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Making Sense of Micro-credentials

Apr 10, 2020

Higher education is always evolving. As the workforce changes the credentials, knowledge, and experience it requires from candidates, colleges are adapting to give students the skills they need to succeed on the market. In today's educational landscape, students can follow several pathways to build their résumés.

Micro-credentials are a relatively new development, and they allow learners to spend weeks or months focusing on a specific area of study—such as cybersecurity, leadership, or medical coding—to show employers that they've mastered that skill. Whether it's earned through an online or an in-person course, a micro-credential is taken for credit and can stand alone as a credential or can contribute toward a degree. Micro-credentials help students master specialized subjects quickly and efficiently, boosting their résumés while learning new skills to jumpstart or advance their careers.

The benefits of micro-credentials.

Micro-credentials take two main forms:

  • Badges. According to the MacArthur Foundation, badges denote learning in formal and informal settings. Typically earned through online courses, badges indicate your knowledge of a particular subject.

  • Certificates and certifications. Certificates or certifications are typically offered and sanctioned by governing organizations in a specific field. Earning a certification proves that you have mastered a particular subject according to the regulations and curriculum laid out by that accredited organization.

If you've earned your degree or are already in the workforce, micro-credentials can increase your value. For instance, Forbes asserts that micro-credentials are especially important in education, as teachers use them to showcase areas of expertise to their administrations and to better measure and reward student success in the classroom. If you're already a top-notch teacher, earning a micro-credential in creative writing for secondary school students could help you find new ways to engage students and show your administrators that you have more to offer.

But micro-credentials aren't just useful in education. Badges and certificates cover a broad range of subjects; there's the American Marketing Association Professional Certified Marketer certificate, for example, and the Registered Health Information Administrators credential. Micro-credentials can also be based on skills such as project management, communication, or problem-solving.

Micro-credentials are particularly useful in fields that are constantly changing, such as IT. Earning certificates and badges in IT-focused skills and knowledge can help learners stay at the cutting edge without having to go through a full degree program. For example, Western Governors University's MicroBachelors™ program in IT career framework introduces the basics of IT and helps IT professionals combine their knowledge of computer science with the ability to interpret data to guide decision-making skills in business. These programs help students quickly learn new skills and keep up with emerging technologies and initiatives.

Expanding your body of knowledge.

Micro-credentials can also be combined to create a full learning experience that supplements or contributes to your degree program. In an interview with Education Dive, Western Governors University president Scott Pulsipher says that most WGU micro-credentials are industry or industry-accepted certifications.

"The workforce defines the credential’s value," Pulsipher says. "For as long as we've known higher education, the currency was the degree. We think that currency is expanding to include credentials and certifications, but those shouldn't be culs-de-sac. They should be stackable into a lifelong learning pursuit."

Each micro-credential course is meaningful on its own, but courses can also build on one another to create a robust portfolio of knowledge. In WGU's IT Career Framework MicroBachelors program, for example, each micro-credential course boosts students' knowledge and prepares them for a bachelor's program and a career.

As Pulsipher notes, stackability is key here. If a student completes the MicroBachelor's program and then earns industry-accredited certifications through a degree program, they'll graduate with a powerhouse résumé that includes a bachelor's degree in IT, credentials in foundational concepts such as programming and scripting, and industry-recognized certifications.

Choices in higher education.

As you pursue higher learning and prepare for your career, a micro-credential might be exactly what you need to catch an employer's eye. Whether you take a short online course to learn about a particular subject for a résumé booster or you pursue certificates while earning a degree, micro-credentials can equip you with the expertise you need to excel.

As higher education continues to innovate, learners are ultimately the winners—they have the choice in how they gain the necessary knowledge and skills to fuel their accomplishments.

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