What are micro-credentials and what does the future hold?

Published On: March 3rd, 20224.8 min readCategories: Trends

✏️   Table of Contents

Micro-credentials could be the next major disruptive force in higher education. And, over the last few years, the spotlight has been firmly placed on what that could mean not only for students but for institutions, employers, and policymakers.

There is no denying micro-credentials are a hot topic in the industry right now. But since this concept is relatively new there are still many question marks around what micro-credentials mean for the higher education landscape. Read on to understand what this emerging trend is about, its challenges, opportunities, and potential future.

 

First things first, what are micro-credentials?

As simple as that question may sound it’s one of the biggest challenges micro-credentials is facing right now. There are many names and definitions circling the globe, so it’s getting the right attention. But the lack of a commonly accepted definition is hampering the acceptance of micro-credentials by employers, policymakers, and educators.

In acknowledgement of this UNESCO has been embarking on studies around micro-credentials and how we can move towards a common language. They recently held a very important webinar , in September 2021, to discuss their findings and bring together leading experts from a wide range of organisations and academia.

 

In a nutshell: Micro-credentials are seen as a way of recognising students’ knowledge, skills and competencies without requiring these students to complete a full qualification (i.e. degree, diplomas etc.). Whatever we might call them, they are here to stay and that’s why we believe UNESCO is taking the first steps in how we define the value and potential of micro-credentials.

 

So how are micro-credentials defined then?

In UNESCO’s report around micro-credentials, launched in September 2021, UNESCO suggests that to understand micro-credentials it is important to first categorise existing qualifications such as degrees, diplomas, certificates, and licenses that are accredited and currently offered by institutions of higher learning into macro-credentials.

Macro-credentials are focused on the achievement of a broad body of knowledge, transferable skills or technical proficiency and may take several years to complete.

In contrast micro-credentials are focused on a specific set of learning outcomes in a narrow field of learning covered over a shorter period. Micro-credentials are seen to not only be offered by higher education institutions but also commercial entities, professional bodies, community organisations and other types of organisations This means even employers are able to offer micro-credentials. An example of this is Microsoft and Google offering micro-credentials to the public.

In summary then, micro-credentials are industry-aligned short units of learning that are certified or credentialed, and they can be stacked or count towards a higher education qualification. Micro-credentials can even be broken down further into nano-credentials where students can receive badges and industry recognised certificates.

  

The Challenges and Opportunities of Micro-credentials

The biggest challenge of micro-credentials is the acceptance and recognition of these credentials by employers and policymakers. In many countries regulators of higher education, have incorporated micro-credentials into their policies.

In a country such as New Zealand, micro-credentials are accredited and stackable to lead to a qualification or to provide students with just enough knowledge, skills, and competencies to be gainfully employed. The New Zealand government also provide institutions of higher education with a subsidy for these micro-credentials.

In Canada, the United States, Brazil, and the European Union a lot of work is done around the creation of policies and frameworks that allow for the creation and accreditation of micro-credentials.

Are there discussions around micro-credentials happening in South Africa?

In South Africa, micro-credentials are still viewed as non-credit bearing, the same as our short courses . But many higher education institutions have started the discussions around what micro-credentials may look like for South Africans, so yes, the first step has been taken. Words such as widening access, addressing unemployability, building skills, preparing individuals for the labour market as well as the unbundling and re-bundling of qualifications are on their agenda.

 

Are there discussions around micro-credentials happening in South Africa?

In South Africa, micro-credentials are still viewed as non-credit bearing, the same as our short courses . But many higher education institutions have started the discussions around what micro-credentials may look like for South Africans, so yes, the first step has been taken. Words such as widening access, addressing unemployability, building skills, preparing individuals for the labour market as well as the unbundling and re-bundling of qualifications are on their agenda.

  

The Future of Micro-Credentials

A lot of work still needs to be done around creating awareness of micro-credentials among employers, as well as bringing on board the regulators of higher education in South Africa.

However, many institutions, private and public are embracing this new style of education and are rolling out micro and nano-credentials into the market. This is exciting for South Africa, as upskilling and reskilling should be one of our biggest priorities to ensure our people are employable.

At iQ Academy we are invested in being a part of the conversation and change. We will continue to grow and develop our offering, staying true to providing career focused learning for our students, no matter the direction micro-credentials finally take in our country.

We see this as a developing matter in our industry, so we’ll be back with more updates as soon as any news arises. Until then, if you have any questions feel free to contact us .

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