This is a paper from CEDEFOP in Europe. It’s looking to understand the characteristics and added value of micro credentials and their limitations.

It provides a “first look at mapping micro credentials in European labour-market-related education, training and learning” and look at issues of their take-up, characteristics and functions. You can access other articles we have written on the topic here, including a research note on the topic from CEDEFOP.

The research has three separate but interlinked themes: (1) mapping the current use of micro credentials for labour market oriented vocational and professional education and training, (2) positioning the phenomenon of micro credentials in relation to the longer-term evolution of certification and qualifications systems and (3) analysing the potential use of micro credentials for end users, notably individual learners and employees.

The paper distinguishes between qualifications at various levels in ‘the public space’ “that form part of qualifications frameworks.” Their purpose is to “provide opportunities for occupational entry as well as upskilling and reskilling.” The private space, the paper points out, “is populated by credentials that are gained through participation in short learning activities with varying degrees of assessment and recognition within industries and occupations.” This has been the case in Australia up until recently, but now micro credentials are becoming part of the public space too. This will be even more so as the new AQF is rolled out.

Drivers of the move to micro credentials

These include the impact of the fourth industrial revolution and the digitisation of products and services. This has led to the creation of “new industrial sectors and professional disciplines, broken some professions into more specific subspecialities [and created] a greater need for continuous reskilling and upskilling.”

Teaching and learning have not been unaffected either, with the increased use of technologies and online platforms “creating a significant increase in the ability to provide learners with new and different experiences as well as faster and more tailored feedback.” In addition, the use of digital and individualised learning has risen steadily, “in line with the discourse surrounding ‘just in time’, on-demand training and learning.”

Finally, with the globalisation of competences and labour markets and international vendor certificates becoming industry standards. These sought-after certificates have become those that define industry standards for competences and are prominent in the ICT sector.

All of this has seen micro credentials increase in quantity in the public and private spaces and “particularly in relation to in-company training and upskilling and reskilling opportunities.” It has also seen their character change and their delivery can occur in a wide variety of ways. There is also, the paper suggests,

“increasing permeability between the public and private sectors [where the] public sector increasingly focuses on upskilling and reskilling and the recognition of prior learning, and views micro credentials as a possible solution. The private sector, meanwhile, is increasingly seeing its own qualifications and credentials being integrated into public provision (e.g. the integration of vendor certifications into qualifications validated by universities).”

In addition:

“They are being offered across a broad range of sectors including product-focused ones such as engineering, manufacturing, construction and ICT, as well as service-focused ones such as health, education, business administration and law; they also exist for generic programmes and qualifications.”

Their strengths and weaknesses

These are outlined in the figure below: