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Micro-credentials and digital badges – an explainer

The world of online learning is changing rapidly and two of the biggest buzzwords in this new virtual education space are micro-credentials and digital badges.

Guroo Producer is the Australian EdTech startup behind many of the micro-credentials being rolled out at leading universities and businesses in recent years.

As a local leader in the digital and blended learning space, some of the most common questions Guroo is asked include ‘what are micro-credentials and digital badges?’ and ‘what’s the difference?’.

While micro-credentials, or nano-credentials as they’re sometimes known, aren’t a new approach to learning and professional development, these bite-sized courses have grown significantly in recent years, along with the digital badges used to display them online, to become an integral part of education and employment.

Here’s an explainer about what they are and what they mean for future education and job prospects.

What’s the difference between micro-credentials and digital badges?

A micro-credential is like a mini-certification. Usually digital, short, and relatively low-cost, these mini courses have a specific focus on demonstrating proficiency in a particular skill. Learners can earn micro-credentials in a number of ways such as completing a course, a series of modules, or a traditional assessment. 

A digital badge is simply a visual representation of a micro-credential. Once learners have demonstrated proficiency in the required skill, they’re provided with a digital badge, which can be shared on social media, added to email signatures, displayed on resumes, and added to digital badge wallets like Credly and OpenBadges.

It’s important to note that a digital badge isn’t just a pretty picture. It’s backed up with a skeleton of metadata which includes information on the issuer, the individual who received the badge, the criteria to earn it, and evidence that the criteria has been fulfilled. 

This metadata makes digital badges easily verified as legitimate and is the most important thing to look for in a credible badge. 

Which brings us to the major difference between micro-credentials and digital badges. Anyone can slap a badge on their online course and call it a digital badge, however a micro-credential is usually awarded by an educational institution.

The terms have become conflated and are often used interchangeably. And it’s easy to understand why. Conjuring up memories of scouts, video games, and gold stars, badges sound way more fun than a credential.

But the lack of standardisation has been noted by critics. Governments around the world are attempting to find ways to officially recognise micro-credentials. In Australia there is currently no legislation or agreed upon terms but micro-credentials could be on the way to becoming standardised. 

In 2019, the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) was reviewed and addressing micro-credentials increasing popularity was a key aspect of the review. The basic recommendations were that micro-credentials need to be clearly defined and a plan needs to be formed for how they will complement formal qualifications before they are incorporated into the AQF (read the full report here).

Why are micro-credentials important?

While governments may be lagging behind in setting standards, micro-credentials are becoming increasingly necessary to keep up with digital innovations.

The way that learning is undertaken, accredited and recognised has changed dramatically in recent years, especially the past 12 months. 

With the constant pace of technological innovation, employers want to hire people with specific skills and up-to-date training. At the same time, professionals and job seekers are often time poor. 

Micro-credentials help to bridge the skills gap that has emerged between workers and the fast pace of their industry. For this reason, digital badges are being used across multiple fields, in short courses, corporate settings, informal learning settings and across all levels of education.

In fact, because micro-credentials are not formal in the context of AFQ, they have actually enabled educators to respond more swiftly to industry needs by creating programs faster and more aligned to current needs (the AFQ process takes years, whereas micro-credentials can be up and running in a matter of weeks). 

To give you an example, when COVID-19 hit, UNSW’ Business School quickly enlisted Guroo to design 14 new short courses that could be delivered wholly online to support businesses chart a course through the pandemic with relevant and timely skills. 

Working at an unprecedented pace, Guroo launched each course inside three weeks.

The micro-credentials could be completed online within two weeks and covered subjects such as Optimising Resilience and Leading Change, which were incredibly useful in the middle of a pandemic. 

Since COVID-19 drove more learning online, the team at Guroo has been particularly busy working with colleges and universities to ensure their students have access to all the courses they need to reskill, upskill and pivot to remain valuable and relevant in a post-pandemic world.  

Needless to say, micro-credentials and digital badges are here to stay.

For more information visit www.gurooproducer.com

Author: Sim K

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Sim K

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