Background information

Background Information/Resources: Micro-credentials

What are micro-credentials?

  • They are shorter units of learning, usually enabling the learner to achieve a particular skill or ability. This would distinguish them from Bachelor or Master programmes. In many instances, they may be used as a tool for lifelong learning, reskilling or ‘upskilling’.
  • They may be provided by higher education institutions, but also vocational or adult learning. Often they are offered online, or in blended mode, but they can also be provided physically.
  • They do not always result into a certificate - a “micro-credential” – but many do. In this sense, many require registration and usually also a fee. This helps to distinguish them from MOOCs and other open learning offers. On the other hand, one should leave aside any certificates or badges which one can achieve through (active) participation in an event (seminar, conference) or a one-off training event.
  • There is currently no commonly agreed definition (though many are being proposed) and they may exist in very different formats. They also may or may not be called micro-credentials at this stage.

 Why the topic?

  • Such courses are not new; They may have existed since quite a while (probably under different names) offered by or in cooperation with for-profit providers, professional associations (e.g. in engineering) and also higher education institutions.
  • But more recently, there is a growing interest in the concept of micro-credentials, as they 
    • offer learning and training opportunities in flexible and fast way, mainly for lifelong learning, professional development and professional reorientation, which is important given fast changing economies and societies.
    • target people who are in the workforce and seek a particular skill, an upgrading/’upskilling’, or learners who take the courses in parallel to their regular study or training.
    • are apparently requested by employers, to train their staff (though evidence is still being generated here).
  • In the field of higher education, this has also steered a broader discussion among policy makers and education providers on
    • whether these courses should be seen as supplement or as an alternative to Bachelor and Masters degree, or even as a call to reform higher education learning and teaching and make it more skills and competence oriented.
    • whether and how these courses are quality assured.
    • recognition: while some of the courses are provided by or in collaboration with recognized professional bodies, others seem to receive informal recognition, by learners and industry, who find them useful.
  • There have been pushes for regulation and standardisation of micro-credentials, from different directions:
  • But in other places in the world, discussions and actions on micro-credentials have started earlier. New Zealand decided in 2018 to make micro-credentials part of the formal education system and include them into the qualifications framework. In Australia, an expert group found that such an approach would be premature. But the government, in an effort to curb on unemployment which has increased due to the Covid 19 crisis, announced in 2020 “a one-stop shop online marketplace for microcredentials
  • These developments are not uncontested:
    • In a blog, doubt is expressed on whether the Australian initiative makes much sense, given that it would standardize courses, and hence deprive learners of the choice and diversity that are an essential value of the micro-credentials.
    • A report of a Europe-wide project on micro-credentials undertaken by several Bologna Process stakeholders makes the point that “the existing EHEA tools can be used for or adapted to accommodate micro-credentials without stifling the capacity to promote innovation and flexibility, usually associated with them» (MICROBOL)
    • ETUC/ETUCE, the European Staff Union, expresses its concern about the European Commission’s initiatives, which “would have a significant impact on the holistic approach to education, quality and recognition of employee training”. 

Micro-credentials – A perspective from institutions

EUA recently conducted a survey which examined which universities in Europe offer micro-credentials. It was found that this is very diverse; some offer them (mainly) for internal purposes, for teacher development, and also as additional learning for students who can earn ‘badges’.

  • For external learners: Most are targeted probably at local/national needs and language
  • Some either HEI offer this for  a certain profession and may also get into the field of what may have been covered by commercial non-academic adult learning sector.
  • Many do not call these courses Micro-credentials

The interesting point, which may make a big difference, is the growing pressure and trend towards collaboration/ clustering in micro-credentials, which can take different routes:

  • National sectoral platforms/organisations
    • Funded/initiated by governments – e.g several Nordic initiatives
    • Initiated by the HE sector: e.g. Ireland
    • Initiated by the HE sector, in collaboration with commercial organisations
  • More internationally /European oriented initiatives
    • Futurelearn
    • Germany, to some extent
    • EU initiative announced in the DEAP
  • Commercial organisations, which facilitate platforms for posting learning offers such as

Hence, while the changes are not really felt at the universities (they offer these courses currently as a sideshow), they are transforming the private for profit adult learning sector, and raise the questions on who publicly funds universities. Is this another battlefield of privatisation? Or is there enough for all?

Somebody who may have thought about this, and has also a lot practical experience is Ada Pellert – currently rector of Hagen Distance Learning University - she has issued a “Manifesto”

Additional Resources

Recent online events and conferences:

EURSHE online seminar

Presentations from the MICROBOL final event:


MICROBOL final report

Co-creating QA and ID standards in open and smart learning environments.Florian Rampelt & Mike Bernd. EQAF 2020

How can we co-create academic QA standards in open and smart learning environments? (Video)