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Open Micro-Credentials — The New Digital Certification

March 8, 2017

The Beginning of a New Era

Last month, VET:eXpress featured the technological innovation of ‘blockchain’– a new way of securely transferring personal information across expansive networks. This month, we’re looking at a companion innovation called ‘open micro-credentials’, a revolutionary way of awarding, attaching, and storing an education certificate to an individual’s secure digital identity.

Even without the technological buzzwords, this is pretty futuristic stuff. Imagine a keycard that could automatically tell all employers and authorities that you are incontrovertibly competent in engine repair, first-aid, and Mandarin.

“I think I might need to check your qualifications…”

Interesting, right? But why does the education landscape need it?

The trouble has always been that it’s difficult for employers or consumers to verify that an individual with a credential actually has the purported skills. Questions of identity and credibility can arise. Was it really this individual who achieved the credential? Is the institution recognised as delivering the training required to meet key competency standards?

Recently, a dismayed student sued a prominent Victorian university because his engineering degree was not — nor ever was — recognised by the Institution of Engineers, Australia. Problems like these have become compounded by the staggering amount of diverse education providers operating in the modern landscape.

Open micro-credentials form one part of the solution. By creating ecosystems of open digital certificates (or badges) that are verified by an institutionally-relevant party, individuals could have a portable recognition for their achievements — either in the palm of their hand or in the cloud — recognised all around the world.

Open Micro-Credentialling in Action

Imagine you’re a trainer with 20 years’ experience. Presently, it may be hard to differentiate yourself from anyone else with a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. But open micro-credentials in training — recognising that trainers learn as they train others — can quantify vocational experience into a sellable certificate or badge to a prospective employer. Attached to your secure digital profile, those twenty years can become a decisive edge over your competitors. The trick for students and trainers is to become builders of their own digital identity.

Proponents of micro-education assert that we can break up a traditional credential into many constituent parts. A student on the way to becoming a personal trainer accumulates many different skills: developing exercise routines, devising nutrition programs, learning billing practices, etc. Each skill becomes attached to the student’s digital identity. If she moves to another training institution, she can pick up exactly where she left off — adding more skills to her digital identity.

Micro-credentialing education has already begun in certain areas. Education company Udacity issues ‘nanodegrees’ for programming occupations. Some of them are very specific. The Android Basics Nanodegree recognises earned competency at programming applications for Android phones, and issued by Google, becomes a digital-promise that the individual has programming competency.

A Very Open Future

The prospect of individuals having accreditation secured to their digital identity and recognised across sovereign borders will mean big things in a globalised economy. The mobility of individuals with specific training competencies will be unparalleled.

For true mobility to occur, it’s not only vital that students build their own digital identities, but that workplaces around the world are able to find the right employees for the job. In the United States, work has begun on creating a comprehensive credentialing registry that allows the right people to connect with pinpoint accuracy. Need a mechanic who speaks Chinese and can administer first aid? The new digital credential industry will make finding that person more efficient than ever.

On the other hand, the threat posed to traditional tertiary and government institutions is real. If an open micro-credential is recognised by a relevant industry body, and is capable of being issued by public and private universities, TAFEs, RTOs, and even workplaces, there is the risk that traditional schools and universities — limited by fixed enrolments and high-maintenance costs — will be undercut by the new emerging education market. It will be the job of all education providers to stay ahead of this technology, rather than resist it, as we move inexorably forwards into the new digital economy.

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Want to learn more?

Check out these articles on micro-credentials:

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