Webinar highlights: The future of micro-credentials in higher education

The global skills crisis, war for talent and pace of innovation has created a new age for higher education – one where industry, government and workers are all demanding shorter, sharper, more flexible courses to help them gain the skills they need to succeed at work.

In this webinar, we invited a panel of experts – Emeritus Professor Martin Bean CBE, Julie Mercer, Principal at Nous Group and Carolyn McInnis, Head of Product at CourseLoop – to share how higher education institutions can prepare and succeed in the adoption of micro-credentials.


Micro-credential trends and challenges

Emeritus Professor Martin Bean CBE, CEO of The Bean Centre, spoke to the declining shelf life of skills and how technical skills will only have “one or two years before they’re obsolete”. 

But the good news is that micro-credentials can be the silver bullet that institutions and learners need. Micro-credentials can provide further, highly-relevant, and continuous learning opportunities to learners who either can’t or don’t want to return to a traditional program qualification. 

Martin further spoke to micro-credentials as a key driver for creating access and widening learning participation, creating “different types of on-ramps and off-ramps to tertiary education”. 

Having consulted with many universities in this space, Julie Mercer, Principal at Nous Group, pointed out that when it comes to micro-credentials, institutions “need to think about where they will play and how they will win.” Institutions need to consider where they have permission to play; which areas or subject matters they have credibility and expertise in; and how to best do so according to their strengths. 

But despite the opportunities that micro-credentials provide, there are ‘growing pains’ when it comes to adoption. There was a discussion around micro-credentials potentially “watering-down” the institution’s reputation – that micro-credentials may lessen the perceived quality of learning taught at the university. 

However, Martin positioned that institutions should be less focused on the perceived quality of their micro-credentials – because those who are willing to put their name on a micro-credential should be confident that the attributes of that credential will match the attributes of their academic standing. The question of how to produce quality micro-credentials at speed – that stand up to the same rigor of traditional qualifications – can largely be addressed through a system that supports appropriate and highly efficient governance and approval processes

Julie posed another challenging scenario: institutions, like other organizations, run the risk of “corporate antibodies''. These could be staff or entire departments who may be more risk adverse or less open to change, thereby, stopping innovation before it gets off the ground. She articulates that it is important to realize these antibodies exist and that being very deliberate in supporting early buy-in is critical.

Carolyn McInnis, Head of Product at CourseLoop, echoed this statement, stating that successful institutions are those who move quickly when they need to and provide their all departments, including academics, with the right tools and the right systems. 

Building a successful micro-credential framework

There was consensus across the panel that developing a framework is a critical starting point for institutions. According to Julie, delivering micro-credentials require “different people, different technologies, different infrastructure and different processes to make it happen”.

There are few places to point to for direction on what to do and how to do it – however, some countries, like Australia with their National Microcredentials Framework, are already ahead in this space and can provide some guidance.

At this point in time, it remains up to institutions to shape their own micro-credential framework, and to leverage what others are doing successfully where they can. The panel suggested that for the framework to be successful, institutions should consider their strategic intent, industry partnerships, required technologies and their curriculum architecture: 

  • Strategic intent
    Develop a clear, strategic intent before embarking on a micro-credential journey. The institutions that fail are the ones that try to do them all, aren’t clear about their priorities or don’t play to their strengths in the context of micro-credentials. Establish a main intent and ensure the project team understands that. Within this, also consider target audience or audiences, and which new market segments it makes sense to to tap into. 

  • Industry partnerships
    Industry partners can help institutions hone in on the skills and expertise learners will need for the changing world of work. Not only does it reduce the cost of development, it ensures that the qualifications created are fit for purpose for what industry actually needs. In terms of delivery and content partnerships, leveraging the combination of industry and the university brand can be a compelling offer to take to market. 

  • Technology ecosystem
    The micro-credential technical ecosystem is one that must be thoughtfully planned and implemented. It needs to enable institutions to: design and manage new credentials through the university’s established process; support a new go-to-market approach; deliver via the LMS (or VLE); and assign a credential or digital badge.

    Institutions should look to understand what inhouse capabilities they have, what elements they can leverage in existing technology and then identify any gaps. Consider the technologies needed to fill the ecosystem end-to-end, and any new systems that are required must strike the balance between agility and scalability. 

  • Curriculum architecture 
    Have micro-credential curriculum information as structured data in a system that supports efficiency through automation and repeatable processes. Without this, bringing new micro-credentials to market will be slow, difficult and labour intensive.


What does it mean to have structured micro-credential curriculum data?

Within the micro-credential technology ecosystem, a critical system that is often overlooked is the dedicated micro-credential curriculum management system.

Martin suggested that “universities are going to need a curriculum management system if they want to support contemporary program architectures.”

Furthermore, Carolyn alluded to the high volume of micro-credentials we are likely to see in the future and how these volumes could easily make the end-to-end process – the proposal, capture and management of new micro-credentials – overwhelming. That is, unless institutions have highly structured data in a definitive source that is integrated to downstream systems, removing the reliance on manual data entry across the entire process.

“At CourseLoop, our solution has been to see micro-credential management as an extension of core processes that would apply to curriculum management more generally. So, look at micro-credentials as a type of academic item, as you might do a course or a subject or a program. And think about the concept in a very similar way.”

Carolyn also advocated for robust curriculum data management as the foundation for a successful micro-credential framework. Rich capabilities enable institutions to mine the existing curriculum for new opportunities, assure quality without compromising speed-to-market, and promote stackability and portability.


Want more insights? Watch the full webinar. 

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