Disrupting Postsecondary Pathways Using Micro-credentials – Digital Promise

Disrupting Postsecondary Pathways Using Micro-credentials

April 28, 2023 | By

Since their introduction, digital badges have been used for a variety of purposes. For example, event organizers have used digital badges to verify that someone has attended or presented in a conference. Badges are sometimes used by instructors to mark progress in coursework or within gamified learning. These types of badges are often issued after the completion of a task or exam and may represent anything from completion of an assignment, unit, or entire course. Digital badges, however, do not necessarily represent a micro-credential.

Micro-credentials are competency-based, research-backed, personalized, on-demand, and shareable (Digital Promise, 2023). Digital badging technology is used to provide information about the learning, skill, or competency that is being verified. Given the flexibility of this credentialing technology, micro-credentials have recently become a hot topic in educational and professional development settings, and they serve a distinct role in the credentialing ecosystem.

Micro-credentials as a Disrupting Force

Today, micro-credentials are used for verifying completion of courses that are typically outside of traditional academic institutions such as universities. While they are connected to learning, they can provide a mechanism to verify competencies gained through prior learning, on-the-job training, and lived experiences. Credential Engine (2019) noted that many micro-credentials have been issued by providers of Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs). Spearheaded by edX, MOOCs are online courses that can accommodate a very large enrollment. Online courses offered by MOOC providers were one of the early disruptive forces in education since they upended the idea that all post-secondary learning had to or should occur in academic institutions.

These disruptions in postsecondary pathways continued as a variety of organizations incorporated micro-credentials into their training and learning programs. Companies such as Google, IBM, and Amazon offer digital badges to represent their certifications that verify knowledge and skills in topics such as project management, UX/UI, cybersecurity, data analysis and more. Outside of traditional learning institutions and employers, there are a host of organizations that offer professional learning services. Many professional development providers are now incorporating badging to verify completion of coursework completion. In some cases, micro-credentials may also be used with these offerings.

Digital Promise stands apart by offering professional learning providers a method to offer micro-credentials that verify implementation of practice. Developed with more than 100 institutions, we collaborate to provide a stamp of approval that signifies a learner has successfully implemented best practices. This type of micro-credential requires learners to submit a robust portfolio of implementation evidence, which are assessed by objective subject-matter experts.

A Disruptive Force to Increase Access and Participation

This disruptive force is critical to improving equitable access to provide historically and systematically excluded learners with opportunities to achieve postsecondary credentials that offer economic security, well-being, and agency. In the past, institutions and systems have intentionally prevented many learners from accessing or participating in academic programs at all levels. Inadvertently, many learners have been unable to participate due to barriers such as time, money, proximity to institutions of learning, or knowledge of how to navigate the process.

Access to online learning and micro-credentials has allowed a remarkable number of learners to attain skills and evidence of their proficiency in less time and for less money. As more learners seek faster, inexpensive, and flexible paths towards postsecondary credentials, interest in incorporating micro-credentials into traditional and non-traditional programs has increased. However, we must collectively continue to increase access to more secondary pathways that lead to success as defined by learners themselves.

Ways to Continue Improving Access to Pathways of Success

With many types of credentials that already exist, it can be easy to use micro-credentials to verify learning and skills that are already confirmed using existing credentials such as a degree, certificate, or credit hour. Still there are questions we can ask ourselves to continue the path towards innovation and access. These are some questions to ask when designing micro-credentials:

  • How will this offering remove barriers that have prevented learners from earning other types of credentials?
  • How is this offering different from other credentials we may already grant?
  • How is this offering inviting learners who have been historically and systematically excluded to participate?
  • How can I make this offering meaningful to learners’ goals in gaining postsecondary credentials, employment opportunities and advancement, economic security, agency, and well-being?

By asking yourselves these questions, you can begin disrupting how learners access opportunities to verify their skills using micro-credentials.

This blog post is part of a series exploring how to design micro-credentials for equity and inclusion throughout the year. If you are interested in learning more about micro-credentials, check out our current offerings on the Micro-credential Platform or visit our website to learn more about our services.

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