Focus on Micro-credentials


What are micro-credentials?

Micro-credentials are also known as digital badges, nano degrees, micro-certifications, web badges, mini degrees and open badges. Compared to a degree, diploma, certificate or other lengthy accredited training, micro-credentials focus on smaller elements of learning. They are mini qualifications often gained by participating in short, free or low-cost online courses. These smaller blocks of learning can formalise soft and hard skills attained at work, such as teamwork, critical thinking and problem solving. They can also help fill skill gaps, such as working with big data.

Regular upskilling is recognised as essential for the future, making micro-credentialing an increasingly popular and accessible option for lifelong learning. Micro-credentials offer students a pathway to higher education and help employees develop specific skills. Because the technology can capture and communicate what skills and knowledge a student has attained, micro-credentials are also a valuable tool for people to demonstrate both what they can do today and their future potential. Employees may consider them more advantageous than unaccredited and inhouse training which, while popular with employers, fail to offer formal recognition of learning that can enhance an individual's career development.

As they become more prevalent, micro-credentials also have the potential to be an efficient, cost-effective and flexible means for employers to use to certify learning outcomes. Thus, micro-credentials are likely to improve labour mobility to the benefit of the economy and the individual.

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What is the research saying?


In Australia, micro-credentials are forming part of recent discussions on the future of work, lifelong learning and the tertiary education sector. Future-proof: Australia's future post-secondary education and skills system finds, through stakeholder consultation, micro-credentials are beginning to be utilised in vocational and higher education and forming an important part of lifelong learning. However, Lifelong skills: equipping Australians for the future of work warns the full-cost recovery basis of non-traditional pathways could be a barrier to the groups who would benefit most from this mode of training. Micro-credentials have also been identified as recent developments to be taken into consideration in the Australian Qualifications Framework review and the TAFE SA Strategic Capability Review.

Research on implementing micro-credentials in Australian higher education includes:

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The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) recently consulted on recognising micro-credentials alongside formal qualifications within the Government's regulated education and training system. The consultation paper explains the need for a training system that responds flexibly to the rapid technological, social and economic changes globally, and sees micro-credentials providing opportunities for workers to develop skills and knowledge throughout their working lives. The consultation sought feedback on the definition, recognition, and quality of assurance of micro-credential provision. The summary of consultation feedback and next steps can be found on NZQA's website.

International research examining the use of micro-credentials and digital badging to improve access to further education, professional development and employment includes:

  • Realizing employment goals for youth through digital badges: lessons and opportunities from workforce development discusses the potential digital badges have in improving further education and employment opportunities for disadvantaged young people in the US. The authors provide examples of organisations and initiatives using digital badges and highlights the potential opportunities for using them to improve youth workforce programs, emphasising the importance of engaging employers and industry in this process.
  • Alternative credentials: prior learning 2.0 examines the use and evaluation of alternative credentials (including Massive Open Online Courses and badges) by US higher education institutions in providing credits toward a degree program. Six case studies are presented analysing the differing practices of the six institutions. The report is a start in understanding how some higher education institutions evaluate and accept alternative credentials and recommends further evaluation to include a wider variety of institutions.
  • Recognition, validation and accreditation of youth and adult basic education as a foundation of lifelong learning argues for the recognition of non-formal and informal learning for individuals to continue to acquire and develop skills and knowledge through-out their lives. National qualification systems in many countries limit their focus to formal learning institutions leading to some individuals' learning remaining unrecognised due to exclusion from formal education. While the report recognises the role of information and communication technology (ICT), such as Open Badges, in providing more opportunities to apply accreditation, it warns that the use of ICT could be problematic because of the unequal digital access across the globe. The report points out that some people without a basic education will be less likely to utilise ICT systems created for accreditation.

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Opinion pieces and news items


Published: December 2018