What makes an effective microcredential programme?

Short, flexible and skills-focused, microcredentials must balance the needs of students and industry. Here are tips on how to develop courses that achieve this

Temesgen Kifle's avatar
20 Sep 2023
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Microcredentials offer a wide range of benefits to learners within a relatively brief time frame. They are an attractive option for individuals looking to enhance their knowledge, skills and professional opportunities in a dynamic environment. However, universities offering microcredentials need to address and solve various issues to maximise the effectiveness and appeal of their programmes.

Microcredentials began to gain momentum in the 2010s alongside the emergence of massive open online courses (Moocs). Microcredentials, which are short certificate courses offered by universities and other educational institutions, aim to fulfil the changing needs of industry and the labour market. They provide learners with knowledge and skills that are highly demanded by employers. For learners, they are more affordable cost-wise, and the programmes are often designed to be stackable, so learners can combine credits into a formal qualification. The speed of completion in microcredentials is an advantage for individuals aiming to gain specific skills and certifications quickly.

Within the context of lifelong learning, microcredentials are useful for career advancement. However, this format has been criticised for being too narrow in scope and less comprehensive compared with traditional degree programmes.

The challenges are not insignificant – to learners and providers alike. If microcredentials are delivered online, networking opportunities are limited. On top of that, recognition and credibility in the job market can be an issue for learners completing microcredentials in less prestigious universities, and lack of standardisation, credit-hour mismatches, variations in quality and accreditation, among other things, can hinder the transferability of microcredential credits between institutions.

Also, both industry evolution and the rapid pace of technological change drive concerns about microcredentials becoming outdated.

Here are tips for higher education institutions (HEIs) to consider when creating and delivering microcredential programmes so they meet the needs of all stakeholders.

1. Collaborate with accrediting bodies, employers and other HEIs

Universities interested in offering microcredential programmes need to engage with prospective industry partners to identify skill gaps. Employer surveys, collaborations and partnerships with companies, and participation in industry conferences and events are all ways to gather information about the skills they look for in potential employees. Graduate outcome surveys can provide valuable insights into the jobs and the skills they bring to the workforce. Collaboration with accrediting bodies helps to validate the quality and effectiveness of microcredential programmes, while collaboration with educational institutions is vital to ensure effective credit transfer and articulation.

2. Develop curricula with specific learning outcomes

Universities offering microcredentials need to have an aims-based curriculum to ensure that learners acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to meet labour market needs (determined through active engagement with employers and market research to identify employment trends and skills gaps.) This is because microcredential programmes: have a shorter duration; are competency based (unlike traditional degree programmes, which are credit based); emphasise practical and applied learning; and are closely aligned with the needs of industries and employers.

3. Review and update programmes regularly

University microcredential programmes require regular reviews to stay competitive and effective. The frequency of reviewing and updating programmes can depend on factors including the pace of technological change, industry dynamics, and learner and employer feedback. Feedback from learners and industry partners can be used to enhance programme quality; keep up to date, too, with employer needs, regulatory compliance and standards, industry changes and technological advancement.

4. Tailor marketing and promotion to prospective learners

Target audiences cannot be reached without investing in marketing and promotion. Depending on the type of the microcredential programme, key target audiences for marketing are recent graduates and those considering a career change or seeking to upgrade their skills. HEIs can reach target audiences through channels such as institutional websites, social media and search campaigns.

5. Design microcredentials with flexibility in mind

To enhance their reputation and attract learners, universities need to design microcredentials that possess lasting value and flexibility, are in high demand in the labour market, and with global recognition and accreditation. Learners tend to enrol in microcredentials to acquire skills that won’t be outdated in a short period of time. However, learners’ course preferences, needs and circumstances can change, so courses that are offered in various modes are attractive. Remember, too, that the reasons that learners enrol in microcredentials – wider job opportunities, job security, better salary and benefits, quality assurance, credibility and credit transferability – may also shift.

A well-developed microcredential curriculum requires defined learning outcomes, high-quality instructional content, assessment tasks that are directly aligned with the learning outcomes, and competent instructors. Universities need to keep on top of industry needs, technology and employment trends to achieve this.

Temesgen Kifle is a lecturer in the School of Economics at the University of Queensland.

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