How the growth in microcredentials will affect teaching and learning in the year ahead

Over the last 18 months, the need for individuals to engage in continuing education has been thrust into the limelight, says Kenny Nicholl from PebblePad

As people from all walks of life look to learning as a way of shoring up their professional success in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the biggest winners has been microcredentials: bite-sized chunks of education. Many have found that this type of qualification provides an accessible route into a new specialism, and that they’re flexible enough to be juggled alongside current work or family commitments.

And while some believed the growth in microcredentials would threaten traditional education providers, universities have responded at pace – embracing microcredentials alongside traditional degrees, helping them to equip students with the skills they need for a volatile and uncertain world of work, and to meet the growing interest in non-traditional courses.

The benefits for universities

Indeed, we believe that microcredentials are not a substitute for formal qualifications – instead they can be used successfully to supplement traditional teaching and learning dynamics.

And then the benefits of doing so are plentiful. By offering microcredentials from a wide range of disciplines and across transferrable skill areas, universities can increase their visibility and reputation by widening geographical reach and attracting more diverse groups of students – as well as increasing their responsiveness to student and labour market demands. What’s more, they can experiment with new pedagogies and technologies, all while generating additional income or reducing costs.

Additional benefits include providing students with a ‘taster’ before committing to an entire program, an alternative entry way for non-traditional students to enter education, or even a means for industry to connect with the university. For example, we’re seeing an increase of employers sponsoring their employees to complete extra learning, or even investing in supporting universities financially in offering specific programmes.

The need for cohesion

So, how do universities ensure the success of this new type offering? The first issue to tackle is one of measurement and evidencing. While the issuing of microcredentials, often in the form of a badge, allows greater flexibility and choice for students, being able to bring these together and tell a cohesive story is going to be a major challenge as certification of achievement becomes more fragmented. Indeed, while it’s great for students to have a portfolio of this kind of achievement, if they’re unable to tell the story of how the skills they’ve developed can be deployed in the working world, then they’re probably not as effective as they need to be.

In addition to merely tracking success and ensuring cohesion of multiple courses, we believe that ensuring capacity for student reflection, and for formative and dialogic feedback from assessors and mentors, will become increasingly relevant and necessary. Indeed, having the right mechanism to record, assess and report on learner progress has never been more important, and it’s here where harnessing technology like can help.

The rise of both microcredentials and the wider trend of vocational education also calls for closer collaboration between universities and employers – something which once again can be powered through the use of collaborative tech. There’s plenty of this already happening, and we see our university partners collaborating with industry professionals to make sure that industry needs are being met, at the pace they need it to be. However, there’s still more work to be done. Simply put we need more connections and discussions between industries and universities, in order to close skills gaps and meet labour market needs.

So microcredentials are certainly making UK higher education instructions rethink the service they offer, and in many cases expand their own provisions. Indeed, forward-looking institutions are already seeing the shifting landscape as an opportunity to collaborate, share best practices and do better together. These education institutions are harnessing technology to collaborate and work with students and employers alike, in order to create courses that work for everyone.

Kenny Nicholl is chief growth officer at PebblePad

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