What’s this all about?

Historically our ability to have our learning recognised has depended on completing large ‘chunks’ of learning that are determined and packaged up by the providers of that learning.

Micro-credentialing returns the ownership to the learner, and allows them to map their own pathway through the things of interest to them, and have them recognised in a transferrable way. Think of the badges earned in Guides or Scouts. The individual is able to pursue the area(s) of particular interest to her/him, and the criteria for earning the “badge of learning” is made explicit.

Micro-credentials are, at their core, certifications offered for taking courses and developing skills in specific areas. Variously called badges, nano-credentials or nano-degrees, these credentials promise recognition for workforce upskilling and reskilling.

Micro-credentials are becoming widely used across tertiary, business, and other education providers. In 2018, NZQA ran a pilot programme, working alongside Otago Polytechnic, The Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme (YES), and Udacity to co-create programmes that ensure the skills taught could be validated by micro-credentials, and aligned with those deemed essential by employers of the future. 

At a first glance, digital badges may simply appear to be a visual representation of a person’s skills, knowledge, competencies, and achievements. However, part of the richness to open digital badges is the evidence that sits in behind each badge detailing the learning. This ‘metadata’ displays information that records the badge issuer, the date issued, and the criteria required to earn the badge. Open digital badges enable the badge earner to link to artefacts that contributed to the badge such as research, inquiry, reflections and videos, all of which adds robustness to the badge.

The role of competency-based, bite-sized, personalised and on-demand learning is well recognised as being vital for the ongoing professional development of staff in their workplace. Finding a way to motivate staff to engage in professional learning, as well as capturing such learning, its credibility, and its impact on an individual’s practice is an increasing requirement for staff and employers.

What’s driving this change? 

Micro-credentialing is a reflection of the shift to a ‘learner-centric’ approach in education, moving from the provision of large ‘packages’ of learning in the form of qualifications to a demand-side focus for learning that meets current needs and do not require participation in traditionally larger, time-bound courses. A summary of what is driving this change follows:

  • Micro-credentials provide a way of offering recognition for ‘bits’ of learning, instead of applying only to full ‘courses’, and enables education providers to be more agile in the way they respond to emergent demand from customers.
  • Learners can generate a portfolio or backpack of badges, which is shareable with new employment settings, regulatory bodies, or their employer to promote the range of skills offered by their staff. 
  • The Mozilla Backpack, for example, makes it easy to earn badges from multiple sources, both online and offline, then sort them into categories and choose where they’re shared, through a single interface.
  • An aggregation of micro-credentials within a portfolio can be transferred between organisations, and recognised toward higher qualifications by degree-granting organisations, providing a scaffolded way for teacher-learners to achieve their higher qualifications. 
  • The data behind the badge gives it credibility as it includes the information needed to determine its validity, authenticity, source, and value, such as the name of the individual or organisation taking responsibility for issuing the badge, and the requirements for earning the badge. 
  • The Mozilla Foundation developed an open technical standard called Open Badges in 2011, which has served as a common system for issuing, collecting, and displaying digital badges across various websites and non-profit organisations. Contextual information like “what the badge represents, how it was earned, when they earned it, who issued it” is critical to the definition of a badge in this standard.

What examples of this can I see?

  • The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) recently conducted a micro-credential trial and has now introduced a micro-credential approval process as part of New Zealand’s regulated education and training system. 
  • Melbourne University is currently exploring the emerging use of micro-credentials as a means of certifying attainment of smaller and more specific elements of learning than are attested to by a degree. 
  • The University of Melbourne has also joined forces with US-based Learning Machine to pilot a blockchain based system to share and verify micro-credentials.
  • Udacity aims to reinvent education for the 21st century by bridging the gap between real-world skills, relevant education, and employment. They offer nanodegrees developed in collaboration with industry partners (such as Google, IBM, Facebook, MailChimp) and seek to provide skills in demand in short-course form.
  • RMIT is providing industry-relevant digital credentials designed with employers and industry to help individuals develop skills and capabilities for life and work. The digital badges provide a web-enabled record of professional skills that are increasingly valued and recognised by employers.
  • US-based Digital Promise is committed to sharing their stories to show how micro-credentials can support powerful learning.

How might we respond?

Some questions to help you think about the next steps here include:

  1. How do staff in your organisation currently gather evidence of their learning as required for teacher/kaiako registration? Are there any experiences that contribute to this learning that aren’t currently able to be ‘recognised’ in any tangible way? How might the use of micro-credentials and digital badging make this process more straight forward and meaningful?
  2. How might micro-credentials provide opportunities for some learners who don’t currently experience success in our high stakes examination system? Are there ways you could experiment with this in your context, providing recognition for those ‘bits’ of formal and informal ākonga learning?
  3. What are the current barriers/obstacles to introducing micro-credentials into your context, for staff and/or ākonga? What would it take to address these things and enable change?