Education Technology

What is a Credential?

A credential is a piece of any document that details a qualification, competence, or authority issued to an individual by a third party with a relevant or de facto authority or assumed competence to do so.

A person holding a credential is usually given documentation or secret knowledge (e.g., a password or key) as proof of the credential. Sometimes this proof (or a copy of it) is held by a third, trusted party. While in some cases a credential may be as simple as a paper membership card, in other cases, such as diplomas, it involves the presentation of letters directly from the issuer of the credential its faith in the person representing them in a negotiation or meeting.

In general, credentials occur in many different areas, like diplomacy, medicine, IT, cryptography, journalism, and more. We will take a closer look at academic credentials.

The academic world makes very extensive use of credentials, such as diplomas, degrees, certificates, and certifications, in order to attest to the completion of specific training or education programs by students, to attest to their successful completion of tests and exams, and to provide independent validation of an individual's possession of the knowledge, skills, and ability necessary to practice a particular occupation competently.

Documentation of academic and professional credentials usually consists of a printed, formal document. The issuing institution often maintains a record of the credential as well. Academic credentials are normally valid for the lifetime of the person to whom they are issued. Professional certifications are normally valid for a limited number of years, based on the pace of change in the certified profession, and require periodic recertification through reexamination (to demonstrate continuing competency as occupational standards of practice evolve) or continuing professional development (to demonstrate continually enhanced competency).

Types of Credentials  


Academic degrees are credentials awarded by accredited, postsecondary, educational institutions based on the student’s completion of a specified program of study. In Germany, there are basically three levels of degrees: undergraduate (bachelor) and graduate (master and doctor). Although there is considerable variation in requirements depending on the institution and field of study, the bachelor’s level degree usually requires 180 semester credits (approximately three years of full-time study). The bachelor’s degree is generally considered the gateway to graduate degrees and advanced studies. Graduate degrees vary based on specialization, but a master’s degree usually requires an additional one to two years of full-time study beyond a bachelor’s, and a doctoral degree approximately four years.


An official document issued by an educational institution that records the achievements of an individual following the successful completion of an academic course of study, typically requiring fewer credits than an associate degree.


A credential awarded by a training provider or educational institution based on completion of all requirements for a program of study, including coursework and tests or other performance evaluations. Certificates are typically awarded for life (like a degree).


A credential awarded by a certification body based on an individual demonstrating through an examination process that he or she has acquired the designated knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform a specific job. The examination can be either written, oral, or performance-based. Certification is a time-limited credential that is renewed through a recertification process.


A process by which a governmental agency grants time-limited permission to an individual to engage in a given occupation after verifying that he or she has met predetermined and standardized criteria. Practice in a licensed occupation is restricted to those possessing a license. The requirements for licenses vary by state, based on legislative and regulatory requirements.


Badges use digital technologies to represent learning achievements. Badges signify accomplishments such as completion of a project, mastery of a skill, or marks of experience and can be created and awarded by institutions, organizations, groups, or individuals. Badges are flexible with regard to how issuers create them, define their use, and develop their criteria (which are publicly viewable, embedded in the badge, and verifiable). Therefore badges can be used in numerous ways to meet a community’s needs, to represent granular competencies as well as deeply linked, rich experiences and complex learning. Badges are being used in conjunction with and/or as modular components of traditional credentials such as degrees. In some cases, especially when badges link to evidence, they are being used as representations of credentials. Badges can expire or be revoked, making them useful for credentials that are not continuously valid. Given their flexibility, badges bridge traditional, accredited credentials, professional and industry-recognized credentials, and nontraditional, experimental credentials.