Disrupting education: Micro-credentials for lifelong learning

Micro-credentials are becoming a more and more sought-after form of learning to incorporate at universities (Source). They often focus on distinct skills or knowledge areas and are completed in a shorter time frame. That makes them particularly attractive to professionals seeking to enhance their skills without the need to undertake lengthy studies.

Recently, projects regarding micro-credentials adoption have been spreading throughout European countries, due to changing learners’ expectations and European Union projects such as Digital Credentials for Europe (DC4EU) based and backed by The European Blockchain Services Infrastructure (EBSI).

In the time of moving from macro to micro, from long forms to short forms, it is essential to know how higher education can adapt to that changing environment and meet the market demand.

What are micro-credentials in Higher Education?

In general, a micro-credential can be the result of implementing a certain micro-programme or proof of recognising the outcomes of formal or non-formal learning acquired with a small volume of learning if we are able to verify these effects.

Following the recommendations posed by the Council of the European Union (Source), participants in such courses have to acquire specific knowledge, skills, and competencies that respond to social, personal, and cultural needs or the needs of the labour market. Institutions must assess knowledge based on clear and transparent criteria. Once micro-credential issuance occurs, the participant owns the credential. The individual can then share, transfer, and combine the credential into larger credentials.

For micro-credentials to be effective, widely adopted, and recognised, they have to be credible, stackable, adequate, and authenticated (Source). Those traits apply not only to the document but also to the quality of the skills assessment process and issuing institution.

For higher education institutions, it means obtaining accreditation of micro-credential providers by adhering to national or EU accreditation. Then, creating micro-programmes addressed to students, PhD students, and actively working people.

To cover the characteristic of authentication, the micro-credential as a document itself should be easily verifiable. It means institutions need to adopt a solution that enables simple creation, issuance, management, and verification of credentials. The verification should provide sufficient information to authenticate the identity of the credential holder, the legal identity of the issuing authority, and the date and place of issue of the micro-credential.

Blockchain technology enables achieving such a high standard of authentication and quality in micro-credential stackability. As it’s a tamper-proof technology that offers a robust, secure, and transparent framework for managing digital credentials. Implementing blockchain to micro-credentials provides unfalsifiable, transparent, and traceable proof of skills obtained. As this technology is decentralised, it offers trustworthy verifiability through independent certificate authenticators (e.g. DoxyChain).

 Why are micro-credentials in demand?

Students and professionals need to update their knowledge, skills, and competencies to fill in the discrepancies between the effects of their formal education and the needs of society and the labour market.

The digital transformation has accelerated the pace of these changes. The pandemic has shown the necessity for people to better prepare for current and future challenges. That is why policy-makers and society require education systems to become more flexible, more learner-oriented, accessible, and inclusive.

The demand on the learners’ side is growing due to the benefits micro-credentials bring. Micro-programmes provide more flexibility to students, both in terms of learning material and a more accessible form of learning. Short-form studies enable students to develop their interests and improve their skills without spending a few years on them.

Micro-credential, either standalone, stacked, or as an addition to the diploma, is seen by learners as an advantage in the labour market (Source). Micro-credentials’ adequacy creates a belief for students that such an approach will ensure access to reliable courses and eliminate these unreliable ones.

For universities, the introduction of micro-credentials can be a remedy for the effects of the demographic decline. Micro-credentials also address the changes in the preferences of young people who do not choose second-cycle studies, or even often do not choose first-cycle studies, and are looking for other, shorter development paths.

As the demand for micro-credentials grows, we must be aware of their implications for higher education institutions. We need to prepare and keep up with educational and technological standards set by policymakers and society.

For additional insights, announcements and perspectives about lifelong learning, visit the conversation here.

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