Implementing Micro-credentials

Photo by Kevin Luarte on Unsplash

I’m personally a fan of micro-credentials and see them as a disruptive innovation set to transform our whole approach to measuring success in learning. But we’re currently in the early phase of their adoption, where there’s much to be learned and to understand about how they can be used effectively to achieve the promise of transformation potential in our assessment approaches.

Here are a couple of papers that I came across today in one of my feeds which has prompted me to think more on this.

The first is A Strategic Institutional Response to Micro-Credentials: Key Questions for Educational Leaders by Mark Brown, Rory McGreal, Mitchell Peters. Lead author, Mark Brown, is actually a Kiwi, now Director of the National Institute for Digital Learning in Dublin. This paper provides a useful and balanced perspective for leaders at an institution and system level. Mark and his co-authors note… “We have shown that educational leaders should be weighing up many different considerations, while offering a compelling strategy and business case for how their institution can benefit from micro-credentials. A serious investment in micro-credentials is not for the faint hearted and can require a long-term commitment.” 

The second is Guide to Design, Issue and Recognise Micro-Credentials from the European Training Foundation. The work of NZQA in New Zealand even gets a mention in chapter four as a case study on Transparency and portability of micro-credentials. This advice in this paper could easily be converted into a checklist to ensure micro-credential initiatives are well planned and well executed. 

I like Stephen Downes’ comment; “while micro-credentials are like ‘catnip to politicians’, the micro-credential movement is not benign, and institutions must be aware of the risks and rewards of unbundling traditional credentials.”

My thought here is that this is where we go wrong – the success of micro-credentials as a disruptor won’t lie in trying to ‘fit’ them into our existing frameworks – but to understand the ecology of value that is emerging with their use outside and apart from them.

There’s a danger with their adoption that we succumb to what some refer to as ‘horseless carriage thinking’ – based on the response to the introduction of the first motor cars, first by using the existing form of transportation (ie. a horse and carriage) as the benchmark for understanding their value in society, followed by all sorts of attempts to get this new form of transportation to conform to the patterns of use and infrastructure that were already in place. (Thus the infamous use of a red flag to control the speed of these vehicles to what was considered acceptable walking speed.)

Micro-credentials, with their ability to recognise and validate specific skills and achievements, have the potential to revolutionise the traditional assessment and qualifications frameworks – not simply conform to them. Instead of trying to fit micro-credentials into existing structures, we should be seeking to understand and embrace the emerging paradigm and understand the unique value that they bring to the table.

One of the reasons why I believe in the power of micro-credentials as a transformative disruptor is that they offer a level of granularity and flexibility that is often lacking in traditional credentials. By recognising and documenting individual skills and achievements, they provide a more comprehensive and nuanced picture of an individual’s capabilities. This allows learners to showcase their specific areas of expertise, regardless of whether they have completed a full program or degree. This granularity enables a more personalised and tailored approach to learning and assessment, empowering individuals to focus on their unique strengths and interests. Further, the awarding of such credentials isn’t bound to a particular time-frame (e.g. end of year assessments/exams) and so can be earned as the particular skill or competency is demonstrated.

Micro-credentials also open up new pathways for learning and recognition that go beyond the traditional linear progression through degrees or certifications. They provide opportunities for individuals to gain recognition for a wide range of learning experiences, including informal and non-traditional learning settings. This inclusivity allows learners from diverse backgrounds and with different learning styles to participate and demonstrate success in a range of ways. It also promotes a more inclusive and equitable education system that values and rewards a broader range of skills and achievements.

Then there are the benefits in terms of life-long learning. Formal learning used to be confined to what we did in recognised learning institutions (schools and universities for example) and was regarded as a preparation for what we then went on to do in our careers and life as adults. Our qualifications focused on the acquisition of knowledge at a specific point in time and become outdated over the course of a career. Micro-credentials, on the other hand, can be earned continuously and are adaptable to the evolving needs of industries and professions. They support a culture of ongoing learning and skill development, allowing individuals to stay relevant and competitive in their fields. The opportunity to fully realise the aspiration of life-long learning is now able to be achieved.

A ‘macro’ level argument is that micro-credentials have the potential to democratise education by providing accessible and affordable opportunities for learning and recognition. They can be earned through a range of learning platforms and providers, including online courses, workshops, and community programs – not just the traditional providers of education such as schools and tertiary organisations. This widens access to education and recognition, making it available to a larger audience, including those who may not have the resources or circumstances to pursue traditional credentials.

At least in the short to medium term will must accept that micro-credentials must coexist with traditional credentials to create a more comprehensive and inclusive education ecosystem. I don’t have a problem there – so long as we don’t conflate the two and thus lose sight of the transformational promise of micro-credentials.

One thought on “Implementing Micro-credentials

  1. It’s good to see ex-pat Mark Brown, Ireland’s First Chair in Digital Learning and colleagues take a well thought out strategic approach to the type of leadership and structures required to execute an effective institutional micro-credentials strategy.
    It’s also good to acknowledge the mention in dispatches of the work of NZ Quals in this respect.
    It would be timely and useful to get more commentary which reflects the experience and views of participating NZ employers and employees. I would imagine that the first would welcome the specificity of assessment and the relevance in terms of fast changing patterns of work and the second, time constrained as they are, the opportunity to pursue In sequence manageable learning programmes while working full-time.

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