Author: Dr. Ifigeneia Metaxa, R&D Project Manager at ATLANTIS Engineering S.A., Greece
You completed your studies, any type of studies, got a degree, any type of degree and got a job, any type of job. Congratulations! Does this mean that your journey in education and training is completed? Not by a long shot! You continue to learn, acquire new skills, improve competences, evolve. Most of the times this is being done in a non-formal way, on-the-job, through mentoring, following short courses, completing small assignments, participating in hackathons etc. And you don’t get any official credit for it. The acquired skills get listed under the experience in your resume, but they are not certified, recognised in any way. Welcome to the topic of debate, the need to acknowledge the competences we continue to conquer throughout our professional path. Please note that we are not talking about disregarding or reducing the value of the already existing structure and degrees, not at all. However, it is important to think and act beyond, having in mind a lifelong learning path, continuous improvement and the personal journeys that can lead professionals to modified carrier paths, diverging from initial degrees and disciplines.
Micro-credentials are small pieces of knowledge, mini-qualifications that demonstrate skills, knowledge and/or experience1 and they can be the next big thing that disrupts education and training, following up the abrupt transformation imposed by the covid-19 pandemic. Notoriously, almost a year ago, the fact that Microsoft will not require a college degree for entry-level jobs hit the news2. This has been brewing for a while and it is an avalanche that cannot be stopped3. It makes no sense getting no recognition for the short courses acquired. It makes no sense to demand a 3-4 year degree for a position that requires knowledge that can be acquired in 6-12 months. The market has already responded to that. Learning Management Systems provide open badges and companies offering courses, such as Coursera, edX, Udemy provides certificates. Higher education has proven to be ready to respond to an extent. Several top universities, such as Harvard, MIT, ETH Zurich, EPFL, Technical University of Munich, Delft University of Technology and many more are already offering online courses for free or students can receive certificates for a small fee. There are also lifelong learning related services that offer short training courses that also provide ECTS or ECVET credits, however usually related to a topic for which the university already offers a basic degree.
The European Commission is putting effort into addressing this issue for some time and has recently launched a public consultation on “Micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability”4. The objective of the initiative is to design a path towards the development of a common definition of micro-credentials and support the quality, transparency, recognition and portability of short learning experiences at institutional, national and EU level. It is exactly what is needed and several actions have been put in place to support it. The case of Cedefop stands out, which has launched a study5 on the role of micro-credentials in facilitating learning for employment as part of its future of VET project6.
The Vocational Education and Training sector have yet to provide a solid response to the matter, regardless of initial or continuing VET is considered. Three main scenarios are visible at the moment:
- Pluralistic VET, on the boundaries with general education, part of a lifelong learning approach. Here we can talk about micro-credentials.
- Leading to entry into professions with a significant focus on work-based learning and the need to be prepared to quickly adapt, responding to changes in technologies and markets. Here we acknowledge basic skills and competences meeting the needs of the labour market.
- Job-oriented training probably focused mainly on adults in need of re- or upskilling, addressing short-and medium-term skills needs with shorter training courses and some individual tailoring of the learning path. Here we can talk about micro-credentials too. Personally, I believe that the most probable scenario is that we will end up with all three VET types simultaneously available, as they address different needs and that the recognition of a small batched of knowledge in the form of mini-qualifications will be a driver in this transformation.
- A. Lemoine and M.D. Richardson, Micro-Credentials, Nano Degrees, and Digital Badges: New Credentials for Global Higher Education, IJTEM 5(1), 2015