learning, dominated conversations at both the Digital Credentials Summit  and SXSW EDU 2023. And using digital credentials—micro-credentials, specifically—followed closely after as a more enriched solution to demonstrate competency-based learning for K-12.

Micro-credentials are bite-sized chunks of knowledge studied within a short time frame, enabling learners to use their time efficiently to expand their skill set and increase their employability.

Micro-credentials lend themselves effectively to the stackable credentials framework, allowing learners to incrementally gain competencies in a topic by 'stacking' individual micro-credential awards in different ways. They have been eagerly adopted by educators and professional development providers alike. This smaller, more incremental credentialing format offers learners many benefits, such as helping professionals fill gaps in their skill sets, makes learning accessible to busy lifestyles and differing budgets, and are stackable toward a complete qualification.

In discussions such as Designing Credentials for Innovative School Models, panelists anticipate how the school of the future will require changes in competency frameworks, transcripts, and report cards. Susan Patrick, President and CEO of Aurora Institute and co-founder of CompetencyWorks, urges attendees to rethink the world the children of today will enter post-education. What types of credentials will be meaningful to them? How can students, as early as K-12 up to adults in continuing education, prepare for the workforce?

Patrick continues, emphasizing a push toward nano-learning, or smaller, bite-sized learnings that offer a multi-dimensional view of an individual’s interests, skills, and interdisciplinary work, to give students the tools they need to translate their competencies into a language employers understand. These digital micro-credentials help push forward work-based learning initiatives in schools, showing students how to get credit for the knowledge and skills they acquire. 

Mike Flanagan, another panelist and the CEO of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, agrees that today’s students need additional signals of the skills they’ve earned. He continues that not every student completes university and earns a diploma—others start, learn, then move on.

One solution, many educators have found, is a partnership between local employers to implement skills-based learning that aligns with the job openings in the community. These types of partnerships support universities and learning institutions in priming their students, showing them how their digital credentials can help them tell their skills story and give them the next step to move on.

2. Democratizing Education To Enable International Student Mobility

During the last recession in 2008, we saw an increase in higher education enrollments when professionals went back to school to reskill and upskill. However, COVID-19 brought an unprecedented drop in both employment and college enrollments.

Amit Sevak, the President and CEO of ETS, led an inspirational session on supporting diverse learners and bringing international students back to the United States called How the U.S. Lost Its Luster (& Can Get It Back). Sevak, whose father immigrated from India to complete a Master’s in Civil Engineering, shares that with immigration comes identity, connectivity, and values based in the United States—a common trend seen in CEOs across companies such as IBM, Google, Microsoft, and Deloitte. He poses a few critical questions: What does it mean to enable international student mobility? What’s the cost of losing share relative to other countries? And how can the U.S. be a beacon of opportunity again?

While American higher education seems to be in an existential crisis, international student mobility is rising in other parts of the world, like the United Kingdom and Canada. These institutions are embracing and accommodating non-traditional learners through asynchronous learning opportunities.

There’s still hope for the U.S.: While finding new students can feel like fighting other higher education institutions over a shrinking pool of applicants and enrollments, it’s time to focus on non-“traditional” students—students that don’t fit into the white, affluent, 18-21-year-olds—to keep four-year degree models sustainable.

On a higher level, a paradigm shift has begun—colleges have adapted to what a post-pandemic economy needs: targeted, short, and specialized skills training to meet what IBM’s CEO calls “new collar jobs.”

These new collar jobs target most of the workforce and require skills above a high-school diploma but below a 4-year traditional degree. The shift towards skill-based learning and assessment has democratized education and opened avenues of economic and career advancement that, pre-pandemic, was not available to non-traditional students.

3. Learner Ownership Of Data

When students and learners succeed because of a digital credential, so do their institutions and learning providers. Much of the conversation around learner outcomes has revolved around showing value to learners by helping them get a job, raise, promotion, or confidence in their skills. This quarter, a different kind of learner outcome surfaced: how digital credentials impact learner data.

When a student earns a digital credential, their issuer (a higher education institution, learning program provider, or awarding body) grants them access to the metadata embedded into their credential as well as an image of a digital badge that they can easily share, showcase, and use to verify their achievements.

These issuers work with digital credential partners to facilitate the creation, issuing, and metrics tracking of their digital credential programs. Many digital credential partners don't seem to support a learner's own ownership of their data. That may show up as requiring students and learners to create new accounts on their platform to access earned credentials or to sacrifice their ability to showcase all their earned credentials, no matter where the digital credential was created, in a single digital wallet. This new way of learning, however, requires putting the power of data into learners’ hands to be successful—and that’s why Accredible allows learners to accept and share their new credentials without having to create an account on our platform.

In Summary

Speakers at the 1EdTech Digital Credentials Summit and SXSW EDU 2023 conferences shared compelling examples of how higher education institutions and organizations that issue digital credentials can improve the learner experience, align with employer expectations, and democratize education.

Want to see digital credentials for higher education in action? Book a platform demo with our team.

Further Reading

Check out Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) story, How GMAC Use Digital Credentials to Increase Visibility of their Admissions Institute for New Professionals Program, for insight into how digital credentials build awareness for higher education programs.