What are micro-credentials and why should you care?

‘Micro-credential’ is fast becoming an ubiquitous buzzword not only in the education industry but in corporate and government sectors as well. To some it’s being sold as the saviour to every capability problem ever created, to others it’s seen as just more of the same old learning “repackaged”. So what really are micro-credentials and why should it matter to you?

In essence, a micro-credential is a piece of learning that is shorter than a qualification (i.e., a macro-credential). Short learning courses have been in existence for decades, so is there anything different now with a micro-credential? The current rationale for micro-credentials is that they are in response to, and in support of, lifelong learning. A micro-credential should exist as it is to help someone get a job, keep a job, or advance their career portfolio. With the rate of change brought on through disruptive technologies (like Artificial Intelligence (AI)) and the acceleration to sustainable futures,  skillsets and jobs are also rapidly changing and for those who are affected by these changes, micro-credentials, as short pieces of training that workers can do during work, after work, before work, or on weekends are ways to support their career and keep their skills current.

The world however has sadly not aligned on one micro-credential definition that covers everyone and everything. New Zealand and Australia have official definitions and policies, however many other countries do not, and for those that do, they are not consistent.

New Zealand is currently the only country in the world with a micro-credential definition that is tied to a national framework and is focused primarily on vocational education. A micro-credential in NZ can be from 1 credit (10 hours) to 40 credits (400 hours), the content shouldn’t be replicated from an existing qualification (to differentiate) and to have it on the framework there must be demonstrable industry and/or community need. The credential is then reviewed every 1-3 years for currency to ensure that learners are always being taught the most up-to-date skills and knowledge to ensure that they are as valuable to the marketplace as possible.

In Australia, a micro-credential can be from 1 hour of learning and must feature learning outcomes and assessment. There is a micro-credential marketplace to help learners identify the most appropriate credentials for them, however the marketplace is limited to higher education for now, with a decision on VET’s/RTO’s forthcoming from the Department of Education.

This comparison highlights one big difference between New Zealand and most of the rest of the world; in New Zealand the majority of micro-credentials are in the vocational education space, in Australia and around the world, the university sector is taking the lead, in part due to the opportunities that it presents with drops in enrolments generally. So, we can now add the definition of micro-credentials to a list including pavlovas, Crowded House, Russell Crowe and the flat white. This example though highlights one of the many challenges if the ultimate goal is an internationally recognised micro-credentialling framework.

Other industry sectors in Australia are also building up capability and doing their own versions of micro-credentials, focusing on what they as industry require. Engineers Australia for instance have created a number of micro-credentials in collaboration with industry featuring multiple pathways. Recognition of prior learning (RPL) is not an available option with the current official definition in Australia, removing the opportunity to recognise skillsets which workers may already have, just without the credential to showcase it. With a changing workforce and the roles of AI and the de-carbonisation of particular industries, recognising a workers prior learning and giving them credentials to showcase and value that will be invaluable in helping them change jobs if and when required.

Micro-credentials are and will become even more important across industry in the next couple of years but they are currently not setup to solve all the world’s problems. Utilised appropriately however, they have the opportunity to make a significant difference for industries in reskilling and upskilling workers, reducing the skills gap that currently exists, and will provide a way forward to help prevent widespread unemployment due to changes in industries.


This article was written by Stuart Martin, contracted Senior Consultant at Skills Group.

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