The Ups and Downs of Micro-credentials

Learners have a versatile new option when it comes to building and improving their skills: micro-credentials.

Micro-credentials are mini qualifications that show skills, knowledge, and/or experience in a subject or capability. Also known as micro-certifications, nano degrees, web badges and digital badges, micro-credentials tend to be narrower in scope or more specialised than traditional qualifications such as diplomas or degrees, although they can still be broader in focus – micro-credentials can be stacked or combined to demonstrate mastery of larger knowledge or skill sets. Micro-credentials are collected through apps, websites, or data systems.

Micro-credentials can be earned in settings outside of academic institutions such as at work or online. Micro-credentials can be awarded for soft as well as hard skills – examples of topic areas include self-management, teamwork, digital marketing, and data analytics. Badges can be awarded for everything from volunteer work to completing a course on coding or a work assignment. The subject areas are virtually unlimited.

Micro-credentials are in essence an assessment-based record of focused learning achievement verifying what the learner knows, understands, or can do. Being delivered as “bite-sized” chunks, they have standalone value and may also contribute to or complement other micro-credentials. Learners can advance from one micro-credential to another along a learning pathway and this pathway might lead to certification in a given subject.

Micro-credentials are a contested topic, with both pros and cons.

Learners get the opportunity to acquire and demonstrate mastery of practical and immediately applicable skills. They can develop a portfolio of marketable skills by acquiring extra micro-credentials.

Micro-credentials enhance job prospects. A stack of micro-credentials looks good on a CV and increases suitability for a job role. However, it’s important to demonstrate use of credentialed skills in day-to-day work as completing a short-term course may not be enough on its own.

As well as giving an advantage on the job market, micro-credentials are a powerful tool in allowing people to upskill themselves in their current area of expertise. Companies may use micro-credentials to create a pipeline of succession and facilitate internal mobility.

Micro-credentials are generally inexpensive to attain, meaning learners no longer need to pursue higher education to prove they have mastered particular skills. Short-term courses will help them seek promotion and advance their careers.

When working on a micro-credential, it’s important to examine just how relevant it is for the job market. While there are many short-term courses available there may not be a demand for those credentials. Certain micro-credentials, therefore, might fall on the side of irrelevancy.

Micro-credentials are not yet universally viewed as a substitute for a full degree and may not be considered substantial enough to secure a job on their own merits. Since micro-credentials are so specialised in scope, learners might not be able to land a job that requires a more generalised role, necessitating that more wider ranging short-term courses be completed.

In terms of scope, micro-credentials are intended to meet a short-term demand and upskill a learner for the present. But many jobs require a broader general knowledge to stay relevant on the job scene and add value in the long term.

Micro-credentials may be productive in the short term, however, by the nature of their small size and deep specialisation, micro-credentials have limited reach. They are good for just-in-time type learning outcomes – used as a supplement to broader education, micro-credentials have a specific niche.

As with many things, there are upsides and downsides to micro-credentials.  The important thing is to ensure the completion of small components of learning as long as they contribute to one’s career and job. However, it is essential to assess the relevance of the knowledge gained and how it will add value to one’s profession.

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Written by Rob Ewart


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