I’ve already posted a thread about this on the Fediverse, so I’ll just copy-and-paste then tweak from that rant. TL;DR: Adobe have published a (commissioned) report about digital credentials, everyone’s over-excited, and I want to sound a note of caution.

A young woman sits in the foreground focused on her laptop, which is the source of a swirling, colorful vortex of digital shapes against a greyscale backdrop of a contemporary cityscape, highlighting the intersection of technology and modern life.

About 15 years ago, it was clear that Higher Education was about to become significantly ‘unbundled’ in western countries. The trend had started even before the start of my career, but accelerated around that time. We had things like Pearson being given degree-awarding powers, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) allowing anyone to join university-provided courses, and the first blushes of digital credentials.

As thinkers such as Audrey Watters pointed out, unbundling is all well and good, but you better be damned careful about who’s doing the ‘rebundling’ and for what purpose. So, of course, the MOOC providers turned into non-profit and for-profit providers that met with various success (edX, Udacity, FutureLearn, etc.) These all needed ways to ‘certify’ their courses. Some partnered with universities, others went alone with their own credentialing.

The digital credentials space has always been a difficult one to keep track of. That’s because it’s decentralised by design, just like the Fediverse, and… email. So while there are absolutely standards that make the whole thing work (Open Badges, etc.) it’s always been difficult to talk about numbers and how people are using digital credentials. In true “the future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed” style, some sectors have seen explosive adoption of digital credentials.

IBM, for example, have issued millions of digital credentials for things that you wouldn’t necessarily go to university to learn. It’s a big deal, and leads to decently-paying (and often high-paying) jobs. That’s great, and I point to this a lot. But it’s not like IBM did it out the goodness of their hearts. They’re looking to remove the degree requirement for their jobs, which of course has a long-term depressing effect on wages.

Coming back to Adobe, while it’s great that they’ve suddenly discovered digital credentials and have commissioned A Report To Tell Us How Great They Are, we’d be naive to think that this is a benevolent act. What they’re doing, it seems, is positioning the ‘Adobe Certified Professional’ digital credential as the one that you need in that particular industry. That means tying ‘creativity’ to using certain tools, and having a very privatised ‘rebundling’ of knowledge and skills.

So, be careful what you wish for, I guess. Could a lot of this have been foreseen over a decade ago? Absolutely. But the problem, as many on the Fediverse will recognise, is that there’s a vested interest in not recognising the diversity of human experience. Digital credentials could and should be used to recognise lifelong and lifewide learning. They can be used to showcase the breadth of our experience in a holistic way.

That’s not what brands are interested in, though. Brands are interested in capturing and enclosing you as data points to be packaged up and sold alongside their proprietary products.

I’m sure there are plenty of people in my network (especially on LinkedIn) which will see this as an over-reaction. “But Doug, isn’t bringing more attention to the space worthwhile?” Not if the lens that is used to understand the space is reductionist and perpetuates some of the very problems we’re trying to solve.

Gone are the days of a college degree being the only key to unlock meaningful careers. Employers today need job candidates and employees with new, in-demand skills, and they expect to see them demonstrated in a variety of ways beyond a college transcript. With the rise of remote work, digital transformation, and AI, today’s most in-demand skills — creative problem-solving, visual communication, and digital fluency — are especially hard for hiring managers to identify in job application materials.

To shed light on this evolving landscape, Adobe has just released a research white paper, “The Creative Edge: How Digital Credentials Unlock Emerging Skills in the Age of AI.” Conducted by Edelman, the results of this commissioned global research study outline the role digital credentials play in helping career seekers get hired by showcasing their digital and creative skills.

Source: How digital credentials unlock emerging skills in the age of AI

Image: DALL-E 3