Making Macro Impact: How Micro-credentials Are Shaping a Skills-based Economy – Digital Promise

Making Macro Impact: How Micro-credentials Are Shaping a Skills-based Economy

May 11, 2023 | By

History of Micro-credentials at Digital Promise

In December 2015, Digital Promise awarded its first micro-credential, Essential Spreadsheet Skills, to a technology coach in a K-12 school district. Fast forward to today—it is with great pleasure that we announce that Digital Promise has issued its 20,000th micro-credential! The “Introduction to Restorative Practice in School” micro-credential was earned by a classroom teacher in a K-12 school district. ”

The impact of 20,000 micro-credentials on recipients in the field of education, as well as the countless students that have come through their classrooms and schools, is incalculable. During this time, Digital Promise’s partnerships have focused on issuing micro-credentials for professional development, workforce skill recognition, educator preparation, secondary credentials, and credit for prior learning.

The Purpose of Micro-credentials

Micro-credentials for Social Mobility in Rural Postsecondary Communities: A Landscape Report (2022), states that micro-credentials are “digital certifications that verify competence of a skill or set of skills, attempt to stand out among the growing number of educational certifications by providing learners with recognition for the skills they have developed across their education and work experiences.” At Digital Promise, micro-credentials are research-backed, competency-based, and equity-based. Ehlers (2018) adds that “micro-credentials are directly linked to digital artifacts that explain the nature and criteria of the credential as well as evidence contributed by the earner” (p.457). Thus, micro-credentials shed light on a learner’s skills and experience in a way that degrees, diplomas, certificates, and transcripts do not.

Micro-credentials place educational experiences in the hands of the learner. These on-demand credentials provide equitable access to upskilling or reskilling learning opportunities that are affordable, flexible, and personalized. The inequities of traditional education pathways, such as cost and time constraints, are wiped away with micro-credentials, making this credential an option for historically and systematically excluded learners. According to the World Economic Forum, 50% of students are choosing not to attend college due to the perceived return on investment and time required for attainment. As a result, learners are turning to non-traditional credentials such as micro-credentials to obtain and verify skills that support their career goals.

“With micro-credentials it was different because they allow you to develop at your own pace. And they also allow you to delve deep into things that you may not feel as confident with and areas that you feel like you really need to improve.” – Teacher

The Macro Impact of Micro-credentials

Wheelahan and Moodie (2021) state that micro-credentials build “tighter links between higher education and workplace requirements” (p.1279). This ensures that higher education institutions “are more ‘responsive’ to employer demands in a competitive market” (Wheelahan & Moodie, 2021, p. 1279). Higher education institutions and industries must work together to ensure a qualified workforce is available. Academic programs and curriculum must reflect and align with what industries need their employees to have, while micro-credentials can fill in that gap.

In the past several years, Gauthier (2020) states that “the employment market changed in terms of the employer’s expectations of the skills” (p. 2). Gauthier (2020) adds that “industry suggested that competency and experience were more valuable to the employer than a college degree” (p.4). The employment market has shifted towards competency-based and skills-based (Wheelahan & Moodie, 2021) learning. Being competency-based units of learning aligned to workplace tasks, micro-credentials help both sides of the spectrum:learners and workers, as well as employers. Micro-credentials allow learners and workers to become competent in a skill or set of skills while micro-credentials also provide employers with a quick way to increase or improve the skill set of their employees. “Job seekers need to be ready to quickly learn and document their proficiency with new skills and abilities to remain relevant and essential” (Wheelahan & Moodie, 2021, p. 1285).

Right now, companies and communities can’t afford for any part of their talent pipeline into the workforce system to be ineffective or inefficient. Unfortunately, right now, many of them are. Returning citizens aren’t coming out with the skills they need to obtain great employment and to reintegrate fully. English as a second language learners aren’t being educated at the level in which to move into that pipeline. There are kids who aren’t college-bound in the traditional sense. There’s a lot of underemployed and under-skilled adults. The list could go on. We need to be more efficient at moving everyone into the better career opportunities that exist. I think micro-credentials are a part of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of that system. – Dr. Brent Stubbs, Vice President for Economic Development, Savannah Technical College

For educators, micro-credentials have been a major asset in providing alternative ways to supplement traditional professional development that has been used throughout their entire careers. Micro-credentials “not only have to do with a demand for new skills but with a demand for a new way of communication, shaping, and communicating the evidence of skills and competencies” (Ehlers, 2018, p.456). Micro-credentials provide the opportunity of the right credential at the right time, allowing individuals to upskill or reskill when necessary. According to Wheelahan and Moodie (2021), the sole aim of micro-credentials “is to improve employment outcomes” (p. 1289).

“It’s a job-embedded approach to professionalized learning, personalized professional learning, that’s going to help them learn skills while they’re right in the classroom with kids. So, for teachers, it becomes meaningful rather than just going to those trainings, sitting there, maybe taking some notes; what we always called a ‘sit and get’.” – Dr. Dessie Bowling, Associate Director, Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative

In eight years, as of May 2023, Digital Promise’s Micro-credential Platform scaled up to have 102 issuing partners, 605 active micro-credentials and issued 20,543 micro-credentials and impacted countless individuals. As Digital Promise continues to lead in this space, the future looks bright as the focus continues to be supporting historically and systematically excluded learners of all ages, adult learners in the workforce, and post-secondary learners.

Do you have a great story of how Digital Promise Micro-credentials have supported your personal goals or those of your organization? Please contact us to learn how you can share your story. If you are interested in learning more about micro-credentials, check out our current offerings on the Micro-credential Platform or sign up for our quarterly newsletter to stay updated on micro-credentials.

  1. Ehlers, U.D. (2018). Higher education – Degree or education? The rise of microcredentials and its consequences for the university of the future. European Distance and E-Learning Network Conference. 456-465.

  2. Gauthier, T. (2020). The value of microcredentials: The employer’s perspective. Competency-based Education, 5(2). 1-6.

  3. Luke, C. & Young, V. M. (2020). Integrating micro-credentials into professional learning: Lessons from five districts.

  4. Wheelahan, L., & Moodie, G. (2021). Gig qualifications for the gig economy: micro-credentials and the ‘hungry mile’. Higher Education, 83(6), 1279–1295.

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