Micro-credentials, industry accreditations and the question marks facing HE degrees

Over the course of the last 18 months, and in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, vocational education and training has been thrust into the spotlight like never before

We know that the need for individuals to re-evaluate their careers and engage in continuing education is more pronounced in times of economic volatility, and the widespread furloughs and redundancies experienced during Covid has sent this trend into overdrive.

As people from all walks of life look to learning as a way of shoring up their professional success, one compelling option has been in micro-credentials: bite-sized chunks of education, whether it’s an online course, bootcamp certificate or apprenticeship. Many have found that this type of qualification provides an accessible route into a new specialism, and that micro-credentials are flexible enough to be juggled alongside current work or family commitments.

Indeed, some experts have suggested that a prospective employee might be able to ‘stack’ these credentials together in place of a university degree. The idea is that this type of qualification may provide a more accessible and more affordable – perhaps more targeted – path into employment.

So, the future looks bright for micro-credentials. But how does this trend impact traditional courses and education providers? And how can higher education institutions respond to the need to equip students with the skills they need for a volatile and uncertain world of work – as well as catering to the growing interest in non-traditional courses?

Replace or supplement?

Some micro-credentials, such as technical courses like coding, have been developed to fill the gaps that exist in university degrees. In fast-paced industries like technology, where experience of up-to-date industry standard tools and practices is needed, this quick and current approach is certainly useful. But that doesn’t mean university degrees aren’t valuable. Data shows that college and university degrees are still in high demand in the job market. They continue to give their earners economic returns and fuel brighter prospects for the long-term.

Indeed, we believe that micro-credentials are not a substitute for formal qualifications – but instead they can be used to supplement traditional courses, and to provide the diversity and opportunities that some university degrees sometimes lack. 

We’re also likely to see more higher education institutions offer micro-credentials themselves. And then the benefits of doing so are plentiful: including increasing the institution’s visibility and reputation by widening geographical reach and attracting more diverse groups of students; increasing their responsiveness to students’ and employers’ demands; experimenting with new pedagogies and technologies – and generating additional income.

For whoever is providing micro-credentials, though, accreditation will be key. Many experts emphasise the importance of setting policies and standards for micro-credentials, and that providers (be they traditional institutions or new providers) must make it clear what their certificate or course delivers.

The need for better collaboration

Importantly, we believe that the rise of both micro-credentials and the wider popularity of vocational education calls for closer collaboration between universities and employers. 

There’s plenty of this already happening. At Instructure, we see our university partners collaborating with industry professionals to make sure that industry needs are being met, and that graduates are well equipped to enter the workforce. However, there’s still more work to be done. Simply put, we need more connections and discussions between industries and universities, where on-the-job-learning is part of the curriculum.

It’s here where technology, like learning management platforms, can help – facilitating collaboration and ongoing connection between industry and academia. What’s more, this sort of technology can help institutions assess the efficacy of their courses – using analytics capabilities to look at how people are engaging with course material, where they’re excelling or struggling, and where support is needed.

So, while micro-credentials are certainly making higher education instructions consider the services they offer, and in many cases to expand their own provisions, we believe that there’s room for everyone. Indeed, the savviest institutions are already seeing the shifting landscape as an opportunity to collaborate, share best practices and do better together. These institutions are harnessing technology to collaborate and work with students and employers alike, in order to co-create courses that work for everyone.

Find out more about Instructure’s Canvas platform here.

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