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Almost four in 10 current college students (38 percent) have transferred at least once in their six-year academic career, and 40 million students nationwide have some college credits but no degree. Engaging these students toward degree completion isn’t a new challenge in higher education, but it is one that can now be meaningfully advanced through technology. What if learners and students had more access to their accomplishments to better communicate their educational history? What frictions could we reduce and what new value could grow?

This learning mobility is just as important to institutions as it is to students—according to the “State of Digital Credentials in the AACRAO Community” Report, 83 percent of respondents considered learning mobility a priority at their institutions.

We’re now in a moment of tremendous opportunity to impact learning and earning mobility through the power of verifiable digital credentialing, which can be simply expressed as agency—agency over the receiving, saving and sharing of records of achievement placed into the hands of learners. The Trusted Learner Network is laser-focused on designing an ecosystem of solutions that put learners at the center and create space for credential-enabled innovation.

About the Trusted Learner Network

The TLN has been engaged in exploring solutions and opportunities in the digital credential ecosystem since 2019, when Lev Gonick, Donna Kidwell and Phillip Long from Arizona State University presented the originating concept of the TLN at Educause: to meet the challenge of navigating the lifelong learning journey, students and learners need to have access to and control over the many types of accomplishments they’ll earn in their lives. Along with this assertion came a set of key principles to guide the work to come: equity, interoperability, consent and stewardship needed to be at the heart of any development to honor the commitments and responsibilities of both institutions and learners.

Emerging from this foundation, the TLN is focused on three key strategies:

  1. Creating governance to guide digital credentialing,
  2. Building a community to learn and grow, and
  3. Developing institutional and learner technologies to enable verifiable credentialing

Today, the TLN’s primary mission is to recognize and enable the value of the credentials created, shared and distributed as being valid and useful in serving the needs of learners. As mentioned, 38 percent of college students transfer before earning their degree. Verifiable credentials are data-rich, consent-governed and can be shared directly by the learner with their institution of choice. What’s more, these credentials allow for streamlined admissions processes and hiring, because institutions and employers can instantly verify their validity through cryptographic proofs.

It’s All About Trust

Central to the development of the TLN initiative has been the discovery of how crucial trust is to the ecosystem of digital credentials. While technology was an initial driver of the work—that blockchain technologies could allow us to issue a credential that a learner could manage and share independently and verifiably—trust is core to the process of all credentialing, be it credit transfer, degree verification, certification processes or any assertion of learning and achievement.

  • Does the recipient of a credential trust the achievement being shared?
  • Do they trust the authority of the credential source?
  • Does that trust translate into value?

Current technology achieves these aims through a series of closed systems that must exist outside of the learner’s control. Verifiable credential technology allows for that trust chain to remain unbroken, even when we put sharing directly in the hands of the learners.

As we have established, credentials are no longer just issued by degree-granting institutions. Students are now engaging with higher education institutions and learning with alternative credit providers, companies that are creating their own internal learning models and through paid or free online content. In light of this, the higher education community has a unique opportunity to recognize and embrace diverse learning such as knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs). To build trust, standards need to be developed and embraced so that there is consistency in these crucial processes and recognition of practices over time.

This is where the TLN work becomes crucial.

Why Governance Guides All

Because equity is at the heart of everything we do, the work of the TLN is guided by the diverse voices and perspectives of TLN’s governing body. These groups include individuals from different institution types—four-year colleges and universities, community colleges, public and private, urban and rural—to make sure that we’re designing a network that benefits all institutions and students/learners.

Together, the TLN governing body aims to create an environment that is guided by strong governance policies to ensure that institutions can clearly understand and place trust in verifiable credential technology, while simultaneously placing learners at the center of important decision making. To date, the committee has collaborated to create TLN’s Governance Charter, as well as TLN’s Issuance Guide and Learner Policies.

Moving Forward

For the TLN to improve transfer and credit mobility for the benefit of learners, it will take dedication, participation and commitment by many who are part of the credentialing community. We recognize that we don’t have all the answers, and that is why partnership in this space is key. Going on five years, the TLN has convened experts, evangelists, technologists and advocates who are committed to moving the digital credential ecosystem forward.

For more information and to join the TLN community, visit

Many thanks to TLN governing body members Noah Geisel of the University of Colorado at Boulder, Insiya Bream of the University of Maryland Global Campus, Meena Naik of the Jobs for the Future Foundation and Sherri Braxton of Bowdoin College for contributing to this article.

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