Q&A: How microcredentials are changing the way we learn

Learning

As the world of learning and education continues to evolve, we think digital approaches like microcredentials will have a significant impact on some of the big challenges facing employers at the moment. Microcredentials provide digital evidence of the skills achieved through self-paced, easily accessible learning, connected to the skills that employers need.

At Ufi, we are really excited to see the uptake of micro-credentials in the world of vocational learning. Our CEO recently wrote[LM1] about three ways businesses can use microcredentialing to bridge the skills gap in their organisation and increase productivity. To see how this works in practice, we asked the people behind five microcredentials projects we support to shed some light on what microcredentials really are. The examples below show how this new accreditation approach can be applied to benefit employers and employees alike:

The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award – iDEA, an innovative badge store that helps plug the UK’s digital skills gap

Sara Dunn Associates - Cuppa offers bite-sized learning for time pressed social care workers

Sussex Downs College - Digital Guild helps learners gain new vocational skills, evidence their abilities and share these to gain employment

Myknowledgemap - Evidence4Life, a lifelong evidence portfolio service

RSA, DigitalMe - Cities of Learning aims to mirror the physical community with an on-line community, using micro-credentialing to build links between local employers, learning providers and learners.

How are you using microcredentials or digital badges?

iDEA: The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award is an innovative badge store concept which helps people 'badge their brilliance'. The programme has a range of digital badges spanning a variety of topics to help people develop new skills, and hone others they already have.

Cuppa: Cuppa users will get a badge whenever they complete certain actions – for example complete a ‘Sip’, a microlearning module. There will likely be different levels of badges, according to what tasks have been completed.

Digital Guild: We are using digital badges in three ways. Firstly, young people can use them as evidence to boost their application for work experience or placements. In other words, making them more attractive to employers. Secondly, employers can set specific badges as a requirement to access a particular placement – for example, to demonstrate reliability or communication skills. Finally, young people can earn digital badges through their work experience or placement, that can be endorsed by employers and/or teaching staff to provide evidence of exactly what skills they acquired and developed during that experience. They can then share these to access employment and further opportunities.

Evidence4Life: We have been providing a popular free digital badge issuing platform for some time at Openbadges.me. We have found that many organisations want to issue digital badges based upon a variety of circumstances specific to the way they do business. This is why we will be creating an open interface that will allow users the option to issue badges based on very flexible rules that they can specify link to their internal systems.

Cities of Learning: Digital badges are one of the three features of the RSA’s City of Learning (CofL) project; the others being educational leadership, and local networks. CofL is a technology-enabled intervention that uses digital badges, but their full potential will best be realised by simultaneously mobilising leaders and galvanising collaborative networks alongside the tech. Our online platform connects learners to a wealth of enrichment experiences and opportunities provided by a range of local providers that will be grouped together to form online courses, as well as non-virtual informal learning.

Why did you incorporate microcredentials or digital badges into your project?

iDEA: In today's fast-paced digital world, it is increasingly important for people to be able to demonstrate their aptitude for, and experience in digital literacy. Lifelong learning is vital to iDEA's philosophy, so whether you are 14, 24, 44 or 74, you can now showcase what you have learned with badges.

Cities of Learning: Digital badges can dynamically respond to local priorities and labour market needs and can be awarded by local members of the partnership to those who complete courses. In order to pull together the local learning with city networks and educational leadership, we need to use digital badges as way of tracking activity and progression, as well as rewarding the learner.

Cuppa: Individuals value digital badges as evidence of learning, while managers and organisations can use it as evidence of workforce development activity.

Evidence4Life: The main challenge is educating the end user in ways that they can actually derive enduring value from their digital microcredentials and provide or signpost tools that enable them to make active use such as build a modern CV that can easily include digital badges.

Digital Guild: We see digital badges as a powerful, flexible, portable and verifiable way of evidencing skills.

What are the key challenges associated with microcredentials or digital badges?

Cities of Learning: The key challenge is around ensuring value, quality and trust. For open badges to be successful, they have to be connected to tangible opportunities to develop, progress and add value for businesses, education institutions and employers. In order for such institutions to offer these opportunities, they have to be confident that open badges are credible and demonstrate the acquisition of skills, knowledge and character. This can be achieved through broad co-design of badges and learning pathways, and a robust quality assurance and verification process.

Another challenge is around ensuring that open badges are connected to local skills needs. There may be a disconnect between those organisations that are providing ‘badgeable’ learning experiences and the organisations/employers that ultimately need to fill jobs/satisfy their skills needs. In the Cities of Learning project, one way of overcoming this challenge is co-designing a “skills spine” that shapes badges and learning pathways.

iDEA: Many organisations are occupied with trying to achieve a common language and create infrastructures. iDEA exists to try to inspire learners and create impact. We believe in delivering proofs of concept, user testing, listening carefully to feedback and iterating the product. We are passionate about getting on with trying to open up opportunities for people, and getting on with helping people unlock their potential.

Digital Guild: Lack of awareness and buy-in from young people and employers. Also, particularly in the 16-19 bracket, the term 'badges' can seem patronising. Instead, we are using digital credentials or sometimes simply 'skills'.

What are your predictions for the future of microcredentials?

iDEA: There will continue to be a debate about common standards which will continue to hold back some providers from proceeding. Large infrastructure-based integrations will continue to put off smaller providers who can neither afford nor resource a big architecture project. Others will remain nimble and responsive in the market in order to create impact, deliver results, and improve people's chances on the job market.

Digital Guild: As awareness grows, we're expecting a significant increase in their usage. We're also expecting further innovations to drive adoption, including the use of blockchain technology with microcredentials.

Evidence4Life: We are observing a gradual increase in momentum in organisations adopting the use of microcredentials based upon the new IMS standards for Open Badges. This will become a new value-added service for many training providers, professional bodies, awarding bodies and trade associations but we don’t think that they will completely replace paper certificates – more a value-added extension with some practical advantages in a digital world.

Cities of Learning: Microcredentials could play a significant role in the future, in some cases replacing formal qualifications and in other cases complementing them. As technological change continues to re-shape our economy, the skills that employers need will also shift. The pace of change in skills needs is far greater than what many formal educational institutions and courses can accommodate, but courses and learning experiences linked to open badges and out of classroom learning can help to fill the gap. They can provide pathways from formal learning into employment, skills development and re-training, at much greater pace. Badges could become a key mechanism for employers, businesses and other key organisations to continuously build the skills they need. Micro-credentials are ideal for promoting lifelong learning and they may become key tools in future labour market and education policies and programmes.

Find out more about the work we support and how we can help your project in the 2018 funding rounds here.

Read more on microcredentials here.