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5 Things You Should Know About Stackable Credentials

By Jennifer Naughton, SPHR, MA

As reported by the Lumina Foundation, in a survey of 126 CEOs of major U.S. companies, 97 percent stated that the skills gap was a problem. In another survey, only 11 percent of business leaders said they considered college graduates to be workforce-ready. The popularity of stackable credentials makes sense; they offer considerable promise toward closing the skills gap. To quote certification expert Lenora Knapp, Ph.D., “Everyone wants them, but nobody seems to know what they are.” There are many differing definitions. This article attempts to clarify what stackable credentials are and to dispel some of the myths according to some of the more widely-recognized sources.

What are they?

According to the Department of Labor, stackable credentials are “part of a sequence of credentials accumulated over time to build up an individual’s qualification to help them move along a career pathway or up a career ladder to potentially different and higher paying jobs.”

What are the benefits?

Stackable credentials provide career pathways for students and employees. These pathways consist of a clear sequence of coursework and/or other credentials that support skill attainment and employment. They require less time and money than traditional credentials. They also recognize specialized skills beyond school and are better aligned with employer needs (if well-constructed). 

How are the stacks organized?

The stacks are organized in three basic ways:

  1. Horizontal Stacking provides breadth – e.g., Instructional Design or Facilitation Skills
  2. Vertical Stacking provides depth and level – e.g., Basic, Intermediate, or Advanced
  3. Hybrid Stacking provides both – e.g., Basic Instructional Design or Basic Facilitation Skills, Intermediate Instructional Design or Intermediate Facilitation Skills

How do the stacks add up?

There are two different ways and the distinction is key.

First are progressive stacks, which often start with a learning unit or certificate and lead to a subsequent degree (associate, bachelor’s) or certification. Think of accumulating a series of building blocks that lead to something bigger, such as Boy Scout badges leading to an Eagle Scout.

Second are independent stacks, which involves earning multiple credentials independently that do not lead to a larger credential. Think of earning a series of related and independent credentials, such the CIPM and the CFA.

What are the myths?

Here are five common myths associated with stackable credentials.

5 Myths Sidebar-Infographic.jpg

To learn how organizations are transitioning from a traditional certification model and adopting a stackable strategy, read our interview with the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) and the Association of Talent Development (ATD).

Related Resources

WEBINAR: What About Microcredentialing?

RESEARCH REPORT: Digital Badge Report

EXECUTIVE WEBINAR: Digital Badging: A Strategic Perspective

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