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The Benefits of Micro-Credentials

How might micro-credentials afford benefits and fulfil a particular purpose, for particular stakeholders at particular points in time? This step looks at the different stakeholders and considers the potential value proposition of micro-credentials for them. It explores:
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Strategy should be relevant and questions of drivers naturally get us thinking about the potential and purported benefits of micro-credentials to different actors and key stakeholders in higher education and society more generally.

Micro-Credentials: The Benefits

How might micro-credentials afford benefits and fulfil a particular purpose, for particular stakeholders at particular points in time? This step looks at the different stakeholders and considers the potential value proposition of micro-credentials for them. It explores:

  • Who benefits?
  • How do they benefit?
  • When will they benefit?

We have highlighted three key groups that we see as core stakeholders in the table below, there are of course others. We have also grouped learners and employees together, but arguably these are distinct groups, particularly when considering micro-credentials from one of the three perspectives (i.e. vertical, horizontal or diagonal) or indeed from an academic trajectory frame.

Benefits for Key Stakeholders: Learner / Employee; New possibilities for re-skilling and up-skilling, Credit-bearing CPD pathways, Lower costs of study, More flexible learning Increased personalisation, More up-to-date content, Ability to demonstrate granular competencies, Work & Life Balance, and Re-entry into learning. Employer / Company; New CPD option, Assist recruitment, Address widening skills gaps, More fit for purpose professional learning, Enhance collaboration with universities, and Improve employee retention. Educator / University; New business model, Expanding outreach, Greater collaboration with industry, Innovation in digital and online learning, Improve the quality of course design, and Marketing tool for new students

Micro-Credentials in Tension

Whether or not all of these benefits materialise in the short term for these different stakeholders remains to be seen. Importantly too, as we know from the past few steps, some of these elements may prove to be in tension and indeed be in stark opposition to each other.

Micro-Credentials Misaligned

Does it follow that what learners might desire to learn will align closely with the strategic drivers of higher education institutions, industry or employer groups? Indeed, constructing micro-credentials which align to “workplace” skills needs is also challenging from both the higher education and employer perspective.

Higher education Institutions may prefer, for example, to develop scalable offerings to attract the greatest number of learners, whereas industry partners may seek learning which is highly specific to individualised learning contexts.

Learner Knows Best v Academic Coherence?

Underpinning the value proposition for the learner is that their agency to choose and scaffold their learning is increased. Learner choice though will need to be scaffolded which has a direct implication on institutional support. Furthermore, where micro-credentials are stacked from an institutional perspective, a fundamental question relating to academic coherence of the award needs to be addressed.

Micro-Credentials in Recruitment

A forthcoming National Survey of Irish Employers and Employees found that micro-credentials very rarely feature in recruitment processes (Nic Giolla Mhichil, et. al., 2021). The responses to this survey, conducted in 2020, and appears below, are a bit of a reality check and counterbalance to some of the previous hype. Having said that, over 90% of employers also reported they wanted to learn more about micro-credentials, further evidence of why we expect the conversation will continue.

Click image to enlarge. 80% of employers said they "never" or "only sometimes" come across a candidate who has mentioned a micro-credential in their job application. In the graph, we see results of a poll asking 'How often do you come across micro-credentials on job applications? Always (0%), Most of the time (8%), About half the time (12%), Sometimes (40%), Never (40%) Human resource functions within organisations understand traditional qualifications. Gallagher (2016, p.49) points out the necessity of these for entry-level positions and illustrates the shift to on-the-job experience and learning:

For many employers, degrees appear to be most valuable in the early part of a professional’s career, when candidates lack a significant amount of professional experience and quantifiable results. In the middle and later stages of an individual’s career, a candidate’s potential value and productivity can be better assessed based on that person’s track record, regardless of educational level.

Another area of tension is the fact that in quite a number of small to medium enterprises, learning and development opportunities compete with other, more operational focused objectives. Indeed, many of the organisations who responded to the Irish survey did not have a learning and development function within their organisation.

Micro-Credentials and CPD

These results provide some evidence that, while micro-credentials may be very much an evolving field, they are likely to become more prevalent in discussions regarding continuous professional development (CPD), and may have a special place in what we have termed “the credential ecology”. At the same time, these results are preliminary and unlike traditional degrees there is scant empirical evidence to show either the public or private return on investment from those who go on to attain a micro-credential. Ask yourself:

  • How would you go about measuring the return on investment?
  • What needs to be done if micro-credentials are to become valued and recognised as part of the recruitment process?
  • Do you see the status of the micro-credential changing in the near future?

These are all fruitful questions for further discussion.

Reference

Gallagher, S. R. (2016). The future of University credentials: New developments at the intersection of higher education and hiring. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

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