Micro-credentials 2020: a vision of what’s to come?

New research shows micro-credentials are spreading through the higher education market. Will this be the year vocational education and training (VET) perfects their micro-credentials 2020 vision?

The Review of the Australian Qualifications Framework Final Report released in 2019 propelled the subject of micro-credentials to the top of the agenda for vocational education and training (VET). Containing recognition of the growth in micro-credentials being seen inside and outside the existing AQF framework as well as a recommendation these receive credit, the review has framed this as one of the key areas in which providers will need to consider adapting their businesses in future.

In higher education, this has already begun to happen. New research published at the end of last year by the Australian Council on Open and Distance Learning (ACODE) found education providers in Australia are moving forward – albeit at a considered pace. The research also suggests micro-credentials as one way the higher education market in Australia can adapt to the education and work trends, to ensure their strong education businesses are maintained into the future.

Could this also be true of VET?

From degrees to digital credentials?

In the report, Micro-credentialing as a sustainable way forward for universities in Australia: Perceptions of the landscape, authors Dr Ratna Selvaratnam from Edith Cowan University and Professor Michael Sankey from Griffith University argue the rapidly evolving landscape is an opportunity for universities to reconsider how they offer education. Dealing with some of the same challenges with longer courses the VET sector faces, they allude to a future where degrees may not be fit-for-purpose: “In a time where knowledge and skills need to be updated constantly, a three or four-year degree may not suit the currency required in many jobs and other work,” the report says.

They see micro-credentials as part of the solution – a trend they say is already underway. Surveying 37 higher education providers in the Australasian region – including 29 in Australia – they termed the current movement towards micro-credentials as ‘significant’. With 22 percent of institutions confirming they already have a micro-credentials policy and 73 percent saying their approach was ‘developing’, the authors conclude that a profound shift is clearly underway. “Micro-credentialing is growing significantly in Australian higher education institutions. Most institutions already have presence in the space or are planning to do so,” they wrote.

The ACODE research uncovers four current dominant models for using micro-credentials in higher education. In the post-graduate space, higher educators are leveraging micro-credentials for short courses and programs that are based on credentialing demonstrated outcomes or selling recognition of prior learning (RPL). They are also allowing postgrads to build up courses through the completion of short courses for academic credit and stacking those credits (usually towards a Graduate Certificate). For undergraduates, universities are allowing students to take short accredited courses (typically skill-based) which can be used to replace one or two courses as part of their fuller 24-course program. They are also offering undergraduates non-accredited or co-curricular courses that allow them to demonstrate experience and enhance their portfolio to improve their employability.

Where do they see as opportunities for the future? While the wholesale ‘unbundling’ of existing longer courses is mentioned as part of the academic thinking going on the subject, the responses from higher educators indicate that the majority of these providers are looking to take the ‘low-hanging fruit’ first. In the higher education market, this appears to be postgrad and short courses. A large proportion of providers (81 percent) plan to offer micro-credentials for short courses, while postgraduate education is also squarely in the crosshairs (for 49 percent of providers).

Going big in the small world of micro-credentials

The ACODE research concludes by saying the AQF review will spur action for higher educators. “The review of the AQF recommends the recognition of micro-credentials.  This provides the additional impetus for institutions to consider micro-credentialing. The low-hanging fruits would be short courses and postgraduate programs. An area for higher education institutions to work on would be to have policies to govern this work in their institutions and to formalise micro-credentialing.”

The same could be considered by VET providers. With some of the same challenges as higher education institutions (including longer courses built to front-load education at the beginning of a career) and the same impetus for evolving their offerings (the AQF review), the environment is ripe for VET providers to look at the opportunities that such a new environment could provide. This is better than focusing on the challenges that come with making these adjustments. Just one example is the ability to augment existing courses with new bite-sized elements that could boost revenue.

There are also new technologies that make such a move easier. For example, the recent launch of digital credentials technology within VETtrak gives RTOs the flexibility to issue digital badges that represent micro-credentials or alternative credentials efficiently from within their Student Management System at the appropriate stage of the learning journey. Either used to digitise the recognition of existing units (the low-hanging fruit) or other skill and knowledge milestones, they can be readily shared on professional and social networks, boosting education marketing power.

It turns out that, while micro-credentials are indeed small, they could be a big thing in the 2020s.

For more information on how to use digital credentials within VETtrak visit ReadyTech’s ReadyCred digital credentials home page for RTOs or call us on 1800 828 872. Your micro-credentials 2020 vision starts here.