According to the authors of a newly published report, at least 10 state education agencies—Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington—have launched official microcredential pilots. And another five states—Illinois, Maryland, Montana, New York, and Wyoming—are experimenting with microcredentials in some way.
sponsored by the non-profit Digital Promise, the report argues that we’ve reached a kind of tipping point in the evolution of the “emerging micro-credentialing ecosystem,”
Reports from early adopters (among them, the NEA, the country’s largest teachers’ union) have been promising, and the potential market for such programs is potentially huge. According to Digital Promise, nearly three out of four U.S. teachers are currently engaged in some type of informal professional development or learning.
Microcredentials, or short-form online learning programs, is the latest buzzword that higher education providers are latching onto. They come with diminutive names such as Micromasters (by several universities working with edX) and nanodegrees (by Udacity). But they have the potential to shake up graduate education, potentially reducing demand for longer, more-traditional professional programs. At the core of the trend is the idea that professionals will go “back to school” repeatedly over their lifetimes, rather than carving out years at a time for an MBA or technical degree.
Credential Engine, a nonprofit funded by the Lumina Foundation, Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase, today launched its Credential Registry, a digital platform where institutions can upload degrees and credentials so prospective students can search for and compare credentials side-by-side.
Udacity won a trademark for Nanodegree last year. And in April, the nonprofit edX, founded by MIT and Harvard University to deliver online courses by a consortium of colleges, applied for a trademark on the word MicroMasters. And MicroDegree? Yep, that’s trademarked too, by yet another company.
colleges and universities that seek to meet corporate needs must move beyond monolithic programs and think in terms of competencies, unbundling curriculum, modularizing and “microlearning.” Many institutions are already pioneering efforts in this direction, from the certificate- and badge-oriented University of Learning Store (led by the Universities of Wisconsin, California, Washington and others) to Harvard Business School’s HBX, and the new “iCert” that we developed at Northeastern University. These types of shorter-form, competency-oriented programs can better fit corporate demands for targeted and applied learning.
Researchers from the universities plan to build on pioneering efforts such as MIT’s Blockcerts pilot, to create a trusted, distributed and shared infrastructure that will allow learners to:
Maintain a verifiable record of lifelong learning achievements (including badges, internships, bootcamps, certificates, MicroMasters and stackable credentials, as well as traditional degrees);
Receive credentials digitally and safely;
Share credentials with employers or other institutions;
Own their credentials forever, without having to ask or pay their institution for a transcript; and
Compile and curate credentials received from multiple educational institutions.
“Alternative digital credentials fill an important gap between learning and work-relevant skill verification. The adoption of an ADC system will allow universities to achieve greater alignment with the demands of both students and local economies, making universities more accountable for what they produce,” commented Gary W. Matkin, dean of Continuing Education and vice provost of Career Pathways at UC Irvine. “Young adults are demanding shorter, relevant education that they can put to immediate use. Industry hiring practices will increasingly depend on digital searches for job candidates and ADCs will make those competencies easier to discover.”
“Digital credentials are like tokens of social and human capital and hold tremendous value for the individual. The crucial opportunity we have today is to bring together institutions that share a commitment to the benefit of learners, and who can act as stewards of this infrastructure,” said Philipp Schmidt, director of learning innovation at the MIT Media Lab.
“Our shared vision is one where academic achievements, and the corresponding credentials that verify them, can open up new pathways for individuals to become who they want to be in the future,” said José Escamilla, director of TecLabs Learning Reimagined at Tecnologico de Monterrey.
We are exploring the very same topic. We have been using Credly for the past year or so to give badges to faculty who complete courses in a 3 course series we developed for effective online teaching.
That said, we are a Canvas school and, as we explore our own pilot program, are looking at Badgr’s badging solution (which is free to use, at least for Canvas, maybe all though?) as well as their Pathway’s solution for stacking badges and providing a view of that badge path for participants.
It’s is all very early stage but those are the two platforms and vendors we have focused our time currently.
Such non-degree credentials have been growing in popularity.
“We do have a little bit of a Wild West situation right now with alternative credentials,” said Alana Dunagan, a senior research fellow at the nonprofit Clayton Christensen Institute, which researches education innovation. The U.S. higher education system “doesn’t do a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff.”
Thousands of credentials classes aimed at improving specific skills have cropped up outside of traditional colleges. Some classes are boot camps, including those popular with computer coders. Others are even more narrowly focused, such as courses on factory automation and breastfeeding. Colleges and universities have responded by adding non-degree programs of their own.
some 4,000 colleges and other providers issue industry certifications, according to the Lumina Foundation, but fewer than one in 10 are reviewed by a regulatory body or accreditor.
That companies need trained employees is uncontested: More than three-quarters of U.S. manufacturers told the National Association of Manufacturers this year that they had trouble finding and keeping skilled workers.
Despite those hiring and retention concerns, industry appears reluctant to discuss the topic of policing new credentials. The National Association of Manufacturers declined to answer questions.
“If an organization wants to grant a badge, there’s nothing stopping them from doing that,” Richardson said. “It’s important for consumers to do their due diligence.”
Badging programs are rapidly gaining momentum in higher education – join us to learn how to get your badging efforts off the ground.
Key Considerations: Assessment of Competencies
During this session, you will learn how to ask the right questions and evaluate if badges are a good fit within your unique institutional context, including determining ROI on badging efforts. You’ll also learn how to assess the competencies behind digital badges.
Key Technology Considerations
This session will allow for greater understanding of Open Badges standards, the variety of technology software and platforms, and the portability of badges. We will also explore emerging trends in the digital badging space and discuss campus considerations.
Key Financial Considerations
During this hour, we will take a closer look at answering key financial questions surrounding badges:
What does the business model look like behind existing institutional badging initiatives?
Are these money-makers for an institution? Is there revenue potential?
Where does funding for these efforts come from?
Partnering with Industry
Badging can be a catalyst for partnerships between higher education and industry. In this session, you will have the opportunity to learn more about strategies for collaborating with industry in the development of badges and how badges align with employer expectations.
Branding and Marketing Badges
Now that we have a better idea of the “why” and “what” of badges, how do we market their value to external and internal stakeholders? You’ll see examples of how other institutions are designing and marketing their badges.
Alongside your peers and our expert instructors, you will have the opportunity to brainstorm ideas, get feedback, ask questions, and get answers.
Next Steps and the Road Ahead: Where Badging in Higher Ed is Going
Most institutions are getting into the badging game, and we’ll talk about the far-reaching considerations in the world of badging. We’ll use this time to engage in forward-thinking and discuss the future of badging and what future trends in badging might be.
While employers increasingly demand that new hires have college degrees, the transcripts supporting those hard-earned credentials are no longer the most informative tool students have to exhibit their skills.
An estimated 1 in 5 institutions issue digital badges, which can be posted to social media, stored on digital portfolios and displayed by other specially designed platforms. When clicked on, the badge lists a range of skills a student has demonstrated beyond grades.
“The reason they’re taking off in higher education is most employers are not getting the information they need about people emerging from higher ed, with previous tools we’ve been using,” says Jonathan Finkelstein, founder and CEO of the widely used badging platform Credly. “The degree itself doesn’t get to level of describing particular competencies.”
For instance, a Notre Dame student who goes on a trip to Ecuador to build bridges can earn a badge for mastering the calculations involved in the construction, says G. Alex Ambrose, associate program director of e-portfolio assessment at the Indiana university’s Kaneb Center for Teaching & Learning.
Students can be pretty certain when they have passed calculus or creative writing, but they don’t always recognize when they’ve excelled in demonstrating soft skills such as critical thinking, communication and work ethic, says MJ Bishop, director of the system’s William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation.
Badges have been most popular in the school of education—including with student teachers who, in turn, have created badges for the elementary and secondary classrooms where they’ve apprenticed, says Anna Catterson, the university’s educational technology director.
The campus library is another badging hotspot. Students there have earned microcredentials for research, 3D printing and other skills. These badges are being shared on LinkedIn and other platforms to obtain internships and scholarships.
The university runs faculty training sessions on badging and has established a review process for when faculty submit ideas for microcredentials.
One pothole to avoid is trying to create a schoolwide badge that’s standardized across a wide range of courses or majors. This can force the involvement of committees that can bog down the process, so it’s better to start with skills within single courses, says Ambrose at Notre Dame.
When creating a badge, system faculty have to identify a business or industry interested in that credential.
Badges that have the backing of a college or university are more impressive to job recruiters than are completion certificates from skill-building websites like Lynda.com.
Students won’t be motivated to earn a badge that’s a stock blue ribbon downloaded off the internet. Many institutions put a lot work into the design, and this can include harnessing expertise from the marketing department and graphic designers
and learn the strategies and processes that other institutions have used to develop digital badge initiatives and programs. You’ll learn the different ways that badges can add value to the learner experience, key considerations for developing badges, and how to effectively connect learners to industry.