Microcredential Framework (where the centre is recognition)

It’s interesting to me that the last time I actually blogged was a summary of the Epic 2022 conference. I had completely forgotten that I had taken such detailed notes, which is one of the things that I appreciate about having a blog for these things.

In the past couple of years I’ve shifted some of my attention from the open education world to the RPL/VPL/PLAR world. Here in BC this is known as prior learning assessment and recognition, while in other jurisdictions it’s known as the recognition of prior learning or the validation of prior learning. Thanks to Epic, I’ve come to understand the broader umbrella as recognition. In the past couple of years, I’ve attended numerous conferences and events dedicated to PLAR and recognition in both higher education contexts and workplace contexts. I’d like to say that I’ve gone from being at PLAR 101 level to maybe advancing to the 300 level in the last two years. This is in part due to a collaborative network of colleagues here in BC with the BCplan network who are generous with their knowledge and expertise, as well as getting to know some key thinkers in this area such as Nan Travers (see credentials-as-you-go) and Susan Forseille (Thompson Rivers University).

I became interested in PLAR through microcredentials, which landed in my portfolio when I started here at VCC. I’d already done some research into microcredentials as part of my consulting work, and the question that kept arising for me is that while there was a lot of excitement about talking about how to create and offer microcredentials there was less attention being given to how the recognition of microcredentials within our institutions would work, in particular those that come from outside of higher education. PLAR an obvious vehicle for this, and offered a mechanism for bringing these two things together. But PLAR can be a boutique and time consuming process, and not every institution is set up to do it well. In other words, microcredentials could potentially task the already tasked PLAR process, which defeats the purpose in an environment where government is incentivizing up-skilling, re-skilling, and cross training in a labour market context that is changing and shifting rapidly.

Somewhat concurrently, digital credentials and badging were making their second debut. Much like podcasting, badging had a moment, seemingly disappeared for a while and then came back. But here in our sector, PLAR, microcredentials, and badging hadn’t really converged. In fact, it’s interesting to go back to my summary of epic 2022 and to see that I was still struggling with understanding where badges had their value. I understood that badging was a useful technical infrastructure to microcredentials, and the metadata component that they carry could facilitate the PLAR process (eg. critical information summaries and credit bank). All of this is captured really well in the recognition section of the recently published BC Microcredential Toolkit.

I have Margo Griffith of Credentialate to thank for putting the concept of “digital plumbing” in my head with respect to how all of this could connect. First of all, it takes the badging part of microcredential out of the “optional” bucket and underlines its importance as plumbing. But I’m missing a key learning that I got from Nan Travers at this year’s CAEL conference, which is designing recognition into microcredentials. In other words, PLAR by design vs PLAR as a service. Both are important, but as a former instructional designer, the idea centring PLAR in the design process is really interesting.

What emerges is a microcredential framework that is quite useful. Simply put:

-Recognition (where it is designed) is the pedagogy

-The microcredential is the curriculum

-Badging/digital credential is the technical plumbing

To be clear, I’m not trying to take away from open badges and open recognition, which go in quite a different direction. But for the purposes of developing microcredentials, this framework captures the components that I think are necessary to achieve the goals of what microcredentials are trying to do in this province.

Update: I completed the Generative AI for Leaders course on Coursera this week, and opted for the 66$ certification. I figured it would be a good way to experience the digital credential aspect of learning. Upon completing the three modules and the assignment, the platform seamlessly produced a standard looking digital certificate, and auto-populated my Linked In profile with a new certification. Easy peasy.

But what it doesn’t seem to provide is any sort of metadata that could be used for validation or recognition purposes. The “plumbing” in this case is incomplete, and recognition (outside of the Coursera ecosystem) is not part of the design. What this microcredential provided was curriculum only. As a result, its value is limited as a result of not designing around recognition.

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