Micro-credentials appear to be on everyone’s priority list - whether an educator, learner, employer or employee. But what are they precisely? Why have they suddenly become so popular and what makes them valuable? This information-rich Credentialate Guide answers all these questions and more and views the micro-credentialing boom from multiple stakeholder perspectives.
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In mid-2020, the Group of Twenty or “G20” pressed for the immediate use of AI-based skills development through industry micro-credentials. G20, an international forum for nineteen leading nations and the European Union, made this one of its key recommendations in response to the challenges of the new digital age.
The G20’s new directives might not come as a surprise. Micro-credentialing is an educational trend that has been gaining increased attention in the past half-decade. These certification-style qualifications for industry-specific skills are now sought after by many professionals. They’re also highly valuable to higher education, vocational training institutions, and major players in the technology industry.ediate use of AI-based skills development through industry micro-credentials. G20, an international forum for nineteen leading nations and the European Union, made this one of its key recommendations in response to the challenges of the new digital age.
In hindsight, it seems obvious that the demand for micro-credentials would increase quickly. Rapid developments in technology over the past decade evolved jobs just as rapidly. They forced professionals into frequent upskilling to keep up with the changes. Meanwhile, the rise of cloud-based technology and data analysis highlighted the need for more diverse skill sets. Is it any wonder then that industry-wide trends in micro-credentialing would emerge?
The global spread of the COVID-19 virus converted those trends into drastic demands for change. We won’t soon forget how it took its toll on the world’s economies, shutting down entire industries. While it drove millions into unemployment, it put future careers at risk and forced graduates into fiercer competition for jobs.
On the other hand, it also triggered exponential growth in massive open online courses or "MOOCs". These became ideal vehicles for picking up new skills with minimal investment. Some course providers have experienced as much as a 600% increase in enrolments. Micro-credentials appear to be on everyone’s career priority lists but what precisely makes them valuable?
Essentially, micro-credentials are certificates of completing small, modular learning units in contrast to the larger certification of a degree course. One could say they are delivered as “bite-sized” chunks. They represent a method of gaining specific, evidenced, job-critical skills.
Being smaller in scale, they’re quicker and cheaper than completing a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. Instead of a diploma, the learner gains digitally versatile proof of achievement in each unit in the form of a “badge”. That is useful on its own or “stacked” with others to form a larger qualification.
Besides size, micro-credentials are notable for simplicity and flexibility of learning. They’re small but well-designed courses that you can take asynchronously or through blended learning. They define the skill or learning goal that must be achieved, often through the use of a rubric. They also have discrete requirements for proving competence in the skill.
Micro-credentials are one facet of an expanding market for alternative education. Adults have always had the ability to pursue professional development through continuous learning. This new approach is personalised and transferable and delivers qualifications that meet industry-specific needs. You might imagine how popular that made it to a wide segment of learners.
The latest generation of young adults pursuing higher education recognise the diverse roles they’ll need to master for their careers. Easy access to information makes them savvier in discovering which skills attract potential employers. They want micro-credentials in those skills to augment their university degrees and make them more competitive in the job market.
Career professionals who kept their jobs are discovering that they’re overspecialised in their fields. Staying relevant means that they continue professional development through micro-credentialing. Boot camps and mini-courses create opportunities for development without sacrificing the time needed to do their day jobs.
Other skilled professionals looking for work need another degree. Unfortunately, they can’t afford to put their lives on hold for two or three years to do it. Micro-credentials are an excellent alternative to get upskilled. They’re also great for highlighting the skills they’ve already mastered (often referred to as recognition of prior learning).
Institutions for higher education recognise this increasing demand for micro-credentialing. To remain competitive and add value to their customers, they add micro-credential courses to their curriculum. Some of these count as credits to a degree. Others will surface existing skills from experience. Some are designed with the aid of industry-leading companies to develop favourable pools of job candidates after graduation.
Finally, industry leaders look for these micro-credentials in candidates’ resumes and LinkedIn profiles. With readier access to skills evidence, they’re able to strategically design specialised teams around specific skills. They recruit candidates with the desired skills for those roles.
Micro-credentials have established clear demand with both sides of an employment relationship. The benefits are as varied as the names given to them. They're known as micro-certifications, boot camps, mini courses, mini degrees, nano degrees, web badges, open badges and especially digital badges. No matter what you call them, though, they are valued because they simply deliver enhanced employability.
“Digital badge” or “digital credential” aare alternate names for a micro-credential. The terms are often used interchangeably though there is a clear difference between them. If a micro-credential is a smaller, shorter counterpart to a full course degree then one could say that a digital badge is its diploma. Of course, digital badges are more than that.
The digital badge is a visual representation of the achievement gained from the micro-credential. It’s not just a pretty picture, though. It contains metadata on the learner, the badge issuer, the criteria to earn it and the evidence that the criteria have been fulfilled. It’s then shared through social media, added to resumes and professional profiles and even digital badge “wallets”.
Badges have been around for as long as people have needed to provide some proof of authority by knowledge or skill mastery. In the last century, they’ve been associated with visual proofs of significant achievement in an organisation. Scout merit badges and military challenge coins are excellent examples of these. Collecting them ties into basic human needs for achievement, recognition and respect. Badges are intensely popular, and the reasons lie in their roots.
After the turn of the millennium, badges as physical emblems for achievement transitioned into digital form. Some game designers decided badges would be an innovative feature to increase engagement in console games. Xbox introduced digital badges in 2005 as an achievement system. They represented meta-goals achieved outside the normal console game environment and architecture.
“Unlocking” these achievements gave the games longevity and re-playability. Players were incentivised to find all a game’s secrets and complete all its challenges. This turned gamers into some of the first pioneers of micro-credentialing. They helped lay the foundation for the next decade of digital badging.
By 2015, computer giant IBM had firmly established plans to transition into cloud services. They observed the motivational efficacy of game achievement systems and applied them to their own Open Badge system. Online training interest, enrolment and completion rates ballooned overnight. This made several organisations sit up and take notice.
By the close of the decade, micro-credentialing had found a home in hundreds of online learning portals. The badging system was adopted by more corporations and a digital badge industry had begun to emerge. Market entrants without ties to accredited organisations could create and sell their own badges. These satisfied the needs of a new legion of learners who wanted to prove their mettle in the job arena.
The digital badge is now a market signal for employability. Most surveyed employers regard college degrees as desirable in a job candidate. Surprisingly, they couldn’t rely on the degree as a signifier of a person’s abilities. Digital badges enable employers to validate desired skills and knowledge in a potential new hire. This especially works when the badge is issued by a credible and trustworthy organisation.
So how does one earn a digital badge? Simply complete the micro-credential course that the badge represents. The steps to earn any worthwhile micro-credential are similar. They can take a few hours to a year to finish, depending on the qualification.
First, the learner enrols in the course and attends the learning sessions. Blended learning is the dominant practice. That’s a combination of traditional classroom learning, self-paced individual learning, and some lectures and seminars. The latter serve to expose the learner to the latest trends and updates. They provide opportunities to consult with industry peers.
Next, the learner completes the course work. Learners might be asked to complete tests and assignments and to do practical exercises. Much of this goes into a professional portfolio of work to demonstrate the learner’s skill set in the area. Finally, they may take an accreditation assessment by an industry body. This may include demonstrating the learned skills in a work environment.
The awarding process depends on the characteristics of the digital badge. Simple badges may be awarded automatically following completion of the content. For more complex badges, after the assessments and demonstrations have been completed and the portfolio has been validated by an accredited assessor, the learner earns their digital badge.
Micro-credentialing aligns with the needs of industries and sub-industries. It uses an informal learning style to shape specific skills in the quickest way possible. The digital badges provide personal, portable and easily verifiable accreditation. They can even unveil and qualify existing skills from experience. This accreditation of past accomplishments speeds up the learning process.
Overall, employers reap the benefits of micro-credentials because current workers can use them to eliminate“skills gaps”. These gaps continue to grow in today’s fast-paced industries. Micro-credentials can minimise employers’ costs to keep the current workforce updated while keeping track of their development. The digital badges earned from them can boost employee engagement in the process.
Through micro-credentialing, employees can accelerate their professional development. They would remain highly valuable while opening several avenues of career growth. The transition to different roles becomes faster and easier. Young professionals will compete more effectively for jobs, making a sizable difference in the transition from learners to earners.
These represent the most visible effects on the major players of the labour market. On the granular level, micro-credentialing offers several benefits to employers, employees, and organisations of all sizes.
Micro-credentials allow employees to personalise their learning. They won’t need to participate in a broad, uniform program meant for whole teams or departments. Instead, individual staff members can take micro-credentials that are tailored to their career goals and responsibilities.
Employees also gain more accessible, more flexible, lifelong learning. Through micro-credentialing, they’ll be better prepared to move up or change jobs during their career. Today’s workforce can expect to do this about five to ten times in their professional lifetime. Each time they transition, they take the proof of their accredited skills with them. They can even plan deliberate shifts to other departments. Micro-credentials can enable them to learn competencies across disciplines.
The digital badges that employees earn are a terrific tool for employee engagement. They’re shareable proofs of personal achievement that do wonders for self-motivation. These tangible proofs of skills and knowledge gained on the job can go on their employee record and their resume. This includes recognition of innovative ideas and accomplishments that won’t easily be forgotten. This type of reinforcement boosts their chances of advancement within a company. It also makes their value more evident to potential future employers.
Micro-credentials are also especially geared to “soft skills” that include better communication and people skills. You may have read Deloitte Access Economics’ recent study on soft skills. Their research shows that soft-skill intensive occupations may grow at more than double the rate of other occupations. Their research anticipates that more than two thirds of all jobs in the next decade will be driven by soft skills. Micro-credentialing positions employees to take excellent advantage of that trend.
Employers also stand to gain much in employee development and engagement. An organisation can personalise micro-credentials by developing training that’s closely aligned to its work practices. This training can lead to a traditional qualification or one that stands on its own in an emerging field. In fact, most of the benefits to an employer lie in strategic training decisions.
Micro-credentialing allows flexibility and scalability in developing training programs. The learning can be designed from scratch and delivered incrementally. It can be made uniform for departments and teams or it can be provided to individual staff members to meet specific needs. Micro-credentials could be developed as rapid response training for addressing new market changes. Alternatively, they can be customised as convenient, on-demand training for individual assignments and for pursuing major projects.
Human Resources can leverage micro-credentials to measure and track enterprise-level skills and knowledge. Apart from increasing business readiness, its timely deployment increases the company’s competitiveness by directing limited resources to where they are most appropriate. Overall, micro-credentialing makes an organisation a more attractive employer to job seekers with the right kind of talent.
Institutions of higher learning have recognised the enormous demand generated by micro-credentialing. Some have begun to experiment with them as they would in a startup project. Others have recognised the potential benefits of micro-credentials. They adopted serious measures to take advantage of them as obvious business opportunities.
Higher education services can use micro-credentials to bridge complementary courses. A learner might begin an undergraduate and then take specific courses to specialise in a related two-year area. Institutions can also convert micro-credentials into course credit in a bachelor’s degree. This opens the option for the learner to fully enrol in that partially completed degree.
Further, digital badges can aid student retention in much the same way as for a company. Students stay motivated and engaged on their way to a degree, lessening the likelihood of dropping out. International students are also attracted to an established institution’s micro-credential courses. They and international professionals often use these university offerings to gain refresher learning for soft skills and English communication.
Lastly, higher learning institutions have much to gain from direct partnerships with large companies that use micro-credentials. Employers as industry experts can collaborate with them to produce the most relevant and effective skill development programs. The institution gains a long-term partnership with a client that has direct need of their services. In turn, the company can directly influence and mould a captured talent pool that they can readily recruit after graduation.
It’s easy to demonstrate how higher education institutes can reap solid, long-term benefits from micro-credentialing. However, it’s the institution’s reputation that stands to gain the most from micro-credentials. There are distinct advantages to attracting and keeping learners when graduates are more knowledgeable, more qualified and have potentially higher earning power.
A stronger image also means being able to attract and retain highly qualified staff. This is especially true when using micro-credentials to continually train and recognise educators. The same calibre of inter-disciplinary upskilling and career growth applies to teaching staff as well as other learners.
The ability to fill more diverse needs than traditional higher education institutions strengthens their standing in two ways. First, the institution is perceived as secure in its ability to attract and produce job-ready degree holders. This happens when it also offers to fill alternative learning needs. Some learners need more than a high school education but less than a bachelor’s degree. The ability to satisfy that need is a clear sign of strength in its primary mission.
Second, an institution gains better standing when it can validate existing skills while building new ones through micro-credentials. Tracking the attainment of competencies for all types of learners is a valuable tool to converting more learners to earners.
In the final analysis, micro-credentials offer an exciting, effective way to continually train and recognise staff. Your organisation may be seeking ways to supplement traditional credentials or train staff in valuable soft skills. You might be planning to provide highly individualised programs to meet unique skill gaps. Whatever your strategy, micro-credentialing is a valuable option when it comes to choosing the right training programs for your team.
Credentialate is the world's first Credential Evidence Platform. It provides learners with personalised evidence, extracted from your existing assessment systems, linked to from within the digital badge and automated for delivery at scale.
It increases the meaning of credentials through transparency of granular achievement, offering an effective way for institutions to gather, recognise and present individual mastery of skills - which are then available to learners in a secure, flexible and modern digital format.
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 personalised, evidence-backed micro-credentials to students.
With Credentialate, educators can aggregate and visualise course performance data like never before. The interoperability of Credentialate automates recognition and certification, saving staff time - and money - while giving learners a superior credential.
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The world's first Credential Evidence Platform
Launched In 2019, Credentialate is a Credential Evidence Platform that increases the power and meaning of digital badges and allows educators to analyse performance against learning outcomes like never before. Since its launch, Credentialate has secured partnerships with higher education leaders, including with a Group of 8 University. Credentialate was developed by Edalex - an edtech company on a mission to surface learning outcomes, digital assets and the power of individual achievement. Founded in 2016, Edalex brings together the team behind the CODiE award-winning openEQUELLA open source platform that centrally houses teaching and learning, research, media and library content.
Find out more at: edalex.com/credentialate