As micro-credentials become an increasingly popular option in many types of educational and training programs, it is critical to center learner needs in the design process. Micro-credentials are digital credentials that certify an individual’s attainment of a specific skill through a competency-based assessment. By design, this type of credential shifts the focus to what a micro-credential earner can DO rather than the coursework that was completed. Because the competency-based assessment is such a critical component of this process, it is important to ensure that its design is accessible.
In order for learners to be successful in earning a micro-credential, they must be able to demonstrate the skill being assessed. As with any other type of assessment, it is important that the evidence a learner submits is aligned to showcase the desired competency. When done thoughtfully, designers successfully navigate the tension of selecting evidence that narrowly focuses on competency and is also inclusive of the different ways that learners can demonstrate it.
All individuals have different areas of strengths and preferences in how they perform best. Some competencies might require a specific type of evidence. However, there are always opportunities to provide learners with options for how their evidence is submitted. Where possible, individuals should be allowed to submit evidence in multiple types of formats such as text, audio, video, images, and more. By giving learners as many options as possible, their opportunities for success increase.
It can be easy to focus solely on the competency itself, however, this might inadvertently limit the assessment. Competency-based assessments are valuable because a human assessor evaluates the entirety of a submission. By providing learners with an opportunity to share the context, conditions, and parameters of when they implemented the skill, an assessor is able to have a much deeper understanding of the portfolio of evidence being submitted. A holistic submission provides information about how a person handles real-world implementation of the skill.
Real-world applications of competencies are rarely perfect due to constraints or issues that may arise. A growth mindset is one of the most important attitudes that can be cultivated with micro-credentials. By recognizing that skill attainment and proficiency are ongoing, it is valuable to consider how an individual perceives their opportunities for growth in a particular competency. This type of metacognitive reflection showcases how a learner will approach future growth and improvement.
Learners have many types of diverse needs. When designing a micro-credential it is important to understand who the micro-credential is designed for. An intended audience might require language, format, and resource supports to scaffold their ability to earn a micro-credential. These needs may include considerations for reducing barriers as simple as ensuring resources are publicly and freely available (reducing cost/access barriers) to more complex and nuanced steps such as reviewing language for clarity and readability (reducing cognitive and literacy barriers). The Digital Promise Learner Variability Navigator is a tool that allows designers to consider key needs and find research-based strategies to address them.
These tips should support anyone designing a more accessible micro-credential. While this does not address all potential accessibility needs, it does provide a strong foundation to build upon. As always, designing accessible micro-credentials is a process. Designers and issuers should be open to testing and fine-tuning to ensure learners as many barriers are removed.
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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