Micro-credentials: What they are and how they can help you secure a job

Micro-credentials are collected through apps, websites or data systems. [iStockphoto]

Learners now have a powerful new tool for building and proving their skills; micro-credentials.

So what they are and why do they matter?

Also known as digital badges, micro-credentials are collected through apps, websites or data systems.

They typically demonstrate learning that is shorter and more specialised than a traditional diploma, degree or certificate, explains Brookings, a policy research group.

The settings where you can earn micro-credentials might also be different – for example, work or community settings rather than inside an academic institution.

“A learner might collect badges for volunteering in a food bank, completing an online course or taking a workshop on coding,” explains the Metaliteracy Learning Collaborative in its YouTube video on digital badges.

Other types of digital credential, according to Brookings, can include “nanodegrees” – which involve learning specific skills to get a job – and competency-based learning that demonstrates hands-on knowledge and skills.

How do micro-credentials work?

A digital credential is a piece of data that carries information about a learning achievement someone has earned. This might include the training provider, a description of the learning, when the credential was issued and who received it, explains the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Learners can use these digital badges to easily share and verify their learning. For example, through social media, an e-portfolio or a CV.

The Metaliteracy Learning Collaborative describes the concept of a “badge backpack” where learners collect these micro-credentials. In other words, these digital badges will always be connected to you, and you can carry them with you on your journey through lifelong learning.

Brookings says the beauty of micro-credentials is their “potential reach to individuals of all ages, education levels, socioeconomic and racial or ethnic groups, and industry backgrounds”.

They’re also good in a skills crisis – because learners can boost their skills in months rather than years.

The pros and cons of micro-credentials

A key benefit of micro-credentials is that learners can use them to “stack” new modules and skills on top of previous education and training, Brookings adds.

They can be more affordable and flexible than traditional higher education courses. Learners can also study and build up digital badges in their own time.

Micro-credentials might also create new obstacles to learning and equality, Brookings warns. One potential challenge to overcome is ensuring governments recognise these digital badges as steps on a learning path that might lead to the equivalent of a degree.

This is needed before learners can transfer their micro-credentials between institutions without having to repeat coursework.

In a world where most workers don’t hold a higher education degree, micro-credentials are critical to the future world of work, Brookings adds.