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What Are Micro-Credentials, and Why Are They so Valuable?

November 27, 2019

Olivia Blazevic, Candlefox
Candlefox are student marketing experts

The fast-paced industries of our world are demanding workers with ever-more nuanced skill sets, to suit ever-more nuanced jobs. To satisfy these demands, we need a quicker and more dynamic form of learning, which may have arrived in the form of micro-credentials—a recognised player in 21st-century training and education.

What are micro-credentials?

Micro-credentials—sometimes known as nanodegrees, digital badges, or stackable degrees—recognise the achievement of a skill or skill set required by an industry, a professional association, or the community. They’re often nuanced, quick to complete, and valuable. Some examples of micro-credentials already being offered by TAFE are Behavioural Finance for Financial Planners, Leadership and Management in Early Childhood, and Commercial Law for Tax Agents. Many courses can be combined with others (stackable micro-credentials) to create comprehensive, valuable skill sets that are sought by employers.

Micro-credentials are a way to upskill without having to invest in an expensive long-term course, or take time off work to study. Education providers in the US, Europe and New Zealand are already offering micro-credentials on a larger scale, celebrating their ability to quickly bridge skills gaps and promote professional development. 

A micro-credentials education is not something to be scoffed at by tweedy university professors. As the gig economy and online learning platforms such as LinkedIn Learning and Skillshare become the norm, micro-credentials will play an important role in the future of learning and work.

Why are micro-credentials needed? 

Micro-credentials cater to specific skills. They can be created and adapted quickly to meet the demands of industry, with a fluidity that is unachievable for traditional forms of training, such as university degrees. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and platforms such as Skillshare, Udacity and LinkedIn learning already offer on-demand learning, for popular fields such as Business, Computer Science, Data Analysis and IT. Some companies are even offering free micro-credentials.

Micro-credentials have become popular for some of the following reasons:

  • The gig economy, which requires a fluid and diverse approach to work 
  • Dynamic modern industries that demand nuanced skills
  • Preferences for workers with experience and specific skills 
  • Quick online learning, as opposed to face-to-face classes 
  • Rising costs of tertiary education
  • A belief that university degrees no longer guarantee jobs

Lifelong learning and reskilling is now a requirement, with technological advancement accelerating to ever-greater speeds. A computer science degree in the early 2000s is so antiquated that an employer will probably laugh at it. To thrive in the software industry, you’ll likely need to be a proficient coder, have some knowledge of cybersecurity, the basics of artificial intelligence, and a whole lot more. Micro-credentials can certify your competency to the employer—professional skills validated by a digital badge, to be displayed on your CV, portfolio, or LinkedIn profile.

How the higher education sector is responding 

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is one of the first accreditation agencies to recognise micro-credentials as a partial contributor to a tertiary qualification, which begs the question of how micro-credentials will be recognised in Australia.

Micro-credentials are already appearing in higher education. A DeakinCo review found that 36 out of 42 universities were already offering or developing micro-credentials as stackable online units, or courses bundled into a "micro masters." Micro-credentials are in demand for both employers and employees, as well as being recognised as valuable by many universities. But currently, there’s no global recognition system for these types of courses, and the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) doesn’t recognise micro-credentials at all.

The future of micro-credentials

The Committee for Development of Australia (CEDA) is pushing for more Government funding into lifelong learning and education, so that "new, shorter and more modular forms of learning and reskilling" can be offered. 

Universities are well-positioned to meet the demand for valuable micro-credentials, if they’re able to partner with relevant digital providers.

The AQF is also on its way to recognising new skills and learning methods, with a recent review stating that “shorter forms of learning are also suitable for incrementally acquiring skills and knowledge over a person’s career (life-long learning). These credentials could be combined to build formal qualifications.” A framework that recognises micro-credentials shows a commitment towards upskilling and lifelong learning. 

Micro-credentials should remain part of the bigger picture instead of the entire picture itself. There’ll always be a need for university degrees and foundational education, but micro-credentials can be an efficient path to an advanced skill set or a new career—a quicker way to satisfy the demands of industry. As universities and online learning providers offer cutting-edge micro-credentials to their students, the future of learning in Australia is exciting.

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Want to learn more about micro-credentials? Check out these articles:

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