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What is a Micro-Credential?

Let’s try and answer the question: what is a micro-credential? As is often the case with these things, this is not simple or straightforward, as the term is used in many different ways and means different things to different people.
Woman sitting at her laptop holds a lightbulb with lights making the shape of a brain around it.
© DCU

Let’s try and answer the question: what is a micro-credential?

As is often the case with these things, this is not simple or straightforward, as the term is used in many different ways and means different things to different people. Answering this question is not easy! To help you along the way, the table below illustrates the top five responses from a 2020 survey of staff (n=127) from ECIU University partner institutions:

What is a Micro-Credential? Survey Results

Click here to view the full image and for further detail. A Pie-chart showing results from a poll asking 'What is a micro-credential?'. Answers include 1. Certification of learning that can accumulate into a larger credential or degree, be part of a portfolio that demonstrates individuals' proof of learning, or have a value in itself, (33.1%) 2. Documented statements that acknowledge a person's learning outcomes, that are related to small volumes of learning and that for the user are becoming visible in a certificate, badges, or endorsement (18.1%). 3. Short, verified courses or learning experiences providing successful candidates with a digital certification, such as a "digital badge", (17.3%). 4. A sub-unit of a credential or credentials (could be micro, meso, mini, etc.) that could accumulate into a larger credential or be part of a portfolio, (14.2%). 5. Certification of assessed learning that is additional, alternate, complementary to or a formal component of a formal qualification, (8.%) Two-thirds of our respondents chose one of the three definitions above (we have attached a slide containing the full results as a .pdf), with the most popular choice being:

A Micro-credential is: “Certification of learning that can accumulate into a larger credential or degree, be part of a portfolio that demonstrates individuals’ proof of learning, or have a value in itself.”

Micro-Credential: Towards a Common Definition

One of the most commonly cited definitions of a micro-credential which foregrounds these tensions was proposed in a major report on Making Micro-credentials work by Prof. Beverley Oliver. The report states:

A micro-credential is a certification of assessed learning that is additional, alternate, complementary to or a formal component of a formal qualification” (Oliver, 2019, p.19).
This definition is broad, highlighting that a micro-credential could be considered both an additional and also perhaps complementary form of certification. Two further points are noted:
  • That some demonstration or proof of what has been learnt is incorporated within a micro-credential.
  • That a micro-credential can complement and need not replace existing educational provision (though in certain contexts, it may in fact do so).
These two premises give us a little more clarity but they are just one means of adding more precision to the concept of a micro-credential. In 2020, recognising the need to establish a stronger shared understanding of micro-credentials, both in Europe and around the globe, the European Commission established a special Micro-credential Consultation Group. In December 2020, this group published its much anticipated report advocating a European Approach to Micro-credentials, with the following definition:
A micro-credential is a proof of the learning outcomes that a learner has acquired following a short learning experience. These learning outcomes have been assessed against transparent standards.(European Commission, 2020, p. 10).

You might like to take a look at the full report as this also contains a framework and key building blocks for a European-wide approach to micro-credentials. We will come back to these building blocks later in the week. In the meantime, we ask you to consider the following questions:

  • What is your impression of this definition?
  • What are the key words that stand out to you and why?
  • Do you think one is stronger than any other and why?
© DCU
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