Trust me…I’m a micro-credential!

trust me i'm a micro-credential

Micro-credentials have become synonymous with short, flexible, stackable, affordable, inclusive qualifications focused on skills development. Most recently, they have proliferated through the medium of online instruction.

In the recent EOCCS Community webinar “Making micro-credentials work” (available on YouTube), our panellists discussed a number of practical issues relating to micro-credentials, including the central question of trust.

In a service-based environment, where there is little tangibility to consumption, trust is an essential part of our decision-making – and of those who decide to trust us.

What is Trust?

Nobel Prize-winner Oliver Williamson considered that trust has three components:

  1. Calculative Trust: This is the logical – purely economist view of trust. We construct trust by estimating and calculating, through past experience, recommendations, and our own research, how much we can trust another person or organisation. But how good is our research? and can “star ratings” be manipulated?
  2. Institutional Trust: This is the social and organisational context within which contracts are embedded. But how much do we trust the institution or the regulation that protects us? Why do we trust our bank NOT to lose our savings?
  3. Personal Trust: This is the trust between human beings, created from feelings and emotions. In its purest sense, this form of trust is not able to be measured. It’s a “gut feeling”, just as “happiness” or “love” eschew quantification.

Obviously, other theories and philosophies apply.  The vision of many HEI and commercial providers is to achieve widespread acceptability of the micro-credentials that they issue, just as formal degree awards are trusted. Acceptability of HE awards by stakeholders, such as employers, relies mainly on Institutional Trust (brand and legacy) and on Calculative Trust (regulation). Acceptability by our learners can be more subjective and relies on Institutional as well as Personal Trust – for example, whether their expectations of study and employability were met.

Learning to trust micro-credentials

Micro-credentials, however, do not carry the same weight of trustworthiness as degree awards in most cases. These short, flexible qualifications may be credit-bearing or not, may be formal or informal, assessed or not. They represent an unbundling of the traditional HE package. So, how can we learn to trust in badges and credentials?  We asked Rolf Reinhardt of the International Council on Badges and Credentials, and webinar contributor.

One way is to achieve acceptance through currency, efficacy, and branding. Here, existing HEIs with well-established quality assurance systems, and strong branding, such as webinar contributor The Open University, may have an early advantage.  This will enable their micro-credentials to be applied to social media profiles, such as LinkedIn, to CVs and to university applications, gaining acceptance and trust through experience.

Technology can also help here. Blockchain technology, such as that offered by webinar contributor DoxyChain, can help to build trust as the technology does not rely on a simple repository of data but an open ledger where security is assured by all users.

Another possibility, especially for management education, is the accreditation of micro-credential providers by a prestigious and trusted global body such as EFMD.

As the re-vitalised phenomenon of micro-credentials grows, we have to constantly reflect on what it means for business school quality standards and how we can learn to trust the “new” and the “different” just as we trust the more familiar past.

Watch the EOCCS Community webinar “Making micro-credentials work”:


For a wider discussion of micro-credentials, read ‘Is small beautiful? An exploration of micro-credentials‘.



Williamson, O., (1993), Calculativeness, Trust, and Economic Organization, The Journal of Law and Economics, Volume 36, Number 1, Part 2, Apr.,