Why universities globally should consider how they fit into the micro-accreditation landscape

“Shorter in duration than traditional programs, micro-credential programs enable students to gain specialised certifications for specific skills or knowledge areas”

The economic landscape learners face today is rapidly shifting. A generation ago, a career spent in one role was commonplace. Today, the need to reskill to hold multiple careers over a lifetime in the workplace appears to be quickly becoming the rule rather than the exception.

The skills gap created by this dynamic is also an opportunity. Short programs, such as micro-credentials with specific goals, are an opportunity for higher education institutions to widen access for non-traditional learners to gain the skills needed to compete today and provide an avenue to deliver lifelong learning for more workers tomorrow.

Shorter in duration than traditional programs, micro-credential programs enable students to gain specialised certifications for specific skills or knowledge areas.  Ranging from computer programming to project management, they can be awarded for both formal and informal learning experiences, increasing employability.

These programs, especially those delivered in flexible formats, widen participation to include non-traditional higher education students — usually a more diverse group of students, particularly in age and previous experience. Upon completion, student studies are recognised by small, specialised certifications or badges demonstrating their mastery of specific skills or competencies which can then be added to their LinkedIn profile or resume.

Micro-credentials of course cannot replace a degree, but they can give students a competitive edge when applying for certain jobs. Such is their power, in certain fields, micro-credentials can give potential employees a leg up in the hiring process as hiring managers know the skills gained in a micro-credential programme match the role’s responsibilities.

So what are the benefits to universities incorporating micro-credential programmes into their current programming? Well, first and foremost they show that universities recognise the diverse learning needs of their community. They also enable students with busy schedules or limited resources who otherwise might be locked out from gaining the knowledge needed to achieve more, acquire new skills and advance their careers.

By offering a micro-credential programme, universities can also build stronger ties to the larger communities they serve by providing high-quality education and training in in-demand skills that align with local employers’ needs. Micro-credentials also serve as an opportunity for universities to explore partnerships with employers to provide scholarships to staff as part of PDPs (Personal Development Plans) and apprenticeships to anyone starting out, upskilling or looking for a career change.

Finally, shorter programmes offer opportunities to test more innovative teaching and learning approaches and be more agile in the development of the curriculum. These programmes are usually more applied in nature which enables approaches that integrated theory and practice better, use problem-based and experiential learning and take better advantage of technologies. Having a shorter cycle also means integrating student feedback and employability data in the next operations of the programme in a more agile manner.

With the economy and career expectations shifting rapidly, micro-credentials offer a way for learners to gain new, in-demand skills, and for universities to offer innovative training programmes that maintain competitiveness, adapt to meet changing market demands, improve reputation and expand access to learners beyond the traditional on-campus set.  Micro-credentials might also offer opportunities to strengthen the relationship with the local and regional communities and the ability to align offerings to the needs of local and regional markets. Often, higher education is looked upon as inadaptable and stuck delivering in a format little changed since its beginning. Micro-credentialing is an opportunity to embrace change – both in the economic landscape, in curricular approaches and in the relationships institutions have with their learners and communities.

About the author: Joel Armando’s career in higher education spans 20 years and is primarily in the fields of teaching, curriculum and learning design, research, and edtech.  Joel Has a PhD in Education (Spain), PGDip in Learning Technologies (UK), MSc in Educational Research (Argentina), and BSc in Education (Argentina).

Today Joel’s current focus is on learning design and innovation in higher education, and public-sector environments.  Joel manages the Client Experience Management team in EMEA at Anthology.