Top view of six people sitting people in chairs, each holding a hand held microphone.

Designing a digital credential ecosystem that places students at the center

More than 100 participants gathered in downtown Phoenix last week to chart the future of the ever-growing digital credential ecosystem at the 2023 Trusted Learner Network (TLN) Unconference. The fourth annual event attracted experts, technologists and digital credentialing enthusiasts — from institutions, nonprofit organizations, government entities and more — who are dedicated to move forward this space, with an emphasis on placing students and learners at the center. 

The day-long event, which took place at ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, included first-look demos of TLN-built technology and governance, insights from students  through panel-driven discussion, two hands-on workshops focused on the importance of shared language and stories, and an afternoon of participant-led discussions.

Kate Giovacchini, Managing Director of the TLN and host of the annual event, took to the stage, alongside ASU Chief Information Officer Lev Gonick and Chief Information Security and Digital Trust Officer Donna Kidwell. 

During his morning remarks, Gonick noted the power of telling our stories, both unique and shared experiences, as well as speaking to the tremendous moment of opportunity the digital credentialing ecosystem has to make change. This message pulled through to the TLN’s commitment to empower students and learners with increased access to their credentials from across their lifetimes. As Giovacchini noted, this increased access to credentials gives individuals more agency over their journey in work and learning. 


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Here’s a look at the themes, ideas and aspirations shared throughout the day.

Morning keynote sets the tone for exploration, innovation and charting what’s next

Lean into disruptive technologies, like generative artificial intelligence. 

“If you think about the commitment to the TLN’s origin to finding a way to have verifiable providence in an environment, the work that we’re all doing today is central to the challenges facing generative AI [artificial intelligence],” said Gonick. He went on to explain how almost all generative AI environments act by turning an assertion of probability into a near certain articulation — they tell you, with certainty, the answers to the queries or the prompts that you've given the machine without sharing provenance or a measure of likely correctness.

“Moving forward, we need a way to verify the origins of assertions,” said Gonick. “There will be a very important intersection of the technologies that we're working on here to support not only the verifiable credentialing ecosystem, but, in the technology itself. That's central, not only to general business cases that we're up against, but fundamentally it’s the biggest challenge of the next 25 years.”

Always put the student and learner at the center.

“We are focused on designing an ecosystem for learners at the center,” shared Giovacchini. “Imagine the enormous potential that we will have if we can unlock digital credentials, put them in the hands of learners, and then allow them to utilize generative AI models to build their own models to understand and compare their data." Giovacchini treated attendees to a sneak peek at the alpha version of the TLN, showcasing its ability to bundle credentials, services offered and more.

Workshops encourage a shared language to advance the ecosystem 

The importance of shared vocabulary and understanding how stories impact the digital credential experiences we create were key topics in the Unconference workshops. Here are some key takeaways from these conversations:

Learning and Employment Records (LERs) are a way in which communities can have a shared language for their stories.

“Discover the language that works best for you and empowers you to feel like you have the words and tools that you need,” said Dr. Kerri Lemoie, workshop facilitator and Director of Technology for MIT’s Digital Credentials Consortium. During the workshop, Dr. Lemoie and her co-facilitator Gillan Walsh defined what LERs are, invited participants to explore scenarios in which earners can use verifiable credentials to achieve their goals, and offered resources to move this conversation of shared language forward.

Learners are collectors and they need a place to put their experiences and their stories.

“As a human being, you're collecting throughout your life: your experiences, your work, your skills. It’s how we learn,” said Dr. Kelly Page, workshop facilitator. In the workshop, co-facilitated with Meena Naik, attendees explored how their personal stories influence how they co-design in the digital credentials space. By taking time to explore their education and learning stories through words and drawings, participants could see that no two pathways are the same. Co-designers in this space need to consider how their personal stories impact the digital credentials they create, and ensure that there is a way for all to collect their unique experiences.

ASU student panel finds their unique and shared stories 

Unconference attendees had the opportunity to engage with ASU students as they shared their diverse educational journeys and their perspectives on how to design credentials for learners and earners, now and for years to come.

Aishwary “Ash” Sharma, majoring in computer science at Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, shared that he felt you didn’t need a degree if you’re good at coding and know how to do it. “The most important part is the personal projects that you have done,” said Sharma. “Just having a degree is not going to get you an interview.” Learners need ways to best showcase the work that they do to be able to communicate it for future employment and education opportunities.

Sigrid Benitez, who is earning her Master of Counseling at the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, explained that it’s also valuable for employers to help workers articulate the skills they are gaining. Benitez works for ASU’s Enterprise Technology and mentioned that her boss offers her opportunities to gain new skills. “I know, at the end of my [student worker employment], she’ll help me market what I’ve gained.”

And Sharikha Sandhanampoosi, who is pursuing a Master’s of Information Systems Management at W.P. Carey School of Business, flipped the conversation from answering questions to offering advice. “As we keep looking ahead, continue to check with problems we’re actually having as students,” said Sandhanampoosi. Making sure all voices were heard and represented were major themes from the event’s conversation.  

Charting the future, together

Participants spent the afternoon diving into timely topics in the digital credentials ecosystem using Open Space technology to foster conversation and community, a core component to the TLN. Some of the many conversation starters that attendees elected to convene around included: governance, employer adoption, learner data consent, data interoperability, equity and digital literacy and more.

This is the fourth convening of the TLN Unconference since 2020. To learn more about the TLN and become a member of the community, visit

Story is authored by Stephanie King. Photos by Mike Sanchez.