Micro-credentials have been gaining more popularity in recent years. In the last decade or so, completing a higher education degree no longer guarantees employment, which has led adult learners to look for other ways to prepare for or expand their career (Orman, Șimșek, & Kozak Çakir, 2023). Micro-credentials are credentials that have been designed with the adult learner in mind. They bridge the education gap by offering affordable, flexible, and personalized learning options that cater to the needs of adult learners, fostering equity and inclusivity.
Adult learners are increasingly seeking micro-credentials to support their careers. Not only do micro-credentials support employability after graduation; they also support career advancement, filling in gaps of skills that are not recognized by standard higher education pathways (Orman, Șimșek, & Kozak Çakir, 2023).
Historically and systematically excluded (HSE)HSE adult learners usually find it difficult to commit to the time and financial requirements of standard higher education pathways. Because of this, this higher education credential has been favored by adult learners from low-income backgrounds, rural adult learners, adult learners with learning disabilities, and Black, Indigenous, and Latinx adult learners.
The design of the micro-credential allows it to recognize a specific skill or set of skills that adult learners may seek to be successful in their current or future career. Since micro-credentials are shorter in duration in comparison to macro-credentials, this makes them more affordable as well. Unlike when finishing (or attempting to finish) other higher education options, the adult learner is not in debt for thousands of dollars upon completing a micro-credential. . Its flexibility gives the adult learner the freedom and control to decide when it’s best for them to pursue the micro-credential. Micro-credentials save adult learners from spending years pursuing a single credential, which can be hindered by numerous obstacles along the way, potentially interrupting the learning process.
Moreover, micro-credentials put the control of what to learn, how to learn, and when to learn in the hands of the adult learner. It personalizes the learning experience by enabling the adult learner to specifically pick the skills they want competency in, building their own learning journey. Through its framework—which requires authentically implementing the new skill or set of skills and providing evidence of this implementation—the adult learner is able to quickly acquire the skill(s) to build on their expertise or expand their knowledge. 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.
Some colleges and universities, including the University at Buffalo, the University of Wisconsin, Hudson Valley Community College, and Western Governors University, offer credit-bearing micro-credentials. Earning micro-credentials along a higher education pathway is rewarding. This recognition of granular accomplishments along the higher education journey is motivational and encouraging to the adult learners.
According to Wheelahan and Moodie (2021), micro-credentials are slowly shaping higher education. Orman, Șimșek, & Kozak Çakir (2023) add that “by contributing to the digital transformation of education, micro-credentials change society’s perspective on learning and redefine the roles of educational institutions/organizations.” The learning experience of micro-credentials represents micro-units of learning that are created based on the current needs of the industries.
Aside from closing the gap for HSE adult learners, micro-credentials also help close the gap between existing certificates, diplomas, or degrees held by adult learners. Micro-credentials recognize a skill that is not specifically recognized by a transcript or embossed paper, like a diploma or degree. In its metadata, micro-credentials share evidence of the skill implementation and is viewable by whomever the adult learner shares their micro-credential with.
Wheelahan and Moodie (2021) state that the intention of micro-credentials “is to improve employment outcomes” for the adult learner. Micro-credentials improve employment outcomes for the adult learner through their affordability, flexibility, and personalization. Micro-credentials are the leading credential option for adult learners to upskill and reskill, closing the education gap in a way that no other credential has been able to.
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.
Orman, R., Șimșek, E., & Kozak Çakir, M. A. (2023). Micro-credentials and reflections on higher education. Higher Education Evaluation and Development. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/HEED-08-2022-0028/full/pdf?title=micro-credentials-and-reflections-on-higher-education
Wheelahan, L., & Moodie, G. (2021). Gig qualifications for the gig economy: micro-credentials and the ‘hungry mile’. Higher Education, 83(6), 1279–1295. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-021-00742-3