Weaving the Future of Micro-Credentials – Addressing the Wicked Problems

Throughout this series, the same questions have come up again and again. We aren’t going to pretend to have all the answers. And in outlining these ‘wicked problems’, we’re not saying that there is no work currently being done to address them: there is. In this final piece, we seek to highlight not only how far we’ve come… but the distance we have yet to go.

Institutions, governments, and private organisations around the world are constantly working to address the concerns of learners, educators, and employers alike. Ultimately, when it comes to bite-sized learning, micro-credentialing and the future of education and work, we must address these challenges together in order to design a strong future. Let’s have a look at what still needs to be addressed.

A Common Language, Aligned to Employability

Are we talking the same language? Well, clearly we are not. The debate continues on the very definition of what a micro-credential is. General acceptance is the definition put forward by Emeritus Professor Beverley Oliver in this 2019 report. Debates are held over the term we use – skills, competencies, capabilities or…? If we choose skills – is there a common language to act as a currency across all stakeholders in the labour market? Not yet I would venture.

The creation of the Open Skills Network in the US by a coalition of employers, education providers and others is an attempt to establish Rich Skills Descriptors (RSDs) as the standard syntax for structured skills data and to also develop the shared technology tools to accelerate adoption. Similarly, work is also well underway in Europe with a number of key projects building on the outputs from the Bologna Process, for example the Microbol project and the activities of the European Consortium of Innovative Universities.

This same level of confusion abounds in the credential marketplace. How do we bring transparency and efficacy to the millions of credentials issued globally? Credential Engine is working on the Credential Transparency Description Language (CTDL) in an effort to bring a common language to the credential marketplace and allow for comparison and differentiation.

The currency for the future of work is data. In untangling skills descriptors and creating a common language, the groundwork is then set to allow for meaningful career pathways, agile skill transferability and the use of data to inform the decisions and processes adopted by institutions.

Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing will all play a role in how we navigate the labour market now and into the future. The success of this technology will rely on the existence of a unified skills language and structured data.

Establishing definitions and establishing classifications is still a work in progress.

Frameworks and Pathways That Align to Existing Qualifications

You’ll recall that earlier in this series, we talked about frameworks: institutional frameworks, government frameworks, and private frameworks.

Whilst there is recognition around the necessity of frameworks, there is also recognition that in a rapidly changing world, they place constraints on an educational market to innovate and remain competitive, particularly at a national level.

As we’ve highlighted, work is being done to identify pathways into existing frameworks around the world.

The Noonan review of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) put forward numerous recommendations that are still under consideration. Many of the recommendations were to make the framework more robust and fit for purpose – including the acceptance of micro-credentials.

In New Zealand they have gone one step further and formally included micro-credentials into their New Zealand Qualifications Framework.

There is substantial work being done in Europe. The latest Microbol report states that “in the majority of countries there is no reference to micro-credentials in the National Qualifications Framework”. They go on to state “ Nonetheless, most of the countries do have micro-credentials expressed in ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System), either in some cases or always” (For those interested in this area, there is an organisation that tracks movements in global qualifications frameworks – enjoy!)

If we move outside of the formal qualifications frameworks and delve into the practical tools being utilised, there are a myriad of skills and competency frameworks that are looking to standardise the myriad of skills and competencies that may or may not factor into the workforce of the future. Research done by Professor Marcus Bowles at the Institute for Working Futures shows that 70% of all future job profiles in the non-technical area, will be made up of human-centred capabilities”. Time should be spent, according to Marcus, on the areas that will have the most impact, rather than diluting effort across individual skills and competencies.

So there is much work to be done. It’s important to keep in mind that all of this is unlikely to work if it is approached with a proprietary mindset. We build on the shoulders of others and work such as that of the Learning Foundation, as stewards of the Internet of Education will hopefully play a large part in bringing the community together (more on that later).

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Assessment of Domain Specific and Transferable Skills

Even when we have identified and defined skills, and we have curricula in place that delivers them to learners, we must find a standardised framework by which those skills can be assessed.

One of the constant challenges surrounding 21st-century skills is the ability to assess their application. It’s one thing to say a learner has been exposed to certain training, it’s yet another to prove they can and do apply what they have learned. We won’t get bogged down in an academic debate. Suffice to say it’s not that simple.

While there are dozens of tests out there, everything from on-the-job assessments to working interviews are being used to determine a candidate’s fitness.

Education Design Lab works with thousands of learners and hundreds of Universities to create a system of assessment that values competencies over degrees. “Learners are in the driver’s seat,” their website declares, “getting credit and skills from many different providers, and credit for learning wherever it happens.”

This effort seeks to blur the line between learning and work and unlock skills from degrees so that they are more meaningful for both learners and employers.

Authentic Assessment of Critical Skills and Career Readiness - Video Interview Series The Council for Aid to Education (CAE) is similarly working on performance based assessments that measure these “human skills” to determine just how “ready” students are for what’s next after they complete their education. This next step in skills assessment puts students in real world scenarios to gauge their competence in situations where they might actually find themselves.

Employers can then be confident these skills have actually been understood and adopted by the learner – an important distinction from a good grade in class where the learner was exposed to learning, but their ability to use skills is unknown.

The same can be said of the Skills Builder Partnership established in the UK. The Partnership brings together more than 700 educational and employer organisations towards a common skills mission, joined by shared language, principles and outcomes.

There’s a reason why it’s difficult to assess the skills that are desirable, because so much plays into them. Assessment needs to be authentic, performance-based and must recognise that there are many factors that play into competency. They include your human ability to critically think, to be resilient or be agile, as it references your inherent human capability. How do we accurately measure this? The definitive answer to this question has yet to be determined.

Verification and Evidence in a Secure and Flexible Format

Once a learner has mastered these skills, how can they prove it? This can consist of digital badges carried in digital wallets or contained in a digital passport the learner can share with employers and others.

The European Commission is developing Europass Digital Credentials Infrastructure (EDCI) to support efficiency and security in how credentials such as qualifications and other learning achievements can be recognised across Europe, as outlined in this documentation. This system may be a guide for others going forward, and creates a united framework that allows skills to be recognised regardless of where they were obtained.

If we look to work-based credentials and the need for certification currency and risk management, companies such as Credshare might have the answer. They offer both personal and organisational accounts to manage all of our digital credentials.

There is a lot of exploration around trust, verification and immutability of records at the moment:.

  • Self Sovereign Identity Systems –  the individual (or organisation) manages the elements that make up their identity and controls access to those credentials – digitally
  • Blockchain – use of Blockchain technology to store an immutable record of credentials
  • Learner Employment Records – a learning and employment record (LER) is a digital record of learning and work that can be linked to an individual and combined with other digital records for use in pursuing educational and employment opportunities
  • Comprehensive Learner Records – The Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) is the new generation of secure and verifiable learning and employment records supporting all nature of academic and workplace recognition and achievements including courses, competencies and skills and employer-based achievements and milestone
  • A Skills Passport – a single digital repository for credentials, such as the Singapore Government’s blockchain-backed Skills Passport
  • Data Connection – via open standards

There’s a lot of work to be done in the area of verification and being able to transfer control of that data to the learner so they can use it on a practical level.

Where To From Here?

Learningeconomy.io are the current stewards of the movement toward Education 3.0 and the Internet of Education (IoE). Ideally, this system: “transfers information and value between any stakeholder in education using a variety of open data standards, since education across the world is just as diverse as the people teaching and learning.”

And indeed, this is the direction education must move toward. Decentralised, open data, standardised frameworks that are accessible and verifiable by educators, learners and employers. For education to be meaningful and to have true value, it must provide more than just a transcript and a pat on the shoulder.

We want to end this series with hope. We face some wicked problems. Fortunately, as you can see from the above, there are dedicated professionals and educators working together to meet them and take learning into the next generation. One where learners, educators, institutions, and employers will work together to weave each thread in a way that will equip the workforce of tomorrow with the skills they need to succeed in the future.

What do you think? What else do you see as a wicked problem? Where other work is being done to address these issues? We invite you to share your insights in the comments.

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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.

If you’d like to learn more about Credentialate, we invite you to Learn More or Schedule a Demo.

Untangling the Modern Credential Marketplace

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In this blog series, we seek to untangle the modern credential marketplace by examining it from multiple perspectives, including:

  • The changing nature and increasing focus on skills in employment settings
  • How required skills are identified for newly-created roles
  • How skills are aligned to employment opportunities in the new global economy
  • How education providers may meet the education needs of the future
  • How learners can distinguish themselves through modern digital credentials

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