Creating an Industry-Aligned Micro-Credentials Framework
Like the rest of the world, Australia is not immune to the economic, social and technological forces shifting and shaping the need for transformation in post-secondary education. The focus is on building an agile and adaptable workforce with flexible options for skill acquisition. Australia has a national system of qualifications, encompassing higher education, vocational education and training (VET), and school-based education, underpinned by the Australian Qualifications Framework.
In this session, recorded at the 2021 IMS Global Digital Credentials Summit, the presenters discuss the development of a robust, industry-aligned and scalable micro-credentials framework for the Queensland State Technical and Further Education System (TAFE QLD).
The framework was informed by research from the Foundation for Young Australians and aligned to both the Australian Government Core Skills Framework and the recommendations from the recent Review of the Australian Qualifications Framework Final Report 2019.
TAFE QLD recognised early that micro-credentials are emerging as potential solutions to the rapid upskilling that is required for the new world of work and their micro-credentials framework seeks to respond in real time to fill skills gaps and elevate the importance of transferable enterprise skills. For learner’s, micro-credentials offer the flexibility to upskill or re-skill as a top-up of an existing qualification, foster a lifelong learning mindset and act as a clear pathway to a formal qualification.
In building the micro-credentials framework, TAFE QLD acknowledged the need for a structured data approach that adheres to IMS Global specifications and partnered with Edalex, via their Credentialate platform, to enable the issuing and management of Digital Badges with personal learner achievement records at scale.
About the Presenters
Joann Pyne - Chief Academic Officer, TAFE Queensland
TAFE Queensland is the largest, most experienced training provider in the state, with more than 500 nationally-recognised qualifications to choose from across 50 locations and training over 120,000 students annually through a variety of study modes.
As the Chief Academic Officer, Joann leads the academic governance processes of TAFE Queensland and chairs the TAFE Queensland Academic Board.
Dan McFadyen - Managing Director, Edalex
Across the past 20 years, 3 passions have driven Dan: shaping collaborative teams, evolving services businesses, and enabling innovation in education.
These passions fuelled varied roles from start-ups to multinationals Blackboard and Pearson. These passions have combined at Edalex, bringing together the team behind the CODiE award-winning openEQUELLA digital repository as well as Credentialate – a Credential Evidence Platform that increases the power and meaning of digital badges and the ability to analyse performance against learning outcomes like never before.
(This transcript has been lightly edited for readability)
IMS Global (IMS) – Well hello everyone and welcome to ‘An Australian Perspective: Creating an Industry-Aligned Micro-Credentials Framework’. Our speakers today are Joann Pyne from TAFE Queensland and Dan McFadyen from Edalex.
Before we begin, I just wanted to remind everyone that at the end of our presentation, we’re going to keep the line open for a discussion and Q&A with the Credentialate by Edalex team. Edalex is one of our sponsors of this event so it’s time to ask questions and engage with the sponsors. So with that I’d like to turn everything over to Joann.
Joann Pyne (JP) – Hi, thank you Cara, and welcome everybody. Good evening to you and it’s morning for Dan and I in Australia.
I’ll just tell you a little bit about myself and the organisation where I work. I’m the Chief Academic Officer for TAFE Queensland. TAFE Queensland has roughly 100,000 students and about 50 campuses. In 2014 all of the individual institutes across the state of Queensland combined into one organisation and that’s made a very big difference to the way we operate. We’ve got about 4,000 staff and what we’ve been able to do is centralise all of our academic systems and procedures, but also all of our programs all of our courses. So now the product is developed centrally and streamed out to the different campuses.
When people started investing in micro-credentials, it allowed us to have a really good look at how we wanted to introduce this across a fairly significant part of Australia. I guess our journey started when the Australian Government reviewed its qualification framework in 2020 and prior to that in the lead up and the consultations in 2019, we started to see a lot of different organisations offering micro-credentials.
For TAFE Queensland, it was an interesting situation, because the TAFE framework across the country, or the vocational framework across Australia, is very much based on National Qualifications. Our qualifications are accredited nationally, rather than by individual institutions and within each qualification, all of the units are also accredited independently. So for us, we were already able to digitise a lot of our delivery and had at our disposal a huge range of accredited qualifications.
I think TAFE Queensland for example, offers about 600 different courses and within those programs there are all sorts of programs and competencies within those. So when the review of the Qualifications Framework commenced, we started talking about micro-credentials very much from the perspective of universities. For universities, this meant they could look at taking some of their bachelor programs and breaking them down into smaller components, so we had to really think long and hard at TAFE Queensland about what we were going to do.
And in fact, this is still a very active conversation amongst vocational providers in Australia at the moment. I think TAFE Queensland’s probably taken a more formal approach than any of the other TAFE institutes across the country.
Within the recommendations made in the AQF Review, one of them was to accept a definition of a micro-credential. One of our acedemics in Australia,
somebody very well versed in micro-credentials, Dr. Beverley Oliver, recommended that a micro-credential be credit bearing, that they have assessment aligned to a formal qualification level, that the learning outcome leads to an offer of credit and that credit of micro-credentials mirror and contribute to the academic standards required in the target qualification.
Now for us, this means we had to be quite thoughtful about the way we would issue these. Universities took a particular approach, but for vocational education, what we looked at is three opportunities where we believe that micro-credentials could provide real value for our students and our employer groups.
One of the drawbacks of having national training packages that credentials centrally, are the challenges in keeping them up-to-date and current. One of the criticisms that we have of our system is that it’s a bit slow. So, we’re now seeing all sorts of new technology that’s not covered in existing training packages. For TAFE Queensland, we said look, this is a real opportunity for us to start delivering the qualification, that has some respect within the framework and could pick up some of those skills that are missing.
For example, we’re currently doing a fairly major project with one of the largest mining companies in Australia who are using technology to run automated vehicles. Rather than flying a whole lot of drivers into remote mine sites and supporting them there, all of the vehicles are run from Brisbane, our capital city, remotely. Now there’s none of that technology covered in our existing training packages because it is so new. So we’ve worked with them to develop a System Certificate II in Autonomous Vehicles and as part of that, some of the technology that we know is changing really rapidly, we’ve written that as a micro-credential because that allows us more flexibility when things change.
Some of the underpinning skills and knowledge that we know won’t change a lot, we’re having accredited as a national training package. So that’s an example of technology not covered by existing training packages – and there’s other things, like, as you’ll be aware, drones are becoming increasingly commonly used by all sorts of industries agriculture and real estate, etc.
In Australia, drone maintenance has got some specific – the management of drones has got some specific legislation – so we’re just in the process of releasing a micro-credential that supports businesses in maintaining that technology. So we’re really seeing lots of opportunity to develop micro-credentials from that first dot point.
The second one – some really specific digital skills. Some of the work that we’re doing in TAFE Queensland at the moment is just preparing some very basic generalised training around, big data, what is the Internet of Things, what are the implications of this industry 4.0. What’s going to be the impact of all these massive transformations? But we’re also looking at specific programs around blockchain and big data is another area where we’re doing some skills in cyber security. So we’re using micro-credentials for those programs as well.
Now the last one, are enterprise skills. We have been doing a lot of research with different organisations to look at, you know, what skills in industry are employers looking for in the future. As the world of work is changing so rapidly, what do we need to be aware of when we’re developing our training, what skills do we need to ensure our graduates are getting?
When we do that research, employers are telling us that some of the non-technical skills, they’re really finding difficult to find. So that’s things like people’s ability to work in a team, communication skills, ability to problem solve. And what we see coming up time and time again is resilience. People’s resilience to be able to cope with setbacks in the workplace.
So, this is an area where we’re also looking at doing some work. Our first foray into this area, we’re working with an organisation in Australia called the Foundation for Young Australians, which is probably the organisation doing the most cutting-edge research into the skills required by young people in the world of work. We’re working with them and the aged care industry and community services industries, to really hone in on the enterprise skills that those organisations want.
So, I guess that’s a bit of an overview of the sorts of organised, sorts of micro-credentials that we’re really looking at.
We then decided, well micro-credentials that are offered by TAFE Queensland, our market positioning is around quality. We’re the largest provider in the state. We’re also regarded as leading discussions around quality and compliance and connection with the industry really.
What we said is, we have to be really thoughtful about the way we deliver micro-credentials. We’ve got 2,000 teachers in our organisation and 1,943 of them wanted to start offering micro-credentials straight away. So we really wanted to make sure that we put in place a process and some guidelines, so we made sure that our reputation for quality wasn’t impacted by a whole range of willy-nilly credentials being offered.
So we made some decisions, in TAFE Queensland, micro-credentials would be non-accredited. As I said, we have, we have an enormous stock of accredited qualifications. Until the Australian Qualifications Framework is implemented, we’ll continue down that track.
There’ll be a range of delivery modes – it won’t just be online. They’ll be face-to-face, and a mixture of those two. And the program I talked about with drone maintenance is a good example of that. There’s a range of hands-on skills, so there’ll be some online delivery and some face-to-face delivery. It’d cover both skills and attributes, because those enterprise skills are really critical to providing graduates who’ve got the skills that are required by the workforce of the future.
And that we’d use Credentialate and Badgr as a way of issuing our qualifications. So that’s when we started working with Dan at Edalex. They were already our partner in managing all of our resources across such a wide geographical area and we knew and trusted the way that they would work with us and what they brought to the table was really important for us.
So, the structure we proposed is that we would offer a range of micro-credentials, there would be some that were quite short-program, self-paced and would not be accredited or aligned to specific qualifications. In many cases the short ones that are less than three hours would be non-accredited, non-assessed.
We’d also then move into some foundation type programs, so advanced, beginner type activity. There may be some assessment there or there would be some assessment there and they would be at least 10 hours of learning. As we’re progressing, this level is the one where we’re probably seeing the least product developed. We’re seeing a lot of the essential, and then really moving into that skilled, advanced and expert qualifications.
In Australia we have a range of qualifications that go from a Certificate I through to a PhD. So for the delivery we’re making, for the skilled area, they’re set at the Cert II to III, advanced, the III to IV and at the expert the Cert IV to Advanced Diploma. So Advanced Diploma’s really sitting at your first year of a university qualification.
You can see there, for each of them we’ve identified the hours of learning that’re involved, the outcomes, and the accreditation. So when an employer or a student looks at a micro-credential from TAFE Queensland and they see what level it’s based, they know where it sits in the qualification framework and what level of skills are required in that delivery. You’ll see there the broad CSFW – perhaps an acronym not familiar to you in Australia – all of our qualifications are built around the ‘Core Skills Framework’ and it’s really those skills for life and work. And we’ve matched all of our micro-credentials to that Core Skills Framework as well.
This is an example of some of the badges that we’re offering at the moment, that some of the offerings that are on our website at the moment – you can see we’ve got some of those initial big, programs for novices around digital literacy essential, cyber security essentials, and we’re really seeing industry use a lot of these qualifications just upskill with their staff in the organisation to understand what’s happening in the future. So they’re not going to give people very in-depth skills at a high level, but they are going to familiarise people with the issues they need to be aware of.
The new unit framework that was developed specifically for micro-credentials – when, what we’ve done (because a lot of them are online), we created a unit orientation video to explain course navigation and also how Credentialate works and how that they can access their badges.
We’ve utilised Brightspace, tools such as conditional released automatically trigger the issuing of the qualifications and a badge on satisfication of all of those predefined criteria that we’ve identified. All micro-credentials have a unit in our Brightspace LMS for the purpose of issuing badges and certificates. Even if the course is delivered face-to-face, the teacher manages the course in Brightspace so they will manually make those badges available.
This is a certificate and badge issued by Brightspace, using the LMS achievements tool and you’ll see there the information below the credits are zero because this is a program for novices. The achievements are hidden until they’re earned, so that they won’t see that. In this particular program, the course is broken up into Part A and Part B, so once the student’s done Part A, they’re entitled to this certificate. If they then want to go back and do Part B and undertake the assessment, that’s when they’ll be able to access the badge. Micro-credential badges are locked in the LMS and in Credentialate and that’s what a student will see when they are successful. So they’ll be able to share and connect that program and then be able to issue that qualification as well.
As we said before, they’re awarded for Badgr Pro and Credentialate. That’s the system we use to offer them. Dan will be able to take you through the technical details a lot more effectively than I am. Credentialate integrates with Brightspace as I said – it’ll issue the statement of the student achievement against the performance levels defined for the course.
Now we’ve adopted a competency based model for the performance levels so students will either be successful or not successful and that’s largely the context we operate in in vocational education. For each micro-credential with we’ve built a rubric which contains a list of all of the knowledge and skills a student will be assessed against, and for each of those they’ll receive a grade of either successful or not yet successful, and that’s an example of one from, I think this is actually from the automotive vehicle course that we talked about before, and they’re all of the criteria and the skill levels that students will meet and there’ll be one point for each successful element that’s achieved.
And at the end of the day, the student receives a badge – Work in an Automated Workplace – they’ll be able to verify that qualification and have a look at the learning criteria underneath. This student will then be able to share this with any potential employers on LinkedIn, as you know, or any, opportunity they need to prove what skills that they’ve developed and there’s an opportunity to view the evidence there.
And just an example there, of the information that the student has and that’s an example just really of some of the micro-credentials that we’re offering at the moment through this system. And I think Dan I’ve gone one minute over my allocation…
Dan McFadyen (DM) – That’s perfect Jo, thank you.
IMS – Um, Joann before we turn over, there was a question that I thought maybe you could add to – Will the national framework in Australia include the types of non-technical and enterprise skills that employers are looking for – is that in the Core Skills Framework? Could you speak a little bit about that?
JP – Yes, look, see the Core Skills Framework was presented to government at the end of last year, about August of last year and within that, the recommendation was that that definition I showed you, be adopted within that framework and that there be a point system allocated that equates to hours of learning.
We’re waiting now, to see how the government will move on that recommendation. I guess we’re fairly confident that that is a direction that they will follow. Most organisations who are delivering micro-credentials in the vocational area and – well, more so than higher-ed really – have adopted that framework and are working towards those recommendations. But yes, we are waiting with bated breath for the government’s response to that, but micro-credentials will then form part of the qual- the National Australian Qualifications Framework.
DM – Right. Well, thank you Joann and let me say what a pleasure it’s been working with you and your team and the amazing progress that you’ve made in a very short period of time.
I remember from this conference, just about a year ago, that someone described rolling out, designing and rolling out a micro-credential program at an institution, using the metaphor of building the jet as you’re flying – it just wasn’t, just didn’t convey that immediacy, and so that person instead said, “We’re actually sewing the parachute and falling.” So, hopefully TAFE Queensland did not quite feel that way, but to continue that metaphor I think it’s fantastic the way you stitched together your local Australian best-practices as well as looking globally and very importantly, incorporating both the Queensland state requirements and the Australian context and then ultimately sharing it back with this community, so that’s fantastic Jo.
To breifly contextualise around Credentialate, our platform really centers on one key challenge and with the question and the thought of: “All learners are not created the same, so why are their credentials?”
What you see here are two micro-credentials, two badges, one for a platinum teamwork badge and one for gold. The information you see on the badge is actually all about the badge, so it’s not about the learner – it’s not personalised. And that’s where Credentialate comes in.
We believe that we’re adding meaning to micro-credentials, by providing personalised quantitative and qualitative feedback on how each learner has been assessed, who has demonstrated mastery and earned that micro-credential.
So, in the examples you can see here, Samantha is fantastic at negotiation and responding to conflict and she’s earned a platinum badge. In the case of Lucy – still a very strong performer. She earned a gold badge, but her strengths are actually not in those same areas there. In her case it’s actually fostering a collaborative team environment.
With Credentialate, we surface this information out of learning management systems and assessment platforms, to help give the learners their unique voice, to be able to share that with prospective employers, educational institutions and anyone who’s, who’s interested in their skills.
So, where did we get started? Well, Credentialate was informed by a multi-year research project out of the University of New South Wales in Sydney. They were looking to surface graduate attributes from their students and they really looked at professional skills, soft skills or what they call signature skills. They started with the AAC&U VALUE rubrics for these essential skills and extended those, and really used those as the foundation. We started from that basis and have have since expanded and extrapolated.
As we looked around in the space, we couldn’t find any other platforms that did quite what we do. So we decided to name the space the Credential Evidence Platform as we thought that captures the essence of what we do.
Let me briefly explain what we do and how we do it. So, we extract learner performance data out of leading learning management systems, we can also harvest them from assessment platforms – really wherever learner data resides, we can extract that out.
We then run that through a series of tools and models to ascertain who has demonstrated mastery or competency in a particular skill or competence.
We can then integrate with leading badge providers to issue those micro-credentials, with that Credentialate evidence page embedded inside of that micro-credential. So, that evidence page, still carries with that mico-credential. We’ve also integrated with the MC skills database, an open database of 30,000 workplace relevant skills. So that these competencies can also be directly linked to that skills database.
And with all this information that we have around competencies skills, learner performance, we have the ability to surface great insights for the institution, as well as for the learner and I’ll talk about that briefly.
So to contextualise, down to the TAFE Queensland environment, Credentialate has been integrated with their student information platform, Technology One, and that uses our API’s to trigger automated events, such as harvesting data, issuing badges, and we then pull the rubric data, as well as learning performance data out of their LMS, out of Brightspace and then we’re also integrated with Badgr Pro as Jo mentioned and so, we then programmatically issue those badges, through Badgr Pro – again, attaching that personalised quantitative and qualitative evidence page to that micro-credential.
And with our newest release of Credentialate, we have the ability to link those competencies to that MC skills open database, for – ultimately for reporting against workplace relevant skills and who has earned them.
So, in addition to providing that great value to the learner, we also surface insights for the institutions themselves and key values not only around scale – both from a centralised and decentralised perspective – but also very importantly, not just looking at who has earned a badge but what about those those learners who haven’t earned a badge? Why not? What’s holding them back? I mean that’s really critical information if you want it to support your entire cohort of learners.
So we have everything from that macro-level data down to individual cohorts of courses, classes of students and looking at how they performed and then ultimately all the way down to the atomic level of individual elements within a particular competency, to be able able to investigate variations and understand, explore the root cause of why there may be variations: Is it the curriculum? Is it the delivery mode? Or are there other factors at work?
So thank you very much, we do have time for a Q&A and I will wrap up there. Thank you, and thank you Jo.