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Can the Micro-credential Shift Make a Monumental Impact on Higher Ed?

  • 27 October, 2023
  • Reading Time: 7 mins

How long will a traditional degree alone keep individuals competitive in the job market? AI and the job evolution it presents demands a more pragmatic approach to skill development. Enter, the concept of lifelong learning, which is driving the surge in micro-credentialing as an adaptive learning strategy.

We look at micro-credentialing as an educational innovation, offering concise, specialized certifications that enable continuous skill adaptation. The agility offered by micro-credentialing courses helps build precise, in-demand proficiencies while catering to specific job needs. In the near future, they will be regarded as a crucial tool to help learners navigate career landscapes, prove their expertise to potential employers, and keep their growth ongoing.

Underlining the reasons behind the meteoric rise of micro-credentials

The Demand for Targeted Learning

Learners today increasingly grapple with hurdles within the formal education system.  A staggering 38 million Americans have engaged in higher education endeavors without tangible outcomes to showcase. Many find themselves at a standstill or have disengaged from the traditional educational pathway, left without recognized credentials that validate their acquired knowledge within the job market. Considering this metamorphosis, the key to remaining relevant and up-to-date with the latest are these short-term or bite-sized nano degrees.

What is interesting about micro-credentials is that they address these skills or knowledge gaps, with the least possible investment and quickly. With micro-credentials, individuals can acquire the skills they need without committing to lengthy degree programs. With it leveling the playing field – what you need is just access to the internet and a viable device, no doubt it is a tour-de-force for learners across the world.

 A student studying on a laptop in a library.

Changing Nature of The Workforce

There is a growing demand for skills that formal education has not yet had the chance to address.  Typically, it takes between 1 and 3 years to develop a full-fledged degree program at a prestigious university. In the last year alone, Generative AI has demonstrated why that’s too slow. Not only does AI increase the demand for more pertinent skills, but it also diminishes some demand for skills being taught in 4-year degree programs.

Between now and 2027, businesses predict that 44% of workers’ core skills will be disrupted because technology is moving faster than companies can design and scale up their training programs. The constant evolution of technology necessitates up-to-date, specialized skills. For instance, the demand for data scientists has surged, leading to micro-credential programs like the MITx MicroMasters Program that allow individuals to gain specific data-related skills. We’ve also witnessed industries crafting professional certifications (such as those offered by Microsoft, Google, and Apple for educators) into their approaches to engaging consumers. This goes to show that the modular and practical nature of micro-credentials provides a direct answer to the evolving needs of the workforce.

Micro-credentialing as a strategic initiative for higher education

Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”― Albert Einstein. In the European Union, the Council of the European Union adopted a recommendation in 2022 to promote micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability, acknowledging the importance of continual skill development.

That mico-credentials are the key to the new economy is evident from the growth in the Microlearning Market size, which is expected to grow from USD 2.31 billion in 2023 to USD 4.40 billion by the next five years. That in itself registers a CAGR of 13.77%.

Many higher education leaders view this as a way to diversify the institution’s revenue streams, tap into the growing demand for specific skills, and open their doors to a wider learner population.

Micro-credentialing as a strategic imperative not only helps institutions cater to learning needs but also allows them to forge a symbiotic relationship with industry stakeholders.  This, in turn, can lead to collaborative partnerships, research opportunities, and enhanced employability for graduates. To leaders at the helm of higher education institutions, micro-credentialing presents great growth opportunities.

So why haven’t Micro-Credential programs gained the expected popularity within higher ed?

Micro-credentials hold immense potential for addressing the needs of today’s learners. However, developing an effective micro-credentialing strategy poses its own set of challenges.

Despite the proliferation of these emerging credentials, substantial uncertainty still prevails. There is no widely accepted consensus on definitions and taxonomies to structure these new forms of accreditation. The full scope of what they offer remains unclear, with limited evidence to assess their actual impact, and there is a lack of systematic documentation regarding governmental responses to these innovative offerings.

Also, higher education institutions often have well-established, traditional academic structures that may resist rapid change. Implementing microcredentials requires adapting and potentially restructuring existing programs, which can be met with institutional resistance.

Leaders often face various competing priorities, such as improving graduation rates, maintaining research excellence, and addressing pressing administrative challenges. These demands can make it challenging to allocate resources and attention to micro-credential initiatives.

Ultimately, the very factors for the rise in demand for Micro-credentialing programs may be hindering its penetration into higher education – fluctuating demand for skills. Institutions may be cautious about investing heavily in programs that could ultimately have limited appeal.

“Every wall is a door.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

With the right approach and minimal resources, higher education can tackle these challenges because micro-credentials are on the rise. Institutions can play a vital role in democratizing education, extending the reach of high-quality, job-relevant knowledge to a diverse audience, thereby amplifying its contribution to lifelong learning.

4 students sitting in front of a laptop, discussing.

Future Trends in Micro-Credentialing

As the demand for up-to-date knowledge within the workforce grows the need for micro-credentials grows. We are already seeing this in action where employers are switching to skills-based hiring. Driven by innovation in technology and catering to the emerging needs of businesses, here are some of the future trends that we foresee:

Increased Competition with Non-Traditional Providers

There is no question that Micro-credentials are in demand, especially for Gen Z, where the 120-credit system seems too big a commitment. If leaders in higher education don’t step up, they will have to navigate competition with non-traditional players and edtech companies that offer similar credentials. Your perspective is essential in staying ahead in this competitive landscape.

Getting Due Recognition and Acceptance

According to a 2023 report from UPCEA, 65% of employers shared that they were open to collaborating with colleges to develop workforce credentials. As micro-credentials become increasingly accepted by employers and industries, the programs will get more credible and serve as a versatile form of education and skill verification.

Standardization and Quality Assurance

In response to concerns about quality and consistency, there are ongoing efforts to standardize the design, assessment, and recognition of micro-credentials. This standardization will help ensure that micro-credentials maintain high educational and competency standards. Micro-credentials may undergo innovation in their design, incorporating augmented reality, virtual reality, and interactive elements to make learning more engaging and effective.

Stackable Credentials

Micro-credentials will continue to evolve into more comprehensive and stackable formats. This holds promise for higher education where instead of a “sunk cost” in a program, institutions can position the program as stackable credentials that seamlessly integrate with undergraduate or graduate degree programs, enhancing their appeal and relevance. Learners can have the opportunity to combine multiple micro-credentials into larger, more comprehensive qualifications or pathways, providing greater flexibility in their educational journeys.

Personalized Learning Pathways

According to a recent IBM study, 80% of respondents planned to build skills in the next 2 years with 90% of them looking to develop skills using an online platform. Micro-credentials will be integrated into personalized learning pathways, allowing learners to chart their own educational journey. These pathways will adapt to individual skills and career goals, providing tailored education experiences.

Blockchain Technology

The use of blockchain technology for issuing, verifying, and storing micro-credentials will become more prevalent. Blockchain can play a role in ensuring the security, authenticity, and portability of these credentials.

Micro-credential Ecosystems

Micro-credential ecosystems will emerge, where universities, edtech companies, professional organizations, and industry partners collaborate to provide a wide range of micro-credential options. Companies will use micro-credentials to upskill and reskill their workforce quickly and efficiently. Government agencies and regulatory bodies may become more involved in overseeing and standardizing micro-credentialing to ensure consumer protection and quality assurance. These courses will become more accessible globally, allowing learners from diverse backgrounds and regions to access quality education and skill development opportunities.

Assessment and Data-Driven Learning

The development of more sophisticated and reliable assessment methods will become crucial. These methods may include simulations, AI-driven assessments, and real-world projects, offering a deeper understanding of learners’ capabilities. Data analytics and AI will be leveraged to provide learners with insights into their learning progress and suggest relevant micro-credentials based on their goals and interests.

The time to act is now

As leaders in charge of shaping the micro-credentialing strategies for your institution, you play a pivotal role. Challenges exist, but your strategic vision, collaboration, and innovative solutions can empower your institution to provide valuable and relevant micro-credentials, equipping learners to excel in the dynamic modern job market.

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