Microcredentialing: Small Credentials, Big Impact

Microcredentialing: Small Credentials, Big Impact

Posted in Blog on 14 January 2016

The term “microcredentials” has begun to pop up in university and corporate settings alike. So what does this mean, exactly? And how can it help you in your career? In short, microcredentials refers to a kind of alternative credentialing system for employees and candidates to demonstrate their knowledge and skills without needing an undergraduate or graduate degree to prove their worth. Employees able to demonstrate their skill in a certain niche area of their industry will earn a digital badge or another form of “nanodegree” or “microdegree” in order to provide evidence of their mastery to potential employers or collaborators. This is not to say that microcredentials will replace all traditional credentialing programs; rather, these specific indicators of a niche subset of skills will often add to your existing credentials, though, in some cases, these badges of mastery may indeed stand in for a traditional degree in certain industries.

Why Microcredentials Are Gaining Popularity

There are a number of reasons why microcredentials are gaining popularity among students, employees, and employers. For starters, this approach can be more cost effective than a traditional credentialing program because students can focus in on the specific skills where they’d like to prove their qualifications. As a 2015 report from Inside Higher Ed explains, this means that students can essentially take an “a la carte” approach to both assessment and instruction, which may be far less expensive than paying for a traditional undergraduate or graduate program.

On the employer side, microcredentialing can take the guess work out of screening new candidates, especially in highly technical fields. If an applicant can provide clear, vetted evidence that they have a particular skill set in the industry where they seek work, the employer can onboard them far more quickly and get them working on projects that match their credentials right away.

Who Uses Microcredentials?

Both private companies and institutions of higher education have begun to use microcredentials as a way for students and/or applicants to show their skills. Nanodegree granting program Udacity cites leaders from top companies like Google and General Electric, who state that microcredentialing is a powerful way to provide ongoing professional development to current employees, as well as vet a new generation of skilled workers.

Universities like microcredentialing because it allows them to reach a greater range of students, especially those who may not have the time or resources to enroll in a traditional semester of coursework. For example, the University of Wisconsin has launched a “Flex” option for nontraditional students. UW “awards credit based on competency, not class time” and has structured their program so that as students “demonstrate mastery of an area, [they] earn credit and move on to the next competency and assessment.”

The Future of Microcredentials

Whether you call them microcredentials or even “micro masters,” these bite sized badges are an innovative way for employees and employers to communicate about specific skills and qualifications. As businesses become more streamlined and efficient, they will look for employees who are ready to prove their skills and strengths, as well as their readiness to immediately enter the workforce and put their knowledge to the test. While still a new approach, expect microdentialing to have some serious staying power in the years to come.

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