Understanding the micro-credential tech ecosystem: What's involved
Along with the lifestyle and career adjustments precipitated by COVID-19, the higher education landscape is also undergoing big changes. About 68% of adults considering enrolling in education in 2020 preferred non-degree pathways — a big leap from 50% in 2019.
Micro-credentials are a part of this new paradigm at higher education institutions globally, but before institutions make the leap, it is important to fully understand the complex process of creating and delivering these buildable programs and the critical technology ecosystem necessary to manage and leverage them.
The micro-credential cycle at a glance
When starting your micro-credential journey, you will firstly need to consider the end-to-end process for delivering a quality product that meets the needs of students, faculty and staff.
Below is an example of a micro-credential ecosystem, including the systems and processes that are required to create, manage and deliver micro-credentials.
Generally speaking, the micro-credential lifecycle – from creating and enrolling learners, to delivery and review – includes the following stages:
- Business need assessment – Identify the need for micro-credentials at your institution.
- Govern – Propose, create, and manage your micro-credential curriculum.
- Market – Push new micro-credentials to market.
- Enroll – Capture, enroll, and onboard learners.
- Deliver – Deliver a quality learning experience for your students.
- Credential – Provide digital badge or recognition of learning upon completion.
- Evaluate – Review your micro-credential curriculum for continuous improvement.
What technology will you need for each lifecycle stage?
To support effective and efficient management of the micro-credential lifecycle, institutions will require several systems that address management and delivery around:
- Curriculum management – Support the governance and evaluation by investing in a robust curriculum management system that provides the foundation required to create, govern and manage reviews of your micro-credentials. When done well, they ensure that the right processes are established and adopted, from governance and approval workflows to integration with online catalogs.
- E-commerce – Market your micro-credentials to students via online shopfronts, helping prospective students access your micro-credentials at the moment they are ready to enroll.
- Micro-credential marketplaces – Marketplaces are another marketing channel to consider when looking to target larger learner audiences. National platforms (such as the proposed Australian National Micro-credential Marketplace) are highly governed and provide students with reliable, objective, apples-to-apples comparisons of different program options. On the other hand, universities, such as the University of Central Oklahoma, have opted to create online hubs for micro-credential programs across their various schools and disciplines where students can browse and select programs that interest them.
- Student information – A student information system (SIS) supports student enrollment and manages institutional information assets such as student prospects, applicants, matriculants, course registrations, transcripts, and more throughout the student lifecycle.
- Learning management – A learning management system (LMS) delivers a quality learning experience and provides students with a range of resources, tools, and services related to their assignments; they can also be part of the SIS.
- Credentialing or digital badging – Badging systems are essential for students to verify their new skills, legitimize their learnings on their resumes, and share with prospective employers.
Where do you begin when deciding what technology your institution needs?
Given the above, here are some ideas on where institutions can start with their micro-credential offerings and what technology they need:
Play to your strengths
Each institution has distinct academic, administrative, and technical drivers, so each institution has different needs and goals for providing micro-credentials.
Consider the types of micro-credentials you want to offer and which learners you want to target. “Institutions need to think about where they will play and how they will win,” said Julie Mercer, university consultant and principal at Nous Group, during a recent micro-credential webinar.
In your initial planning, think about:
- Which areas or subject matters do you have credibility and expertise in? How can you best play to your strengths?
- Who are your target audiences? Which learner segments are you hoping to attract?
- Do you have industry partnerships you can leverage?
Establish an institution-wide technical framework
Following the development of your academic strategy, you may want to formulate your game plan for technical execution. You may want to consider:
- Whether your micro-credentials will be credit-bearing or non-credit bearing?
- How will you propose and design new credentials? Will you use existing processes or look to new solutions?
- What are your curriculum governance processes? Are approval processes appropriate and proportional to capture speed to market and ensure quality? Are there internal or external accrediting requirements or regulations that need to be complied with? Are there reporting requirements?
- Do you want your micro-credentials to be able to map and stack with your wider curriculum offerings?
- How will you manage different versions of micro-credentials?
- Do you want to automate processes such as versioning and publishing?
- How will you operationalize and commercialize your micro-credentials? What ecommerce platforms will you use to market to students?
- How will you deliver your micro-credential?
- How will you recognize credential completions? Will you assign a digital badge or credential to learners?
Focus on quality curriculum development and management
Ensure that your curriculum fills a need in the academic or professional community by making a clear case for the value in each micro-credential you offer. One way to ensure the benefits to prospective students is by developing micro-credentials with local, national, or international industry partners to fill niche needs.
The right curriculum management system helps your institution propose, create, and take your micro-credential curriculum to market with speed. A purpose-built curriculum management system enables you to capture and manage your micro-credential curriculum information, govern it and publish directly to students. By having curriculum information structured within a robust system and leveraging efficient workflows and processes, you’ll be able to offer more flexibility, choice and pathways to learners.
Deliver a quality learning experience
Most micro-credentials are delivered online, and many of these students learn remotely, so having an LMS that provides a smooth digital interface between students and faculty is critical. To ensure a top-notch learning experience, your LMS will need to facilitate not only access to relevant assignment-related information and resources, but also easy communication and interaction.
Another important aspect of your LMS is how it can assist you in assessing students’ skills acquisition and competency, which can sometimes link directly into your digital badging platform.
Ensure coherent integration across the technology ecosystem
With so many systems coming together in your micro-credential platform, it is also critical that they work seamlessly with one another. For example, your curriculum management system will capture critical micro-credential curriculum information that is needed in the SIS, LMS, shopfront, and digital badging platform. This information also needs to be revised and updated making seamless integration imperative for accurate data transfer.
Now that you have a better sense of the complex — but doable — micro-credentialing ecosystem, make sure you find the right partners to help you deliver a quality product to your students.
CourseLoop provides a superior micro-credential management solution that helps you to get quality micro-credentials to market fast.