Microcredentials are evolving to help different student groups in higher education demonstrate expertise and capabilities.

Where are microcredentials today–and where are they going?

Microcredentials are evolving to help different student groups in higher education demonstrate expertise and capabilities

Key points:

As institutions of higher education strive to produce highly-educated students who can demonstrate their skills and knowledge, microcredentials–digital verifications of students’ and workers’ skills–are steadily gaining in popularity.

In a nutshell, a microcredential is a verifiable digital badge of sorts that serves as a representation of a skill, strength, or area of study a person has mastered. Courses to earn microcredentials are typically shorter than a college semester and culminate in this digital representation of a student’s work and competency. (The University of Oregon has an excellent overview of microcredentials here.)

Here’s a look at recent developments supporting the expansion of microcredentials:

a1. Defining skills for microcredentials: As the use of digital credentials grows, differentiating between credentials that are valuable for both employers and learners becomes more and more important. Understanding how to create credentials of value by integrating them with skills frameworks was the focus of a panel at the 1EdTech 2024 Digital Credentials Summit. The best way for learners to communicate skills is by speaking the same language as employers. That common language can only come through collaboration between educators, employers, and industry leaders to determine and define desired skills.

a2. Microcredentialing platforms can help students develop and demonstrate essential critical thinking skills: While many leaders in all levels of education have woven elements of critical thinking into curricula, few explicitly focus on developing the skill and even fewer have been able to measure it effectively.  Using microcredentialing platforms can help students master this important skill and demonstrate their abilities to educators and, more importantly, employers.

a3. Companies want to partner to offer microcredentialing and training programs, but higher ed loses out to private providers: In the second year of an ongoing research series, Collegis partnered with UPCEA to survey more than 500 employers to better understand their perceptions of collaborating with higher ed on professional development programs and microcredentials. While opportunities to partner with employers on microcredentials are growing, higher ed is losing ground to private providers. Companies working with four-year colleges to provide employee training and professional development dropped by nearly 10 percent between 2022 and 2023, and community colleges also saw a decrease of 7 percent in training partnerships.

a4. Skills are the new currency in today’s job market–students need to demonstrate them: The reality is that everyone has different learning preferences, needs, and aspirations, and that the world is changing faster than ever. The skills and knowledge that are in demand today may become obsolete tomorrow. Several universities have realized this and are quickly adapting to stay relevant. They are revamping their systems to cater to the diversity and dynamism of learners and the labor market. To remain relevant, universities must evolve. The more progressive ones are already moving towards experiential learning, which develops skills and experiences that match industry needs. This means adopting practical, hands-on methods that equip students for the challenges of the modern job market. 

a5. Empowering non-traditional leaders with microcredentials: Microcredentials are poised to play an increasingly important role on campus as non-traditional students become the mainstream. In the ever-evolving landscape of higher education, the definition of a “typical” college student is undergoing a profound transformation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a staggering 73 percent of students enrolled in higher education fall under the umbrella of nontraditional students. Non-traditional students face myriad challenges in pursuing traditional degrees, often juggling work, family, and other responsibilities. They not only need greater flexibility and affordability, they also need an efficient program that gives them skills quickly. Colleges have responded with the creation of microcredentials, and they are quickly gaining favor with non-traditional students and employers alike. These bite-sized, skill-focused programs are designed to quickly and affordably equip individuals with industry-relevant skills. In as little as two quarters, students can earn a microcredential that they can immediately use to get a new job or advance in their careers.

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Laura Ascione