The Evolution and Challenges of Educational Credentials: From Paper to Digital

Digital certificates, diplomas, credentials, and micro-credentials are becoming new standards. See how the market evolves.
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Traditional, paper-based diplomas have been the standard for education systems for hundreds of years. They served as evidence of academic achievement validating individuals' completion of educational programs and their mastery of specific knowledge or skills. Now, in the digital era, the limitations of such credentials have been noted and we see a shift towards the issuance of digital-first diplomas, credentials, micro-credentials, and even academic transcripts. 

In today’s blog post we will focus on:

  • advantages and limitations of paper-based diplomas
  • what are digital certificates
  • advantages and disadvantages of digital credentials

Short history of Paper-Based Educational Credentials

Academic degrees have been around for a long time, first taking the form of licenses to perform certain jobs. Diplomas in our currently known form were introduced in the 18th century. They took the form of a certificate of completion, which was considered the verification of skills.


How are paper diplomas authenticated?

The validity of traditional academic degree certificates was (and still is) ensured by the use of official paper, seals, or signatures. That means each certificate has to be printed, and then signed and stamped by authorized people. This procedure is the same currently, in institutions that issue any type of certificate, credential or important documents. 

What are the advantages of physical diplomas?

Paper-based credentials’ advantages mostly boil down to their tangible nature. 

Such certificates can serve as a physical representation of academic achievement and can be proudly displayed by individuals to showcase their qualifications. Additionally, the formal appearance of paper credentials with official seals and signatures can prove their credibility.

What are the challenges for paper-based diplomas?

Even though paper-based academic credentials are the most widely used form of certifying skills or knowledge, they come with a lot of limitations.

The most harmful disadvantage of issuing paper certificates is them being prone to forgery. According to the University World News, the global market of fake degrees has reached 22 billion dollars in 2022. Such a thing is harmful, especially when people who are holding a fake degree that enables them to do a job in a highly specialized environment, such as a hospital. That leads to the concerts about their reliability and security.

The other disadvantage is the easiness of loss or damage. Physical certificates are harder to maintain and are not so portable, so it might be harder to transport or store them.

Additionally, the physical diplomas are hard to manage and verify. The control over the credential usually ends once a certificate is issued by the university or other accredited body. Because of that, the verification process is hard and 75% of administrative workers at the universities were not able to distinguish between fake and real diplomas. Without any database of credentials, the authenticity cannot be checked so easily, which makes physical certificates more prone to forgery.

We also can argue that printing and signing academic credentials is both not environmentally friendly nor time-efficient for higher education institutions.

Nevertheless, paper-based credentials have served as a trusted symbol of academic accomplishment for generations, laying the foundation for the transition to digital credentials in the modern era.

What are digital diplomas?

Digital diplomas are electronic representations of academic degrees and certificates. They include the same information as physical diplomas, such as the name of the recipient, issuing institution, date of the issuance, and details about the skills or qualifications obtained. 

Digital credentials aim to provide a secure and reliable way to verify individuals' educational achievements and qualifications, making the process more efficient and accessible.

What are the advantages of digital diplomas?

There are several advantages that digital certificates provide, solving the challenges physical certificates face. 

Firstly, digital diplomas can be accessed from anywhere, anytime. If the individual needs to present their credential, it’s easy to do so by connecting to the internet and entering their digital waller or other storage of academic credentials.

Secondly, because digital certificates can be encrypted and signed with e-signatures, the risk of them being fraudulent is minimal, compared to paper-based diplomas.

Also, since it’s easy to store and share digital credentials, it’s also easy to instantly verify their validity. This allows employers, educational institutions, and other relevant parties to confirm the authenticity of a credential without delays.

And lastly, for academic institutions, it means more effectiveness. Moving documents such as credentials, micro-credentials, and diplomas from physical form to digital reduces costs associated with printing, shipping, storing, and time spent on signing or managing them. 

What are the disadvantages of digital diplomas?

Of course, issuing certificates digitally has a set of drawbacks that we have to be aware of.

For instance, not everyone has equal access to technology or the internet, which can create a problem in accessing digital diplomas. 

The other thing is high dependency on technology, which means that institutions rely on technical infrastructure to automate and manage the issuance of diplomas. When the system breaks, the issuance and verification of certificates can be affected. 

Lastly, there might be cybersecurity concerns in terms of hacking or data breaches. However, here’s the role of new technologies like blockchain to maximize the security, integrity, and confidentiality of the credentials.

Summary: Shift from physical to digital credentials

As digital tools develop, there’s a growing need to solve the challenges universities face with paper-based credentials. Certifying skills and knowledge using digital diplomas is seen as a step towards solving those challenges. 

Digital certificates are easier to store, manage, and verify. The efficient nature of such a solution, in terms of security, accessibility, and management, can represent a fundamental revolution in how we perceive, manage, and utilize educational credentials. This marks a new era in the way we recognize and validate learning outcomes.

If you want to learn more, read our blog posts on the future of digital credentials and blockchain.

If you are thinking about implementing digital certificates at your institution and need help navigating through that process, contact us at contact@doxychain.com.

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