Introduction to Micro-Credentials

Definition, History, Best Practices

1. Definition and Related Terms

Micro-credentials are an emerging trend in higher education that intersects with several areas of education technology, learning & teaching and open education. A micro-credential can be defined as a “single, shareable endorsement or attestation of a learner’s achievement of specific knowledge, skills or even competencies” (www.humber.ca)

One might hear about micro-certifications and wonder what is the difference between micro-credentials and micro-certifications. There is no difference - they are synomonous terms.

EcampusOntario uses the following definition from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology: "Microcertifications are used to certify an individual's achievements in specific skills and differ from traditional education credentials such as degrees and diplomas in that they are shorter, can be personalized and provide distinctive value and relevance in the changing world of work" (rmit.edu.au/creds/faq)

Another Australian author, Beverly Oliver, defines micro-credentials as "a certification of assessed learning that is additional, alternate. complementary to or a formal component of a formal qualification" (Oliver, 2019)

Mark Brown, from Dublin City University (home of the Micro-Credential Observatory) created this informative 10 minute video that "unboxes" microcredentials and provides context.

State University of New York (SUNY) denote 4 characteristics of micro-credentials:

  • micro credentials verify, validate and attest that specific skills and or competencies have been achieved.
  • micro credentials are endorsed by the issuing institution
  • micro credentials have been developed through established faculy governance processes
  • micro credentials are designed to be meaningful and high quality.

https://system.suny.edu/academic-affairs/microcredentials/definitions/

The term alternative credentials is also used to refer to micro-certifications. Kato et al (2020) in their OECD report defines alternative credentials as "credentials that are not recognized as standalone formal education qualifications by relevant national education authorities." They go on to classify three forms of alternative credentials: certificates, digital badges and micro-credentials. 

Characteristics of alternative credentials:

  • Could be delivered face to face, online or blended
  • could take hours to months to complete
  • could be validated by attendance, assignments and/or examinations
  • focused on highly relevant skills need in the job market

(Kato et al, 2020)

Other terms related to micro-certifications are helpful to review:

Skills - "Ability to perform tasks due to one's knowledge, learning or practice" (www.workbc.ca)

Competencies - "Ability to perform specific tasks well and to adapt easily to the activities of a variety of jobs" (www.workbc.ca)

Characteristics - " Qualities that may influence both performance and the capacity to gain the knowledge and skills needed to perform work well" (www.workbc.ca)

Micro-credentials could be used to measure skills and competencies.

Another related term is competency based education which can be defined as "an outcome based approach to education that incorporates modes of instructional delivery and assessment efforts designed to evaluate mastery of learning by students through their demonstration of the knowledge, attitudes, values, skills, and behaviors required for the degree sought" (Gervais, 2016).  Many learning management system allow for competencies, including Moodle.