by Ashish Rangnekar of BenchPrep
Microcredentials offer a way for learning businesses to deliver big results not despite their size but because of their size. The microcredentialing opportunity is being proven out. Universities are partnering with online platforms to provide on-demand, flexible microcredentials. Coursera offers Specializations, and edX markets MicroMasters. Employers are getting in on the action too. Grow with Google has helped more than 8 million Americans improve their skills and careers.
I believe trade and professional associations, training companies, and other learning businesses—as well as the learners they serve—can also benefit from offering microcredentials.
What Are Microcredentials?
First, I should define microcredential. That’s easier said than done, though, because there’s no concise, universally accepted definition of microcredential. What I can say without controversy is that the scope of a microcredential is smaller than a full-blown credential, like a traditional certification.
A microcredential won’t cover an entire body of knowledge or many different skills. Instead, a microcredential might focus on one specific competency within the body of a knowledge that a certification covers, for example.
5 Tips for Effective Microcredentials
To help your learning business and your learners get the most value from microcredentials, I’ll share five suggestions. These tips are grounded in the real world and based on my experience working with organizations that have rolled out successful microcredential programs.
1. Focus on Learning.
Microcredentials, just like larger credentials, should be meaningful and valuable. A microcredential should attest to the holder’s knowledge or skill in a certain area.
Summative assessments can attest to the microcredential holder’s knowledge or skill, and formative assessments, like knowledge checks and practice questions, can support learning along the way.
At the end of the day, your microcredentialing program should deliver the same significant results as your certification program. Shorter shouldn’t mean less rigorous or less effective.
2. Align with Learners.
Aligning with the market means being keenly aware of your learners’ needs and wants. Microcredentials might not be right for your full audience. Even if they are, your learning business probably can’t roll out microcredentials for them all at once, so you’ll need to prioritize, and target the right segment of learners.
Research from the Teachers College of Columbia University found most microcredential learners are professionals looking to hone their skills. This may prove true for your audience too and lead you to focus less on beginner skills and knowledge and more on intermediate or even advanced topics.
Professionals are likely looking to fit their pursuit of a microcredential into already busy lives. That means mobile delivery of content and assessments may be appreciated or necessary.
Also, keep relevant regulations in mind. If learners in the field you serve need a certain number of continuing education credits, then align the length of your microcredential with those requirements.
3. Align with Employers.
Microcredentials can serve as a skills currency—but only if employers are aware of them. When developing microcredentials, work closely with employers in the profession or field you serve. Make sure the microcredentials you develop address a real business need so that holders of that microcredential will be eligible for different responsibilities, higher pay, or some other meaningful outcome.
Once you’ve developed a microcredential, market it to businesses. Business-to-business (B2B) sales can open up a new line of business to organizations that have historically made only business-to-consumer (B2C) sales directly to individual learners.
4. Build for Stackability.
There are two main approaches to stacking microcredentials: vertical and horizontal. Vertical stacking thinks about credentials in a hierarchy and allows individuals to climb a career ladder. The vertical stack is like stairs, giving workers the steps they need to reach their career goals. Vertical stacking allows learners to go deeper in a domain.
With horizontally stacked credentials, hierarchy is less important than subject matter. Learners expand their subject matter expertise by earning credentials in related areas. Horizontal stacking allows individuals to move along a career path by broadening their skills and knowledge. (For a real-world example, see the American Medical Technologists, which offers credentials that can be stacked horizontally or vertically.)
With both the horizontal and vertical approach, the goal is the same: allowing learners to combine microcredentials in a way that’s meaningful for them. Particularly in the case of horizontal stacking, this may mean that learners can take courses in the order that best suits their need. Some programs even allow learners to earn a microcredential by mixing and matching courses. By allowing learners to mix and match, you encourage flexibility and accommodate choice. They could also take courses at the same time to speed up the process.
Stackability may also be expressed in learning pathways that help learners see the value of the microcredentials for them personally. For example, you might have one pathway for a certain job role or type of position and another pathway for a different job role–e.g., one learning pathway for marketers and another for salespeople.
Microcredentials, particularly ones that are stackable and part of a learning pathway, also create an opportunity for upselling. You can design your microcredential program so that learners are able to combine their microcredentials and ultimately earn a larger certification.
5. Provide Digital Badges.
Consider issuing a digital badge to learners who earn a microcredential you offer. A digital badge is more than a graphic. The real value of a digital badge is in the metadata behind it that validates the holder’s accomplishment of a specific skill or knowledge.
Digital badges are meant to be more public than a record of completion in your learning management system (LMS). Your learners can share their digital badge on social media, and then interested stakeholders, such employers, can access in real time the data associated with the graphic, which might include things like date of issue, date of expiration, and what the learner had to do to earn the badge. (For more on standards-based digital badges, check out Open Badges.)
Digital badges can also be great advertising for your learning business. They can help ensure your offerings are top of mind for employers and workers in the profession, field, or industry you serve.
A Note on Technology to Support Microcredentials
These tips all require or benefit from the support of good technology. The right learning technologies can deliver mobile-friendly practice questions and assessments; support your B2B sales efforts; and help you create, issue, and manage digital credentials. So make sure you have an integrated learntech stack that supports your microcredentials.
I believe there is big opportunity for most learning businesses in offering microcredentials. Microcredentials speak directly to the modern learner’s limited time and need to attain practical skills and knowledge. When pursued in strategically, microcredentials can help your learning business serve its learners even better.
About the Author
Ashish Rangnekar is the co-founder and CEO of BenchPrep, a Chicago-based enterprise SaaS digital learning company purpose-built to help your candidates feel more confident and prepared for the test. Under Ashish’s leadership, BenchPrep has built a world-class team of 100+ employees and has helped some of the world’s leading education and training companies digitally transform their product offerings. Customers include CFA Institute, ACT, McGraw Hill Education, National Conference of Bar Examiners, Association of American Medical Colleges, and more.