How Micro-Credentials Recognise 21st Century Skills and Boost Employability

Technology continues to transform the workplace and the way we learn. We now know that there is an increased demand for individual professional learning coupled with employers’ needs for tools to personalise learning and make it meet broader goals. This trend has driven growth in competency-based learning and skill-based credentials that in turn appear to have contributed to the rise of digital micro-credentials.Learners are more motivated to seek learning that is perceived as practical, performance-based and can provide professional advancement opportunities. This newer emphasis on “21st-century skills” has turned micro-credentials into a major force for upskilling in the workplace but why have they made such an impact on the labour market?

Micro-credentialing allows employers to more reliably verify the skills that their employees demonstrate. This satisfies the needs of the new world of work by offering personalised and distinctive value that can be verified with a digital certificate or digital badge.

They’re becoming increasingly ubiquitous in one form or another. You’ve likely seen them as digital badges, achievements or certifications displayed on a variety of online professional profiles. But do they actually matter in real life? In today’s highly-competitive job market, how exactly can this type of credentialing be used to help more learners become earners?

Micro-credentials strengthen the learner’s occupational currency

Micro-credentials gain distinctive value because they can be personalised and linked to very particular competencies. While recent research into educational credentials has shown that college and university degrees are still valued and demanded in the job market, more organisations have moved towards skill-based hiring. How desirable would it be then, to acquire reliable proof of those skills?

The answer may lie in wide-ranging fields that continue to change with the times, along with the skill sets and technologies that young professionals use. There are jobs today that didn’t exist in decades past. Yesterday’s car mechanic is today’s hybrid vehicle mobile service technician. Marketing majors have specialised as search engine optimisation experts. Even the friendly barista who made your morning latte needs to know point-of-sale technology and inventory management.

Employers certainly know better than anyone what specific skills they desire in their job candidates. Is it any surprise then that personalised proof of these skills has become occupational currency in the 21st century job market?

Research has made it plain that more job hunters highly desire to augment their degrees with skills evidence and that potential employers are paying attention. Within this context, providing meaningful evidence of achievement strengthens a candidate’s “currency” and affords them more options in the job market.

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Assess the learner’s existing competencies

As learners transition to earners, existing competencies are naturally scrutinised for proper job fit. However, evaluating full courses or “macro” credentials can become difficult because they may not always show potential employers a clear representation of the learner’s present professional profile.

This can be a problem rooted in perception but often it is also a problem of lack of evidence. Without surfacing granular achievement on skills, it can be difficult to assess a learner’s existing competencies. In that context, wouldn’t it make sense to bolster the evidence of a learner’s existing competencies?

Methods of validating new skills are immediately useful to job-ready graduates and the employers looking to meet them but these can also be used to validate prior knowledge and skills that, when applicable to the role being sought, effectively add value to the learner’s skill set.

Furthermore, the ability to validate existing competencies also adds value for learners that may need to learn additional skills in more specialised roles. By getting accurate assessments of them, educators weed out redundancies in the learning path.

This may result in a quicker conversion to the earner role when, for example, learners at an intermediate skill level need not go through training designed to start at the beginner level. In the same vein, assessing existing competencies can more readily identify gaps to be filled and learning opportunities for re-skilling.

After learners have identified skill gaps that need to be filled, they can adopt the appropriate micro-credentialed paths to pursue. As a learning model, micro-credentialing presents itself as competency-based and learner-driven. Learners can choose and pursue the micro-credentials that match their professional goals and they can work through them, asynchronously if desired, in ways that complement their learning style.

The key is to find the micro-credential path that’s most appropriate to the learner’s goal. The learner then completes that micro-credential by submitting evidence to demonstrate their mastery of a specific skill, which will be checked and validated by an assessor.

There are several aspects about micro-credentialing that can work to the learner’s advantage. It allows for learning in a flexible and collaborative context as learners get to interact and receive feedback from coaches, mentors, performance assessors, and even colleagues.

Because it aims to increase credential validity through granular achievement, micro-credentialing presents an effective way for legitimately measuring mastery of skills in contrast to the amount of time spent on working to gain mastery. Micro-credentialing also enhances information retention for learners since learning will be broken down into manageable portions and modules.

Aggregate and visualise the learner’s performance data

Learners need to produce a distinct and solid picture that adequately captures their professional profile that stands out and aligns with the needs of the 21st century job market. A reliable way to achieve that is to aggregate and visualise their performance data.

Performance data contains proof that the learner has met the criteria required to earn a specific micro-credential. It needs to be data-driven and it needs to show detailed insights into knowledge, skills and competencies that are objectively verifiable.

It must also be backed by research showing how those specific sets of skills and competencies respond to modern industry requirements, which helps future employers gain clarity on the learner’s fitness for targeted jobs.

Enable learners to display and share their achievements

Digital badges are visual markers that learners obtain upon completion of their micro-credentials. These are a simple, elegant and intuitive way to help potential employers understand how well a candidate fits their needs.

The metadata in digital badges contain details about organisation that issued the badge, the competencies earned, and the evidence that validates mastery of these competencies.

Learners can attach and share these digital badges on their social media accounts, on their blogs, on their e-portfolios, and even on their resumes. Increased visibility combined with specific, relevant credential information increases learners’ chances of matching with the right job and employer.

Final thoughts

Micro-credentialing can assess, visualise and highlight learners’ skills, matching them as closely as possible to target jobs using specific, personalised skills evidence surfaced from already-existing performance data. It provides a customised, learner-driven pathway to targeted learning that augments macro-credentials and increases the value of learner as job candidate. Learners use it to share their achievements and advertise their fitness for certain job roles, thus enabling future employers to gain a holistic view of the learner and make better hiring, training and promotion decisions.

Micro-credentials are emerging as a vital part of the effort to transition learners to earners. How can your school adapt micro-credentialing for your students and faculty? What will be your institution’s lasting legacy to the 21st-century job market? Share your thoughts and comments below.

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Credentialate assesses, monitors, promotes and validates learners’ attainment of evidence-backed skills, supporting the transition from learner to earner. It is a secure, configurable platform that assesses and tracks attainment of competencies and issues micro-credentials in a digital badge to students.

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