Micro-credentials Designed for Today’s Higher Education Learners – Digital Promise

Micro-credentials Designed for Today’s Higher Education Learners

May 17, 2023 | By

For 10 years, micro-credentials have provided learners with pathways to obtaining educational certifications. Micro-credentials for Social Mobility in Rural Postsecondary Communities: A Landscape Report states that micro-credentials are “digital certifications that verify competence of a skill or set of skills” (p.3). Micro-credentials provide “learners with recognition for the skills they have developed across their education and work experiences” (p.3) and shine a light on industry skills that an academic transcript can not. Unlike other credentials, micro-credentials demonstrate the evidence or artifact that verifies the competence of the skill or set of skills through its assessment piece.

Micro-credentials demand an assessment design of their own. Requiring a thoughtful design, competencies, supportive resources, assessment, and evidence for the learner to demonstrate, education institutions that issue micro-credentials are rethinking their curriculum and practices (West & Cheng, 2023). “Micro-credentials’ gain is not macro-credentials’ loss; each potentially complements and strengthens the other” (Ngoc et. al., 2022, p. 12). Several education institutions are designing micro-credentials to meet the needs of higher education learners by providing innovative credentialing learning opportunities. These innovative options can be or not be part of a standard higher education pathway.

Meeting the Needs of Higher Education Learners

To meet the needs of higher education learners, micro-credentials have been designed to create a constructive learning environment. Through a high level of peer support, the learner is able to achieve a higher learning performance (Ngoc et. al, 2022). Also, to further meet the needs of higher education learners, micro-credentials have been designed to provide affordability, flexibility, and personalization compared to standard higher education pathways. The learning behind micro-credentials makes higher education more relevant and efficient. “Institutional openness to micro-credentials has the potential to reduce drop-out rates” (Pirkkalainen et. al, 2022, p.12). When education institutions are meeting the needs of their learners, completion rates increase.

“Micro-credentials can have an impact on the flexibility of institutions by meeting students’ need for more flexible and personalised learning [sic]” (Pirkkalainen et. al, 2022, p.11).

Unbundling standard higher education pathways into micro-units of learning that recognize specific, granular accomplishments makes earning a micro-credential an ideal option for learners who can’t afford the time or resources needed to pursue formal degrees.

Learners are able to pursue micro-credentials that upskill or reskill them, when it is most convenient for them. Since micro-credentials represent micro-units of learning, it makes the learning experience affordable. Plus, the recognition of granular accomplishments along the higher education journey is motivational and encouraging to the learners. “The recognition of micro-credentials can enhance student motivation, responsibility, and determination, enabling more effective learning” (Pirkkalainen et. al, 2022, p.13).

Moreover, micro-credentials enable learners in earning postsecondary credentials that offer economic security, well-being, and agency. Micro-credentials have been favored by historically and systematically excluded learners, such as learners from low-income backgrounds, rural learners, learners with learning disabilities, and Black, Indigenous, and Latinx learners, who are not able to commit to the financial and time requirements of a standard higher education pathway. Micro-credentials are paving the way for present-day higher education learners, closing the gap in a way that no other credential has been able to. Today’s higher education learners are typically “25 year[s]-old or older who did not immediately pursue college following high school graduation” (Bennett, Evans, & Riedle, 2007, p.155) and maintain “responsibilities such as employment, family, and other responsibilities of adult life” (Hudson, 2008, p.106).

Impact Beyond Higher Education

The journey of completing a micro-credential enhances the learning experience for the learner and leads to better career preparation. Janchenko and Rodi (2019) state that micro-credentials “play a key role in displaying specific marketable skill sets to employers” ( p.22). This is possible since micro-credentials verify the competence of a specific skill or set of skills necessary to be successful in the learner’s career.

Pirkkalainen et. al (2022) states that better career preparation leads to a decrease in mismatch of skills, enhancing the employability of the learner. Ngoc et. al. (2022) adds that “micro-credentials increase the university responsiveness to labour [sic] markets, as well as contribute to social inclusion and education accessibility” (p. 2). Micro-credentials provide learners with an option to reskill or upskill with competencies in demand by an industry.

With their affordability, flexibility, and personalization while creating a constructive learning environment, micro-credentials have provided opportunities for learners to upskill or reskill to stay current with competencies required in their career and industry.

This blog 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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  1. Bennett, S., Evans, T., & Riedle, J. (2007). Comparing academic motivation and accomplishments among traditional, nontraditional, and distance education college students. Psi Chi J. Undergraduate Res., 12(4). 154-161.

  2. Hudson, R., Towey, J., Shinar, O. (2008). Depression and racial/ethnic variations within a diverse nontraditional college sample. College Student Journal, 42(1). 103-114.

  3. Janckenko, G., & Rodi, A. (2019). Using digital badges to promote professional development in higher education. Issues in Information Systems, 20(4). 21-26.

  4. Ngoc, N. H. T., Spittle, M., Watt, A., & Van Dyke, N. (2022). A systematic literature review of micro-credentials in higher education: A non-zero-sum game. Higher Education Research & Development. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2022.2146061

  5. Pirkkalainen, H., Sood, I., Padron Napoles, C., Kukkonen, A., & Camilleri, A. (2022). How might micro-credentials influence institutions and empower learners in higher education? Educational Research, 65(1). 40-63.

  6. West, R. E., & Cheng, Z. (2022). How open micro-credentials/badges support learning in micro-, meso-, and macro-levels. Handbook of Open, Distance and Digital Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-0351-9_71-1

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