Digital Nation

Digitizing Scottish Education – Digital Badges Ecosystem

Encoding academic qualifications into 'Digital Badges' provides a foundation for modernizing route to work pathways for boosting employability in Scotland.

When we think of Digital Education we tend to focus on virtual classroom environments and e-learning systems, but equally fundamental is the administrative record-keeping.

This may seem relatively unimportant and mundane but it forms the keystone foundation of our economy, providing the credentials that enable the flow from academia to the workplace.

Foundations for Scotland’s Digital Economy

Therefore digitizing those credentials can be seen as establishing the keystone foundations for our Digital Economy.

Through technologies like the Blockchain and Self Sovereign Identity (SSI), all aspects of how our currently paper-based economy works will be digitized, with Education being one key use case, implemented through innovations such as ‘Blockcerts‘, an open source blockchain project for enabling a Universal Verifier that will verify any digital certificate issued by any institution, anywhere in the world.

Indeed in their Blockchain report Scottish Enterprise make this specific point:

“The technology is most associated with the financial sector, but we wanted to look beyond that across industries where blockchain technology might be lesser known, but no less innovative, such as in education where it’s used to make qualifications secure.”

Digital Badges and Micro-credentials: Building Route to Work Pathways

These technologies can be used to implement ‘Digital Badges‘, which can then enable ‘gamified’ learning models through to providing a complete framework for a common, industry-wide credential recognition system. They are also referred to as ‘micro-credentials’.

As FutureLearn describes a micro-credential is a “Certification of learning that can accumulate into a larger credential or degree, be part of a portfolio that demonstrates individuals’ proof of learning, or have a value in itself.”

Micro-credentials are an ideal tool for supporting Scotland’s skills and employment agenda. They support breaking down employment skills into bite-sized chunks that are more easily accessible to learners and more directly applicable to work opportunities.

They are especially potent due to their modular nature making them ideal for utilizing them to define a series of steps that constitute and lead to specific job roles. A great example of this is the PMI offering micro-credentials.

The QAA offers this detailed definition, highlighting:

“Micro-credentials have a key role to play in upskilling and re-skilling the workforce as short, credit-bearing courses that support a learner-led engagement in higher education which could be spread over many years.

Micro-credentials would not normally constitute an award in their own right, but they have standalone value and could also contribute to a recognised qualification. They also widen access to learners who might not have considered a more traditional approach to achieving a qualification, as well as potentially assisting with meeting skills needs for employers and learners.”


“While higher education providers have a long history of running short courses, micro-credentials are closely aligned with employability and also offer more structured opportunities for progression which brings new challenges.”

They are offered by Education providers like the Open University and Glasgow University among many others. The Digital Economy Skills Action Plan from Skills Development Scotland defines a strategy for their implementation:

  1. “Identify key digital economy skills competencies and aligning and developing micro-credentialed/short courses to address skills needs of employers.
  2. Implement micro-credentials based on the Digital Economy Skills Framework which allows individuals to demonstrate their competency.”

This tweet from Skills Development Scotland highlights digital badges offer an ideal starting point for modernizing education in such a way it supports the further modernization and growth of skills and employment.

They are an especially apt approach when the objective is helping people into work, as often many jobs don’t require a whole general degree but much rather favour a particular skill specific to the role.

For example Brewdog created an online academy for it’s employees to gain new work-specific skill qualifications, and Alzheimer Scotland a virtual academy for their carers. Rather than academic qualifications these are entirely workplace-specific and an immediate relevance to possible job opportunities.

The goal of the Action Plan is to scale this approach nationally, developing a single micro-credentials framework that is shared across Scotland’s skills and employment organizations, implemented through key activities including:

  1. Work with employers to develop their own curriculum of workplace skills e-learning, which generate micro-credential Digital Badges, and collaboratively develop Route to Work pathways.
  2. Provide user tools for them to own, display and share their digital badges, such as mobile wallets and across social media profiles.
  3. Provide tools to recruitment portals to enable resume sections to display badges, and enable employers to search on these criteria. Directly launched job sites with this functionality to accelerate it’s uptake.

Scottish Pioneers: MySkills

Specific to the scenario of Digital Education is the pioneering prototype work with the City of Glasgow College and the Scottish Qualifications Authority. Documented in this white paper they explain the MySkills project, a collaboration to define a generic model of digital certification to be used and adapted by other awarding bodies throughout the rest of the UK.

This explores in specific detail the concepts described in this article, applying them to the Scottish Education and Employment market, demonstrating walk-throughs and process models for how it would work in practice and defining how the pilot project can be scaled to a nationwide roll-out.


Editor of On a mission to build a world leading Scottish digital nation.

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