Micro-credentials - a simple remedy for complex problems

odznaka plusMicro-credentials, a digital form of certificates, allow you to quickly, and in a modern way, show what you can do, what competencies or skills you have, or, instantly, present a whole portfolio, which will attract the attention of employers. The following article by Michał Nowakowski, an expert and one of the leaders of the Integrated Qualification System project in Poland, presents what micro-credentials are, what needs they meet, and what the work on implementing the idea of micro-credentials looks like.

A simple way to validate skills, individual career paths, and attractive digital diplomas that can be sent with one "click". This is what the near future will look like in the labour market. It is also a common dream of Polish employees, HR departments and managers.

Almost every day we receive news of new scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs through the media. At every moment, one step at a time, we push the boundary of human cognition. Examples can be multiplied. Advances in AI development, the use of mRNA-based vaccines, or the conquest of space by private companies. This type of information undeniably confirms that we are living in a time of technological leap, unknown in the history of our civilization. Development creates many new opportunities and possibilities in both social and economic spheres. It also creates new challenges, one of which is adapting education to the needs of the digital world.

Micro-credentials - a simple remedy for complex problems

The emergence of new technologies creates a constant demand for skilled workers. One can already respond to market needs on an ongoing basis. It was out of the need to align education with the needs of the labour market that the idea of micro-credentials was born.  What are micro-credentials? To put it in simple terms: it's simply a digital form of certificates. Micro-credentials allow one to quickly, and in a modern way, show what one can do, what competencies or skills one has, or, all at the same time, present a whole portfolio, which will draw the attention of employers.

The idea of micro-credentials is made real by Digital Badges. They are issued using special software that encodes the information into a badge graphic file. The best known implementation are Open Badges developed in 2013 by the Mozilla Foundation. Since then, they have been continuously developed to enhance security and add or improve existing functionalities. What does it look like?

Badges are awarded to individuals by universities, companies, or other public entities based on specific criteria. The publisher of a badge is responsible for establishing the criteria and maintaining quality, and the prospective holder must be able to meet the requirements. Security is ensured by the Open Badges 2.0 standard, which provides for dual, automated verification of badge validity and authenticity.


Modularity, flexibility, mapping of market needs

What's the point of all this? The high cost of traditional forms of education, their duration and low level of adaptation to the needs of the labour market have encouraged many training and course providers to find more attractive learning opportunities. At the same time, the growth of the Internet has led to the development of online learning technologies, among them e-learning and innovative MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

MOOCs are short, modular online courses focused on practical knowledge and skills. They are available online, practically to everyone, and most often branded by prestigious universities or well-known companies. They are aimed at individuals who are motivated to learn independently anywhere, anytime. And it is the digital micro-credentials - Digital Badges - that most often serve as proof of completion of these courses.

Universities, which often have centuries-old traditions, play a big role in this process. Over hundreds of years, the methods used were developed through a process of constant evolution, never revolution. That's why micro-credentials fit perfectly into this trend. They expand the repository of educational methods and tools so painstakingly developed throughout the history of higher education. They can become an important element within the course of study and will allow graduates to broaden their skills.

Universities are responding quickly to this trend by developing modern educational offerings. A great example is the EdX learning platform founded by Harvard University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). EdX is already used by more than 20 million people, including students at the world's renowned universities and employees of the companies at the forefront of technology. EdX offers stackable (i.e. that can be arranged in longer cycles) educational micro-credentials as part of what is known as MicroMasters.

Those are the reasons why, as part of IQS 4 project, the Badge+ system is being currently under development. The system is an IT tool for storing, issuing and managing digital micro-credentials in the Open Badges standard. It will include the world's best practices related to digital certificates, as well as Polish original solutions for popularization of lifelong learning. One of them, dedicated to the end users of the product, will be the ability to create modern, fully editable portfolios of one's past skills and achievements with the use of earned digital badges.

In addition, the application will include many convenient features for Badge Issuers, primarily Awarding Bodies, enabling them to manage certification processes and communication with candidates, or software "wizards" for simple and fast graphic creation of badges or certificates.

Author: Michał Nowakowski

Project leader at the Educational Research Institute. He has worked as a manager and expert in numerous national and international projects. He specializes in competence development in the workplace and the use of new technologies in education. He is currently involved in the development of the first Polish system for issuing digital badges in the Open Badges standard.