Micro-credentials have spread swiftly. Education and training institutions are increasingly offering them by rebranding and restructuring existing programs or creating ones, “often through partnerships with other institutions, industries and learning platforms.”

This 44-page OECD Policy Perspective, entitled Micro-credentials for Lifelong Learning and Employability: Uses and Possibilities, “examines what is known about both the potential and limitations of micro-credentials with respect to enhancing learners’ labour market participation and outcomes, widening pathways from upper secondary to higher education, improving completion of higher education, and promoting social inclusion among disadvantaged learners.”

It’s got a lot of good information in it too, so it’s hard to do it justice in a short article like this.

As the paper notes:

“Proponents of micro-credentials envision them as an innovation with a multitude of potential uses and benefits – a sort of all-purpose solution for the problems confronting education, training and labour market systems.”

They are seen as “a useful means by which to promote social inclusion by facilitating a wide range of learners, including disadvantaged and vulnerable ones, to access higher education and VET.”

Some insights from the paper

Evidence of their impacts are limited, but some patterns can be observed, it’s believed. These include that “targeted and short-term credentials have labour market value, but this depends on the program and learner profiles, and on how labour market impact is defined and measured.”

So, what appears to be the case? First, “the longer the program, the better the outcomes.” Second, “programs that are specifically linked to in-demand or growing industries show better outcomes.” Third, “targeted and short-term credentials appear to work well when ‘topping-up’ existing … education.” However, “those with no previous work experience or a long history of unemployment are less likely to earn targeted, short-time credentials and appear to benefit less from them.” They also need additional support.

In relation to likely impacts the paper suggests that “workers over 45 might experience comparatively weaker outcomes” and “the evidence regarding the link between gender and labour market outcomes is contradictory.”

It also identifies a series of features that “enhance employability, labour market participation and outcomes among completers.” These include “closer involvement of employers/industry actors, accessible information on labour market outcomes, tailored program design” and support measures including social and financial support.

In short, and as the paper notes:

“The labour market value of micro-credentials depends on offering the right, targeted programs for specific learner groups.”

Other issues are canvassed in the paper including their value, or not, to disadvantaged learners.

Finally, the paper raises 5 key issues for policy discussion. These are summarized in the figure below and explained in greater detail in the paper itself: