The world of work is rapidly changing. In response, micro-credentials are emerging as one of the most important trends in digital learning. In this post, we take you through the basics of how you can make use of micro-credentials to support ongoing learning within your organisation.
What are micro-credentials?
Micro-credentials are short-courses that provide certified evidence of an individual’s skills and experience within a particular subject area. More than just a digital badge, these courses are a practical way to deliver ongoing education for individuals and organisations. Microcredentials may or may not align to a particular qualification.
Both organisations and educational institutions are looking to create a culture of life-learning, where individuals are encouraged to further their education to meet the emerging challenges of the organisation and the changing economy. Delivered online, blended and face-to-face, micro-credentials usually deal with a very specific topic, often relating to work performance. This allows individuals to engage only in relevant learning for them, while also allowing educators to stack together multiple courses to form a deeper understanding of a single topic.
How are micro-credentials different from traditional education?
The world of education is changing. In the past, many people would attend university after school, achieving either an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. As they were studying, they would often only work part-time, usually in casual roles unrelated to their career goals. After graduating, these individuals would get “serious” jobs and infrequently engage in further education.
However, this is no longer the case. While some people continue to undertake undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, more individuals are also unwilling to commit the time and effort required for traditional postgraduate education. In addition, this traditional method of merely completing education one time is no longer enough. Instead, people need to prove ongoing commitment to learning, maintaining their skills even as they continue to work.
Also, organisations are looking for different kinds of skills than previously. They need people to have a wide range of capabilities and their people to pick up new capabilities quickly to meet emerging challenges in their organisation. For this reason, micro-credentials can be more relevant than traditional post-graduate study.
Compared to post-graduate study, micro-credentials allow learners to dip in and out of education to quickly pick up a broad range of capability. They also allow for tighter integration between work and learning, and a closer relationship between education and industry. The practical and industry-focused approach to micro-credentials means they do not need to be formally accredited. Instead, they get their credibility from their alignment to need, speed to market, quality of the learning experience.
It’s important to note that accreditation becomes more important if the micro-credentials are formally stacked to higher degrees. However, to many learners, the relevance of the experience and the micro-credential issuer’s brand is much more important. As a flexible solution, micro-credentials allow educators and industry to work together to create learning that focuses on transferable skills. They can be quickly created to meet changing needs and exist alongside employment.
What’s the difference between badges and micro-credentials?
There is a common misconception that micro-credentials are little more than badges, but this is far from the truth.
As learning designers have started to focus on engagement, there has been a movement towards the gamification of eLearning and awarding badges for learners for completing elements of courses and recognition of progress through a learning pathway. However, these badges are often internal and untransferable between companies. This means that while they are nice to have, they do very little to improve employee capabilities and would become irrelevant if an individual left their current role.
The badges awarded as part of micro-credentials are different. Instead of merely being an engagement tool, these badges reward a verified transferable capability that has been studied. Through organisations like Credly, potential employers can verify the completion while individuals can use a series of badges as an online resume to advertise their skills.
It is also important to note that a micro-credential’s credibility depends on their perceived market value. An awarded badge in this scenario relies not just on the transferable skills and topic that has been studied, but equally on the institution that has awarded it.
Still confused? Consider this example. A fast food restaurant offers badges on a leaderboard as part of their training, rewarding individuals for progressing through some online modules specific to their location. This is only gamifying a training path. A fast food restaurant enrols employees into a two week work-integrated program titled “Health & Safety in Hospitality” in partnership with a reputable education provider. This is a micro-credential. While the first helps an employee perform better at their job, it would not unnecessarily help them get a job at another fast food restaurant. In contrast, the micro-credential offers verifiable proof that this individual understands food safety regulations, and it may aid them in gaining a promotion or getting another job.
- Emerged as part of the trend towards gamification
- Generally used during internal training
- Designed to increase engagement
- Can offer a sense of accomplishment
- Developed in response to changing industry & education needs
- Focused on transferable skills
- Credibility is given from the learning itself as well as the institution who awarded it
- Allows individuals to advertise their skills
What are the benefits of micro-credentials?
Benefits to Education Institutions
Educational institutions are searching for new ways to engage industry. Micro-credentials are a logical way for this to happen, particularly if they are designed to be integrated with work. Institutions can create general courses to sell, but they can also offer additional contextualisation to particular organisations. This can help programs to become financially sustainable and encourages further engagement with industry.
Finally, by encouraging a culture of learning in corporate organisations, educational institutions can have a new avenue to reach individuals who may want to engage in ongoing education, even if it is separate from their company.
Benefits to Industry
In a knowledge economy, an organisation’s people are their greatest asset. The Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum recently found that by 2025, 50% of employees will need training to address a change in required skills. For organisations, this requires a large shift in how they develop staff, often into what could be considered nontraditional areas.
The speed and flexibility of micro-credentials can help to address this need. Programs can be implemented quickly and they don’t always need to align to existing training packages. Instead, their value and credibility come from the issuer and the quality of the learning involved. This opens up opportunities for new courses to be created quickly, responding to unique needs without the need for bureaucracy.
Benefits to Individuals
For individuals, micro-credentials are a great way to improve your employability. Firstly, they allow you to quickly and cost effectively upskill, sometimes even in topical or niche areas that may not be serviced by a full degree. This guarantees that your skills are up to date, without the need to commit to months or even years of courses. They also demonstrate an interest in ongoing education, something that many employers are interested in as they promote their own culture of learning. They also allow you to engage in a broader range of capability areas from different providers than traditional postgraduate study pathways allow.
Suppose micro-credentials are completed as part of an existing job. In that case, they still allow you to upskill in areas that matter and organisations are increasingly using these as a path to future promotions. Similarly, they will require a lower time commitment, making it easier to complete alongside your role. They can also be transported from job to job, forming a virtual resume.
What are the uses for micro-credentials?
Micro-credentials are well suited to deliver a full range of corporate training, from technical skills that need to be consistently updated to soft skills that employees are increasingly focusing on. Their short time frame and flexible delivery methods are also perfectly suited for individuals, allowing them to drop in and out of studying as their personal situations require.
For organisations and educational institutions looking to accelerate their learning programs, micro-credentials can be an invaluable resource. By focusing on work-integrated micro-credentials, organisations can upskill their existing employees, find new hires and ensure their workforce can meet business needs.
How can I implement micro-credentials?
If you are considering creating micro-credentials, these are the key factors to consider.
Firstly, consider the needs of industry and the expertise available in your organisation. The profitability of your course is dependent on the number of students who are likely to enrol, so take into account whether the topic is of interest to a variety of industries and individuals.
Secondly, consider the existing content that you have. Elements of traditional courses may be broken up to fit the shorter work-integrated micro-credentials structure and allow you to speed up your development process and have a real and immediate impact.
Finally, you will need to implement a go-to-market strategy. While successful micro-credentials can fuel themselves as participants promote them, it is wise to seek out industry partners to kickstart this process. As part of this, consider the technology you need to make this happen. At a minimum, you will need to evaluate your learning technology to ensure it has the capability to create an effective work-integrated learning experience.