What Are Digital Credentials and How Are They Used?

Jasmine Quigley
June 13, 2023
Estimated read time: 5 minutes
Table of Contents

In this article we explore what are digital credentials, including the different types of credentials available, use cases and examples of digital credentials, the benefits for issuers and recipients, and the common challenges faced.

What Are Digital Credentials?

Digital credentials is the broad term given to online credentials including digital badges, open badges, digital certificates, micro-credentials, and blockchain credentials. They are the evolution of traditional paper credentials including certificates, results, and awards. Digital credentials are simple to award, manage, and verify and are used in education, training, certification, membership, events, and more. 

A visual representation of the Accredible Digital Credential Creation and Delivery Workflow
Digital Credential Creation and Delivery Workflow

Digital credentials are the awards gained through achievement or learning. The most common examples include:

  • Degrees issued by education providers
  • Recognition for understanding a complex topic
  • Awards for gaining a personal or professional skill
  • Certificates of completion for product training

Digital verifiable credentials such as digital certificates and digital badges are also used for:

  • Proof of association membership
  • Rewards for achievement, behavior, and effort
  • Evidence of event attendance

Types of Digital Credentials

There are two core types of digital credentials, digital certificates and digital open badges. Depending on the framework used and any additional features, a digital credential may also be referred to as a micro-credential, a blockchain credential, or a stacked credential.

What is a Digital Badge?

Example of a Digital Badge
Digital Badge Example
  • Commonly used for credentials that take a short time to earn, i.e. modules of a qualification or attending a conference
  • Uses shapes, colors, and symbols to represent levels of achievement
  • Designed to be easy to embed across different types of platforms

Digital badges can represent any type of credential. They are issued through a dedicated digital badging platform like Accredible. We often see organizations use digital badges to represent individual modules but some use them across all types of programs, including "high-stakes" ones. Some companies use only digital badges, some only issue digital certificates, and some choose to use both. Accredible gives organizations the flexibility to decide how to use credentials. Including full control over the look and feel, influenced on the strategy and what the credentials need to communicate.

Visual representation of the data embedded in a digital open badge
Digital Open Badge Showing Embedded Data

Another commonly seen phrase is Open Badges. Open badges are the technical standard developed by the Mozilla Foundation in 2011. The standard is used to maintain the quality of digital badges by ensuring consistent and relevant information is displayed. Digital badges from Accredible follow the open badge standard and have the necessary data embedded into the image for verification and sharing.

Learn more about digital badges in our article: What is a Digital Badge?

What is a Digital Certificate? 

Example of a digital certificate
Digital Certificate Example
  • The digital representation of a paper certificate awarded for achievement or education
  • Awarded for credentials that take a longer time to earn, i.e. completing an online degree or membership of a professional association
  • Accompanied by work samples, transcripts, exam and module results, or references

Digital certificates are used to represent formal qualifications. We see organizations and educational institutions use digital certificates as records of completion, to represent membership, to award new competencies, as completion credentials at the end of a learning pathway, and training certifications. Any credential that would have traditionally been awarded as a paper or PDF certificate can be issued as a modern digital certificate. While they are considered the evolution of paper certificates, digital certificates don’t eliminate the ability for physical copies. By creating scannable QR codes and including them in the design, digital certificates allow for printing and hard-copy verification.

An example of a digital certificate with a scannable qr-code
Digital Certificate Example with Scannable QR-Code

What is a Micro-Credential?

An example of micro-credential digital badge awards
Micro-Credential Digital Badge Examples
  • An award issued for short-term courses, individual modules, webinars and events
  • Most commonly represented using a digital badge
  • Designed to be used for flexible, fast, and modular learning

Micro-credentials, also known as nano-degrees, are a framework for delivering bite size chunks of knowledge usually studied within a short time frame. We see organizations offering micro-credentials for individual modules, short courses, webinars, and events. They are intended to be more accessible than certifications that take years to earn. Micro-credentials accommodate the availability of the learner and enable them to gain knowledge or skills specific to their development needs. Candidates collect multiple micro-credentials over time to represent their competencies and build a personal portfolio of learning.

Learn more about micro-credentials in our article: What are Micro-Credentials?

What is a Stacked Credential?

An example of stacked digital badge awards increasing in level
Stacked Digital Badge Examples
  • Individual achievements that are combined over time to enhance a skill set
  • Can be stacked vertically, horizontally, or in a hybrid arrangement
  • Designed as faster, incremental awards to motivate progress

Stacked credentials are a framework for accumulating knowledge in a flexible yet structured way. We see organizations using stacked micro-credentials to allow learners to gain knowledge and skills according to their needs. Some organizations choose to issue stacked micro-credentials that work towards a completion credential (similar to a learning pathway). Other issuers design their stacked micro-credentials to exist by themselves as a record of progress to date. This allows learners to build their own personal portfolio of achievement with clarity around their skills gained to date.

Learn more about stacked credentials in our article: What are Stacked Credentials?

What is a Blockchain Credential?

A visual representation of a secured blockchain credential
A Secure Blockchain Credential
  • Highest level of security for issued digital credentials
  • No risk to data as no personal data is written to the blockchain
  • Effectively impossible to forge or alter, and easy to verify

Blockchain credentials is the term given to digital credentials that are written to the blockchain to provide enhanced levels of security. They are used to prevent credential fraud and are effectively impossible to forge, alter, or remove. Accredible uses the Bitcoin blockchain to store an unchangeable record of credentials while ensuring they are easy to verify. 

No personal or recipient data is stored on the blockchain. Once a credential has been created a ‘receipt’ is generated consisting of a series of numbers that represents the credential information. This receipt of creation is then written to the blockchain. When someone goes to verify a credential, Accredible checks the stored series of numbers against what the credential information generates today and makes sure they’re the same.

Learn more about blockchain credentials and how blockchain technology prevents fraud in our articles: What are Blockchain Credentials? And How Does Blockchain Secure Credentials?

What Are The Differences Between Digital Credentials, Paper Credentials, and PDF Credentials?

Digital credentials are necessary for digital transformation. They benefit issuing organizations in many ways including helping to convey professionalism, protect against fraud, and ensure longevity. Additional differences between digital credentials, paper credentials, and PDF credentials include:

Table of Differences Between Digital Credentials, PDF, and Printed Credentials
Table of Differences Between Digital Credentials, PDF, and Printed Credentials

What Are The Differences Between a Digital Badge and a Digital Certificate?

Digital credentials share a lot of features and can represent many different outcomes. Which one to use depends on the preferences of the issuer and the type of program they are offering the credential for. The key differences between digital badges and digital certificate are:

Digital Badge

  • Visual award
  • Badge image embedded with data
  • Uses shapes, colors, ribbons, and icons to represent programs and branding
  • Designed to be embedded in email signatures and on webpages
  • Commonly shared and engaged with online or added to digital wallet cards

Digital Certificate

  • Formal award
  • Traditional certificate format displaying data
  • Uses logos, copy, recipient and stakeholder details to represent programs and branding
  • Designed to be shared as a URL as proof of achievement, membership, or knowledge
  • Support for QR-code allowing printing and hard-copy verification

What Is The Use of Digital Credentials?

Both digital badges and digital certificates have a huge variety of use cases. The most common examples of digital credential uses include:

  • In professional development to represent learning outcomes
  • In higher education to represent diplomas, degrees, and assessments
  • In online courses to represent achievements, and skill and knowledge acquisition
  • By associations to represent membership and certifications
  • In events to represent attendance, engagement, and knowledge application
  • In certification programs to represent module and program completion
  • In corporate training to recognize product knowledge and training outcomes
  • By LMS (Learning Management System) and LXP (Learning Experience Platforms) software providers as a value add to their issuing customers
  • By awarding bodies to modernize their verifiable credentials
  • By governing bodies to digitize medical records, ID and passports, and official documents

What is an Example of a Digital Credential?

Below are a selection of digital credential examples. These include examples of branded and white label digital credentials, digital badges, digital certificates, and issuing organizations that use a combination of both. 

Accredible Demo Digital Credential Examples

An example of a digital certificate issued as a certificate of excellence
Digital Certificate Example

Accredible Demo Digital Credential

Accredible White Label Demo Digital Badge

Events/Conference Digital Credential Example

ASU+GSV Digital Credential Example

What are the Benefits of Digital Credentials for Issuers?

Making the switch to digital credentials saves businesses time and money. By freeing up resources, staff have greater flexibility to:

  • Support other departments
  • Help to grow the company
  • Improve customer support

Take this example case study from the Digital Marketing Institute. They approached Accredible with a problem, 'how can we reduce the time spent issuing credentials?'. At the time, the monthly workload of issuing certificates took at least 8 hours to complete. The Accredible Credential Management System cut this time by 93.75%, reducing the monthly workload to half hour and improving team productivity.

Further benefits of digital credentials include:

Verifiable Credentials

A visual representation of a verified digital credential
Verification of a Digital Credential

Verifying qualifications is a difficult and time-consuming process. Paper certificates are easy to misplace or become damaged over time. Often, employers need to rely on the candidate to provide proof of their achievement. Digital certificates and badges simplify the process by:

  • Offering one-click verification
  • Saving time for HR departments
  • Being near-impossible to fake

In a study by Zippia, 1,000 US professionals were surveyed about the truthfulness of their resume. Of which, 30% said they had ‘bent the truth’ or lied on their resume about their skills or experience. 

Visibility of Expiration

Example of Expired Banner on a Digital Credential
Example of Expired Banner on a Digital Credential

Expired credentials are automatically updated with a page-width red banner stating that the digital credential has expired and can no longer be verified. The increased visibility of expiration provides additional protection against fraud and saves time for third-parties verifying a candidate’s credential. This also motivates recipients to renew their credential, whether through renewing membership, re-skilling, or taking an up-to-date course.

Fraud Protection

Accredible’s digital credentials are protected through bank-level encryption and security. Data is stored in a secure tier 3 SOC 2-certified data center and issuers have the option to utilize blockchain technology to provide enhanced levels of fraud protection.

Our customers undergo manual authentication by our customer success team, to ensure that no one can claim to be an organization that they do not belong to. A check mark appears on the credential view to communicate the Verified Issuer status to anyone viewing a credential.

Automation and Integrations

Example of Integrations available through Accredible including Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, WordPress, LearnDash, Webassessor by Kryterion, Brightspace, Azure Active Directory, and Zoom
Example of Integrations available through Accredible

Issuing digital certificates and badges through an automated system is simple and efficient. Save hours of admin time by integrating digital credentialing software into existing workflows, or batch upload via spreadsheet. Supported by a robust API and Zapier, integrations can be made across many of the leading LMS’. Get the job done easily with Accredible, offering basic integrations as standard across all our plans.

Updates and Amendments

Incorrect spellings and design mistakes create extra cost when issuing physical credentials. One certificate is a simple fix but amending hundreds, if not thousands, is expensive. By automating the process through Accredible, businesses benefit from automated typo correction and retroactive design amendments.

Automated typo correction

Recipients notice a spelling mistake of one or two characters in their name and submit a correction request. Rather than requiring a team member to manually review requests, these small typos are automatically corrected by the digital credential platform. Larger changes are flagged in the Accredible credential system for easy approval.

Retroactive design amendments

Amend an existing design and update all digital credentials in a single click. Easily make changes including swapping logos, updating stakeholder names and signatures, or a full design overhaul. The Accredible credential platform simplifies the process and gives issuers the ability to retroactively update designs of live credentials and apply them across a whole group. 

Issuer Control

Unlike paper credentials that leave the control of the issuing organization after they are in the hands of recipients, digital credentials remain fully in control of the issuer. This means they can be expired, updated, or removed at any time. Visibility of issued digital credentials can be set to public or private, and issuers can choose to restrict how their digital credentials are shared. 

Depending on the branding or white label package selected, issuers have full control over the appearance of the dedicated credential page. This includes the ability to use a vanity URL, and control the header, footer, and design of the page. The level of control offered by Accredible to issuers extends beyond the digital credential to include the delivery email branding, copy, CTA buttons and design customization.

A visual representation of customizing the digital credential delivery email with issuer branding
Customization of the Digital Credential Delivery Email

Level of Detail

The metadata and contextual information of a digital credential is key to communicating its value. Aside from the digital credential badge image or certificate, issuers can include issuer information, program details, skill tags, external links, and supporting evidence to the dedicated credential page. Once a user visits the credential page, they can quickly understand:

  • Who the issuer and recipient are
  • What the credentialed program/membership is about
  • What was required to earn the credential
  • What skills the recipient can demonstrate
  • Earning criteria that made the recipient eligible for the credential
  • When the credential was issued and if it’s valid or expired
Example of Skill Tags added to Digital Credential
Example of Skill Tags added to Digital Credential

Marketing Reach

The customer or end-user is always the best source of information on the quality of a product or service. Digital credentials are no different. Recipients are the best way for prospective candidates to identify if a program or membership is worth their time and investment. The sharing functionality of digital credentials encourages candidates to celebrate their credential, increasing visibility for the credential, the program, and the issuing organization. 

Issuers can harness the reach of their alumni, members, and recipients by encouraging them to engage with and share their credentials online. Analytics dashboards on the digital credential platform enable issuers to track real-time engagement and views of digital badges and digital certificates, including referrals. Using external links from the dedicated credential page and branding of the digital certificate or badge, issuers increase awareness for their credentials leading to program growth.

The Benefits of Digital Credentials for Recipients

The key benefit for recipients is increased visibility into their skills, knowledge, and experience. They use digital credentials to build portfolios of development to:

  • Take between jobs
  • Showcase competencies
  • Simplify verification of their abilities 

Traditional paper credentials are hard to keep track of and get lost or damaged, while PDF credentials lack security and struggle to convey value. In comparison, digital credentials are portable, shareable, embeddable, and always available to view.


Digital badges compliant with the Open Badge standard can be added to existing badge backpacks. Backpacks serve as a central place to manage, display, and organize digital badges. For convenient verification on the go, recipients upload their digital credentials to digital wallets (Apple Wallet and Google Pay). As most of the world carries a smartphone, this is a quick and easy way to retrieve credentials on demand or provide proof of association membership.

Example of Digital Credential Added to Digital Wallet
Example of Digital Credential Added to Digital Wallet

For example, Samantha is attending an interview for a new job. The interviewer reviewing her resume requests details about modules for a listed qualification. Sam refers to her digital wallet containing her digital credentials. In this simple exchange, Sam has:

  • Provided proof of her qualification
  • Informed the interviewer about the depth of her knowledge
  • Opened up a conversation around the other digital credentials Sam holds


Learners work hard to achieve their qualifications. Once they've reached a goal, they excitedly share their news with friends and family. Digital credentials are easy to share to social media platforms, add to LinkedIn profiles, and embed in an email or on a webpage. 

This offers several advantages over the use of traditional paper certificates:

  • Celebrate in the moment with friends, family, and online networks without extra steps or restrictions
  • Include qualifications or membership badges in email signatures
  • Improve recipient employability by showcasing digital credentials on professional sites
Example of a Digital Credential Shared to LinkedIn by an ASU+GSV Summit Attendee
Example of a Digital Credential Shared to LinkedIn

Meet Mark and Matthew, they’ve both completed a course in Microsoft Excel and want to share their achievement. Mark tells three of his friends while Matthew shares his digital credential on social media platforms to over 300 engaged followers. Not only has Matthew had a broader reach but several recruiters saw his announcement and have dropped him a message. Some of Matthew’s followers are also interested in gaining their own credential and inquire with the company that issued his.


Educational institutions, certification providers, awarding bodies, all are at risk of closure. Once an issuing organization closes, the source of verification for their issued credentials becomes difficult if not impossible to access. This has the potential to harm the value of their issued credentials, increases the risk of fraud, and is both inconvenient and upsetting to the credential holder. 

Learners put effort into earning their credential and deserve to know that if the issuing organization is no longer open, their credentials will be protected. Digital credentials offer this benefit. Once the recipient has received their credential they will always have access to it and be able to verify its authenticity. Their credential may expire but it is still visible, showing that the recipient has this knowledge or skill and helping to identify the best alternative to reskill. 

Challenges and Misconceptions of Digital Credentials

Digital credentials are considered a new and disruptive technology that is changing the standard of credentialing. This leads to many misconceptions around digital credentials, the use cases, and benefits. The most frequent challenges we hear from issuers are based around communicating value and making the switch to digital credentials. They worry that their learners don’t need or would appreciate digital credentials, that they will need to replace internal systems, or that the price is prohibitive. These concerns can be solved by:

  • Talking to candidates to understand their knowledge of and desire for digital credentials
  • Assessing different digital credential platforms for their integration and API support
  • Carrying out an ROI assessment and comparing current costs against potential costs/savings of digital credentials

To explore more challenges and misconceptions around digital credentials and how Accredible provides the solution, read our Top Ten Issues with Digital Badges and Certificates article.

Choosing a Digital Credential Platform

When a decision has been made to make the switch to digital credentials or begin implementing digital credentials, issuers must then choose a digital credential platform or build their own solution. To identify the best platform for their credentialing needs, issuers need to create a primary list of must-have features and a secondary list of nice to have features. They use these lists to assess the suitability of different platforms by comparing platform feature lists, using trial accounts, and viewing platform demos. 

For a comprehensive breakdown on the process of evaluating digital credential platforms, read our article: How to Choose Digital Credentialing Software.

Make the change with Accredible

Digital credentials support businesses and associations looking to undergo digital transformation and grow their programs.

If the goal of the business is to:

  • Save time for administration when issuing and verifying digital certificates and badges
  • Cut the costs of materials, packaging, and postage
  • Grow the awareness of digital credentials, courses, and the company online
  • Provide a convenient, portable method of verification for recipients
  • Protect the integrity of qualifications by preventing fraudulent claims

Accredible achieves all this and more. Start the digital transformation today and give teams the tools to do more with their time. Contact our team for a platform demo.

Further Reading

Eager to learn more about how digital credentials will benefit your business? We’ve got a guide for that.

Click the link to download our comprehensive Features and Services Guide. This guide details exactly what the Accredible Credential Management System can do. Helping businesses of all sizes to make an informed decision when choosing digital credentials.

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Schedule a demo and discover how Accredible can help you attract and reward learners, visualize learning journeys, and grow your program.

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