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Micro-credentials. Concept, Framework, Impact.

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Micro-credentials. Concept, Framework, Impact.

In today's fast-changing world of education and work, micro-credentials have become really important for students, employers and schools. They're like a new way to learn and improve your skills throughout your life. Think of micro-credentials as short, focused courses that teach you exactly the skills you need for a certain job or a new career path you’d really like to take. They're not like long college degrees. And, given the recent dynamic that professionals/students opt to finish their higher education after first cycle studies, the need for quick yet powerful credentials becomes more and more obvious.

For a proper subject dive-in, feel free to check an engaging webinar on micro-credentials, held by EOCCS - Online Course Certification System in April 2023. Gabriel Dymowski (DoxyChain), Rolf Reinhardt (LinkedIn), Klaus-Dieter Rossade (The Open University) and Keith Pond (EFMD) spoke about the challenges, needs, framework  and tech infrastructure of the micro-credentials space.

 

Understanding micro-credentials

Micro-credentials are digital certifications that validate an individual's competency in a specific skill or set of skills. These credentials differ significantly from traditional academic qualifications like degrees and diplomas. They are more granular, often focusing on distinct skills or knowledge areas, and are designed to be completed in a shorter time frame. This makes them particularly appealing for professionals seeking to upskill or re-skill without committing to long-term study.

One of the key characteristics of micro-credentials is their flexibility and relevance to current industry demands. They often cover emerging fields or specialized skills not typically included in traditional academic curricula. For example, a micro-credential in data analytics or digital marketing provides targeted knowledge that can be immediately applied in the workplace.

The benefits of micro-credentials extend to both learners and employers. For learners, they offer a pathway to acquire new skills quickly and demonstrably, enhancing employability and career progression. For employers, micro-credentials provide a clear indicator of a prospective employee's specific abilities, ensuring a better match between job requirements and the candidate's skill set.

Considering the changing technological world dynamics, students are less committed to just one field of a three-year degree - it is insufficient for them now. They want immediate access to the courses where they can obtain or acknowledge specific competencies which are now essential for them. We are witnessing natural and systematic changes in higher education. - Beata Galas, CEO StayDigiSafe, ex- Head of Google for Education for CEE.
Regulatory framework in US vs EU

The regulatory landscape for micro-credentials in both the US and EU is evolving as these educational formats gain popularity.

In the United States, there is no uniform federal regulation specifically for micro-credentials. Instead, accreditation largely remains at the institutional level, where universities and colleges determine the validity and recognition of these credentials. This self-regulation allows for flexibility and innovation but also leads to variability in the quality and acceptance of micro-credentials in the job market. The US Department of Education, however, has shown interest in exploring micro-credentials, particularly in how they can align with federal financial aid programs, suggesting potential future regulatory developments.

In contrast, the European Union has been more proactive in creating a cohesive framework for micro-credentials. The European Commission has recognized the need for a standardized system and is working towards an integrated approach. This includes the development of a common definition, as well as efforts to ensure quality and transparency in micro-credential offerings across member states.

The EU’s emphasis is on ensuring that these credentials are aligned with the European Qualifications Framework, which aims to facilitate mobility and recognition of qualifications across different countries. This approach reflects the EU's broader educational goals of fostering lifelong learning and supporting the European Education Area.

“Micro-credentials continue to excite educators both within and outside the higher education sector. What the sector still lacks is a clear quality assurance benchmark that can differentiate offers for learners and promote good practice for providers. Whilst national guidelines for Microcredentials are being developed these are often based on traditional assumptions of University provision with regulated quality assurance systems. The availability and acceptance of technology and the emergence of “alternative” providers continue to threaten those assumptions. A new vision of Microcredential quality is needed.” - Keith Pond, EOCCS Director, EFMD Global Network
Issuers of micro-credentials

Primarily, micro-credentials are provided by educational institutions, including universities, colleges and vocational schools. However, they can also be issued by other entities. For example, the rise of online learning platforms has significantly expanded the availability and scope of micro-credentials. The issuers range from specialized providers focusing on specific skill sets to comprehensive education platforms offering a wide array of micro-courses.

Implementation framework and process

Now, let’s focus on the most influential groups of issuers - universities. The implementation of a micro-credential framework in universities involves several key steps. However, here, there are two equally important aspects we should look at: curriculum development and implementation and tech infrastructure.

The process for the curriculum development, implementation and iteration includes assessment, curriculum development, partnerships with industry, delivery, assessment and certification, recognition and credit transfer, continuous valuation  steps. The process for the technical planning and implementation includes current infrastructure assessment, tech provider analysis, implementation, onboarding and also a continuous evaluation. Both curriculum and tech infrastructure need constant observation, feedback and adjustment due to the dynamic nature of micro-credentials space.

Universities integrating micro-credentials

Although the micro-credential concept is relatively new, there are front-runners who are already taking the full advantage of it.

ECIU University. The European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU) is a leading example in Europe, issuing centralized, tamper-proof micro-credentials to its learners. They are using the European Digital Credentials (EDC) platform to issue these micro-credentials, ensuring they meet European standards for digital credentials. ECIU University offers learning opportunities that aim to develop new skills and competencies, focusing on active citizenship and learner empowerment​​. Source.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). UWM offers noncredit micro-credentials in areas like cybersecurity, data analytics, and blockchain technology. These programs are designed to fill employer demand in the large tech sector surrounding the campus. Additionally, UWM has developed credit-bearing micro-credentials that integrate with the existing academic offerings, enabling students to earn certifications alongside their degrees​​. Source.

Cracow University of Technology. The university pioneers micro-courses and micro-trainings, certified with micro-credentials based on blockchain technology. The professional skill acquired in such a fast, targeted way, taught by the engineering staff from leading companies and institutions, as well as by students and doctoral candidates of Cracow University of Technology, will be certified on blockchain technology. Source.

Blockchain for micro-credentials

The synergy between blockchain technology and micro-credentials significantly transformed the landscape of education and professional development. Such a combination guarantees the authenticity and durability of credentials, making them a trustworthy asset in the professional world.

Firstly, blockchain's inherent security and immutability ensure that each micro-credential is tamper-proof, enhancing the trustworthiness and reliability of these certifications. This feature is particularly crucial in an era where digital information can be easily manipulated, read more about it here. Secondly, blockchain enables the creation of a transparent and indisputably verifiable record of an individual’s learning. This aspect is invaluable for employers who seek to quickly and accurately verify the qualifications of potential hires, thereby streamlining the recruitment process. Finally, portability and shareability also break down geographical and institutional barriers, allowing for a global recognition of skills and achievements. Learn more about other benefits in our “The Power of Micro-Credentials on Blockchain” article.

Blockchain technology significantly enhances the value, security, flexibility, and accessibility of micro-credentials, showing a great real-world application in a new era of professional development and learning. Despite its huge potential, very few players opt for blockchain-based credentials today. The main reason is there are not enough trusted tech providers to secure the full process. DoxyChain is one of the very first comprehensive solutions granting the tech infrastructure for micro-qualification issuing, management and verification.

“Thanks to our cooperation with DoxyChain, students receive certificates that provide even greater credibility, trust, and are verifiable. We are convinced that together with DoxyChain, we are pioneers” - Rafał Prabucki, PhD University of Silesia.

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