Micro-Credentials Guide - What They Are and Why They're Valuable
Micro-credentials appear to be on everyone’s priority list - whether an educator, learner, employer...
Skills-based learning is not the learning formula for tomorrow. It’s the learning formula for today. most skills-based learning is taking place in more informal, lifelong learning environments that come either after, alongside, or in some cases in place of formal education. In this information-rich Credentialate Guide, we explore how education providers are addressing the increasing demand for skills development and verification.
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Skills-based learning is not the learning formula for tomorrow. It’s the learning formula for today. And there are educators actively working on the problem and potential solutions. Before we dive in, we should clarify that we are not talking about the competency based education models (CBE) utilised in a variety of institutions and systems globally. Rather, we are talking about the acquisition of industry aligned skills that will prepare us for the jobs of tomorrow.
To understand when skills-based learning is occurring, we must look at the environment it is happening in: either formal education or in the space of lifelong learning.
This is a complex answer. There are programs looking to introduce skills-based learning into more formal education environments. For example, the UK-based skills builder is a universal framework to teach skills like listening to learners spanning K-12 and even into post-secondary education. This framework is also underpinning work by their partner employer organisations.
They are by no means the only ones. However, most skills-based learning is taking place in the lifelong learning environment. The reasons, simplified, are related to accreditation, funding, and frameworks, all of which we have discussed in our Untangling the Modern Credential Marketplace blog series.
In other words, most skills-based learning is taking place in more informal, lifelong learning environments that come either after, alongside, or in some cases in place of formal education. Where, exactly is this learning taking place?
When we talk about environments, the next natural step is to look at where learning is taking place. Where do these skills-based learning environments exist? Are they industry-aligned and what does that mean?
In formal education, there are two places where skills-based learning can take place. The first is inside the curriculum and the second is outside the curriculum. Why is this important?
Skills-based education inside the curriculum must align with existing frameworks. In many cases, these frameworks are extremely rigid and come with legacy ideas that are difficult to change. Most are mandated by large agencies, from local, regional, or federal governments to accreditation agencies and others. These constraints can slow innovation and the evolution of curricula.
This doesn’t mean efforts are not being made. EMSI, based in the US, has introduced their Skillabi program. Using technology, educators can take several steps:
In other words, the program attempts to make it possible to align existing curricula to the skills industry is looking for. Essentially educators can “rummage through the pockets'' of courses taught elsewhere in their ecosystem, incorporate them into current programs, thus increasing their relevance.
Clearly, the use of data is critical as is customising to geographical and regional requirements. Aligning the curriculum against job market data, which is just one way of moving forward. One company gathering and analysing this job data using AI is Burning Glass. They seek not only to identify the skills gap that keeps learners and employers apart but to use that data to influence curriculum and officials involved with workforce initiatives.
Yet another is Faethm AI, an “AI engine that is trained using billions of workforce data points. Its predictive modeling capability enables forward-looking analytics that indicate which jobs need re-skilling versus up-skilling, and the exact skill pathways to move people to a brighter work future.”
Many other programs are working to use AI, Machine Learning, and other advanced technologies for analysis and improvement, including Vantage Labs, which is doing vital work in the area of AI and Machine Learning (more on that in a moment).
From these initiatives and others, it is clear that both educators and the industry want to see changes. It would be remiss if we did not mention the Internet of Education (IoE). This term was coined in January 2020 at the World Economic Forum meeting. It has quickly become a global movement defined as ”a global ecosystem of trust that enables networks of personalised and effective learning.”
The Learning Foundation has become the steward for this movement, and this article is a must-read overview of the state of play for IoE. The most important takeaway is that efforts are being made to integrate skills-based learning into formal environments.
The advantage of this approach is that it takes place inside of current frameworks using courses already approved and accredited. For learners, this means choice. Targeted, bite-sized courses offered by already accredited organisations could land them that job they are eyeing. For educators, it means that offering those bite-sized courses could satisfy learners and bring them back into the halls and classrooms, even if those spaces are virtual. The key is that both the student and potential employers can see the value in the micro-credentials because they have market currency.
Most work in skills-based learning is taking place outside formal environments. Due to increasing frustration with the ever-present and perhaps over-talked-about skills gap, many industries have developed their own internal education frameworks complete with their own micro-badging credentials.
The reason is simple. They need employees who can meet industry demands and have both the soft and hard skills needed to fill positions now, not later. On-the-job training is not enough in the ever-changing job market. Technology can render current positions that are vital to irrelevance in a matter of months or a few short years. Learners must be equipped with baseline skills that are transferable from one “job” to another.
This has driven the need for new segments in the post-secondary credential spectrum. HolonIQ has proposed a segmentation of the contemporary post-secondary knowledge and skills acquisition market - from peer-to-peer, short courses and badges through micro and alternative credentials to formal degrees. In so doing, they note that “defining the Global Micro and Alternative Credential Spectrum, beyond government-led qualification frameworks, is not straightforward. Different stakeholders bring very different perspectives, and this segmentation is by no means exhaustive.”
Short courses with digital badges, skill-specific bootcamps, and non-university-based certificates, and even professional certification and licensing are often as valuable or more so than a four-year degree, depending on the job.
When we look at examples of this, we can look to IBM, Google, and even Walmart, that have developed their own “academies” to educate and “certify” their employees. Yet another industry leaning heavily on micro-credentials is cybersecurity, a field in which changes can happen monthly, weekly, and even daily. Agility is perhaps the most important skill in many of these positions.
While tech and cyber-security are often the leaders in this field, this actually creates another challenge. For example, when we look at IBM training, it is important to remember that although IBM credentials are “recognised around the world” that credential may not mean the same thing to Google, Amazon, or even Microsoft. The reason is the lack of a shared and established framework.
The question of a common framework raises even more questions. The first is what we are trying to quantify and verify.
For example, a four-year degree means something. Universities have common syllabi and curricula around specific majors. While they may differ in some specific course areas, they mean something similar due to a common accreditation framework. A four-year degree in nursing, coupled with a Registered Nurse certification means the learner has at least been exposed to a certain type of courses with specified content. In short, there is a level of trust in the marketplace and an understanding of quality.
The only way to verify their “skills” in this area without on-the-job testing is to look at their grades, which is much too general in many cases. While institutions have tried to address this gap with various ratings (works well with others, participates in group projects, etc) the evaluations are often subjective, based on professor perceptions, and lack a standard and verifiable framework.
Yet that framework is exactly what is needed. Hard skills are much easier to verify through testing or demonstration. Even in those cases, alternatives must be established for skilled learners who simply don’t “test well.”
Yet it is extremely difficult to quantify and verify soft skills, human skills that are transferable. And what IBM may use to qualify someone may not relate to what Google understands to be the same, or similar qualification.
In other words, now that a learner has these certifications, what do they do with them? Can they be carried in a digital wallet or passport, verified, and in that way used as job currency? How do we make these credentials meaningful to both the learner and the employer? In other words, is there a framework that transfers?
There is a great deal of attention being paid to the transparency around micro-credentials. In the US, the non-profit organisation Credential Engine develops and maintains the Credential Transparency Description Language (CTDL), which provides the common language and “rules of the road” for how credentials, credentialing organisations, quality assurance information, and competencies are described both in the Registry and on the Web. This is also an area of focus for us here at Edalex with our Credentialate product. How do we provide a translational layer that exposes the personalised learning and evidence that sits behind and with the micro-credential. Concentric Sky with their Badgr Pro product has developed a learning pathway for customisable, stackable and shareable micro-credentials to direct and enable career aspirations.
This is all a part of developing a decentralised but verifiable framework in which well-defined skills and the micro-credentials that go with them are transferable, regardless of where the learning took place. What does this look like? The answer, unfortunately, is no one knows yet. Every aspect of micro-credentialing is still a work in progress. But there has been progress.
It seems somewhat ironic to try to end any overview of skills-based learning with a conclusion. Because the conclusion itself is filled with many questions and few answers.
Should even formal education be based on skills-based learning? The answer appears to be a conditional yes. What does industry-aligned mean, really? How can that be accomplished in a formal learning environment? How relevant are four-year degrees, and will they remain so?
“...college and university degrees are still valued and demanded in the job market,” says Sean Gallagher the founder and executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy. But more employers are hiring those who hold degrees and have supplemented their education with micro-credentials to enhance their skills and their resume.
“We need more connection and discussions between industries and Universities,” Noam Mordechay, VP Business Development at Gloat told the BBC. “On the job learning [must be] part of the curriculum.” Micro-credentialing allows employers to look beyond their typical candidate pools. In many ways, this is where the debate begins to change the conversation entirely.
Despite the push for rapid advancement and deeper conversation, there is still a long way to go. In some areas, non-traditional education is largely taking the place of degrees, including coding and software development. Will these emerging, targeted courses replace university degrees altogether? Research answers quite simply, “Not yet.” Degrees still mean something. Micro-credentials can enhance those degrees, making them more meaningful to employers. In other cases, stacking micro-credentials can be a substitute for the financial and time commitment required to get a four-year degree - and with more significant career outcomes.
Skills-based learning is the answer to bridging the skills gap. The real question is how we pull the where, when, how, and why together into a decentralised yet cohesive and verifiable framework that benefits learners, educators, and employers.
The only certainty in skills-based learning is change, and it’s not just about rapid development, but meaningful advancement as well. What will education look like a decade or even five years from now? No one knows, other than that it is sure to be much different than it is today.
Credentialate is a secure, configurable platform that assesses and tracks attainment of competencies and issues micro-credentials to students backed by personalised evidence at scale. By automatically extracting data from existing platforms and using an organization’s own assessment rubrics, we can objectively measure awarding criteria and validate its evidence.
By this same method we can automate the assessment, monitoring, promotion and validation of evidence-backed skills. For an institution, we provide the data and insights required to track skills and competencies across courses and entire programs.
Finally, we have decades of collective experience in educational technology and long-standing ties with global educational powerhouses. These solidify our ability to produce credible digital badges.
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 Us and how we can work together, contact us or Schedule a Demo and let’s discuss!
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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.
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