Strategies for creating alternative (micro) credentials

Part 3 of a series that includes Alternative Credentials, micro-credentials, stackable credentials, and digital badges, and Alternative Credential Stacking

Depending on how alternative credentials are positioned, the strategies for developing these credentials depend on the level of stakeholders that need to get involved.  For example, a sector level strategy may involve engagement with provincial government, government agencies (e.g. ecampusOntario), industry, organisations and higher education institutions (HEI).    

1. Establish guiding principles

Central to the strategy is the need to adopt a set of guidelines or principles, and these tend to come in different flavours.  The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)  outline design, assessment, and implementation principles. The ecampusOntario microcertification principles and framework was co-developed by a “working group of employers and post-secondary representatives in Ontario to provide high-level guidance for micro certification pilots across the province”. The ICDE (2019) outlines 10 guidelines for the issuance of alternative digital credentials noting they may need adjustment if institutional and government governance structures are to be accounted for.  Therefore, there are varying approaches to the level at which guidelines are targeted as well as their focus and degree of collaboration.  

2. Build on competency frameworks

Central to the goal of better meeting skills gaps via alternative credentials in a HEI/industry/employer partnership is the importance of competency frameworks.  Competency frameworks provide a means to identify skills gaps and training needs and this practice, while not new, is an often-cited component of designing alternative credentials, in particular badged micro-credentials.   

Qualifications authorities

  • The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is often cited for its introduction of micro-credentials to its regulated training and education system. When NZQA approves a micro-credential, it is published on a micro-credential register. The process invites industry, community and employers to work with the HEI to develop micro-credentials.
  • Europe has a European Qualifications Framework that “helps improve transparency, comparability and portability of people’s qualifications and makes it possible to compare qualifications from different countries and institutions”. A European project is underway to develop “mechanisms for the assessment and certification of learning outcomes achieved through OER” based on UNESCO and European Commission recommendations.  It outlines several challenges that are being addressed via a  recognition framework for micro-credentials,and a meta-data standard and credentials clearinghouse to help facilitate the operations of the framework.  

3. Establish a high-level roadmap

A recent Commonwealth of Learning report  (Rossiter and Tynan, 2019) outlines a roadmap for a micro-credential “ecosystem” that considers both organisational and technical infrastructure:

  1. Ensure you have a clear sense of the purpose and benefit to your key stakeholders. 
  2. Develop an engagement and communication plan to nurture a culture for innovation. 
  3. Assess institutional readiness to achieve your project goals against the components of the micro- credentialing ecosystem. 
  4. Create an overarching system architecture and framework, including: a credentials taxonomy (articulating the granularity of and relationship between the credentials); a “Skills and Capabilities Framework”; and quality principles and processes to design, develop and deliver micro-credential products. 
  5. Create and map the micro-credentialing journey, remembering that each stakeholder will have expectations about the user, customer and learner experiences. 
  6. Develop or modify the administrative systems, policies, business rules and processes to enable new credentialing models. 
  7. Design an issuance model and digital badge. Ensure effective governance and administration are in place for analytic and reporting purposes. 
  8. Assess the capability and capacity of the existing IT infrastructure and educational technology environment to support micro-credentialing and select the issuance platform. 
  9. Review and evaluate against all success factors.  

At an institutional level, Ganzglass (2014) outlines at a high level three approaches that have been taken to develop alternative credentials in the US:

  • Modularize existing applied associate degree and technical diploma programs. 
  • Embed existing industry and professional certifications in career and technical programs. 
  • Streamline and scale processes for awarding credit for learning represented by non-collegiate credentials. 

In Canada, the recent ecampusOntario micro-credential pilots provide some indication of the process and strategy being adopted “on the ground” by various HEI.

Source: #69

Surprisingly, there is almost no discussion of the role of learning design or instructional design in the alternative credential space, but it is undoubtedly an area for learning designers to explore and develop competencies. This also may have institutional capacity implications and need to be part of a strategy, especially in the area of prior learning and assessment.  

4. Communication and marketing

Given the nomenclature confusion around alternative credentials and their recent emergence in HEI, communication and marketing around what they are and the pathways available to students are an important component of the strategy.  Leaser et al (2020) also underline that both the articulation and career pathway options need to be communicated in to past, current, and future recipients of alternative credentials.

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