Northeastern University and IBM partnership first to turn digital badges into academic credentials for learners worldwide

Photo by Patrick Heinecke/Flickr

Northeastern University and IBM have established a strategic learning collaboration to integrate the company’s in-house education programs with the university’s academic credentials. IBM employees, customers, and members of the public can now use IBM-issued badge credentials toward three Northeastern professional master’s degree programs—data analytics, project management, and portfolio management—with 51 additional graduate degrees and 17 certificate programs to follow.

Northeastern is the first university to recognize IBM digital badge credentials toward graduate degree programs and certificates, providing a seamless pathway from workplace learning into academic degrees and certificates. A digital badge is an emblem with metadata that can be used to verify someone’s skills in a particular area. Once earned, the badge recipient can easily add the resumé-worthy credential to their professional profiles.

“This program advances the already strong partnership between Northeastern and IBM,” said Robert McDonald, vice president for support transformation and training at IBM. “To be successful in today’s workforce every one of us must be on a continuous learning path throughout our careers as virtually every profession is changing with the introduction of technologies like artificial intelligence and the cloud. This program will enable IBMers and others to enhance their skills and apply them in the workplace, which benefits clients and employees’ careers.”

IBM has issued more than 500,000 badges in programs from design thinking to data analytics to project management. More than half of those badges have been matched to a large number of programs in Northeastern’s academic portfolio. These programs will be made available to badge holders in the near future.

This collaboration adds to a growing portfolio of innovative learning initiatives between Northeastern and major global employers. Northeastern recently established partnerships with General Electric and Major League Baseball, and is quickly becoming the primary university that companies turn to for expanded employee learning opportunities.

“We must eliminate the gap between learning and work,” said Philomena Mantella, senior vice president and CEO of the Professional Advancement Network at Northeastern. “This new collaboration with IBM illustrates our commitment to partnering with employers to design innovative pathways for learners to continuously advance their skills and achieve their professional goals.”

At IBM, the population of learners earning these digital badges is truly global and multigenerational, with  employees, customers, and other learners representing more than 178 countries around the world. Digital badges are part of IBM’s robust education and professional development strategy. The company invests $500 million annually in the professional development of employees, reinforcing a culture of lifelong learning and development. IBMers completed more than 26 million hours of learning in 2016. In the U.S., for example, nearly half of the learning hours were consumed by IBMers over the age of 50.

Moving forward, this broad collaboration will further establish Northeastern and IBM as leaders in embedding and integrating learning in the workplace. This effort helps to address the skills gap in artificial intelligence, analytics, cybersecurity, and other in-demand fields, providing the skills and knowledge lifelong learners need to stay current with ever-changing technologies and to succeed in the 21st-century workforce.