The new report from the Lifelong Education Commission (LEC), chaired by Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP, makes the case for more agile, flexible forms of education, but says more support is needed from Government and business for such courses to take off.
Microcredentials are small, bite-sized units of learning which differ in size, complexity, and duration from traditional qualifications (i.e., certificates, diplomas, degrees, etc). However micro-learning still remains a largely unknown concept among learners and employers.
Chris Skidmore, former universities minister, explained: “Microcredentials are an increasingly important part of our education infrastructure, yet they remain obscure. No doubt, this has been exacerbated by the general lack of agreement on what a microcredential actually is, and how it should be classified.
“Micro-learning is a new frontier; however, we cannot afford to leave it in its current ‘Wild West’ mode – where a lack of a clear definition undermines its credibility amongst both learners and employers.”
Staffordshire University is an early adopter of bite-sized learning and delivers a large portfolio of flexible professional training and short courses, while also providing access to progression pathways to higher education.
Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education Dr Annabel Kiernan, who supported the report, said: “Microcredentials can be standalone experiences or a way in which learners can scale and stack units of learning into full qualifications. At Staffordshire University, we have established a microcredential system that enables students to learn and build credit at different levels (4 to 7) through individually assessed blocks or modules.
“Fundamentally for us, it is about having smaller bite-sized opportunities for those not currently accessing further or higher education and where HE participation is lower than the national average.”
To help achieve this, the report identifies two possible approaches. (1) Consortia: A group of higher education providers that agree to recognise each other’s microcredentials and enable a learner to move freely between them. (2) Capstone: A final course or module, to draw the different elements together, where the intention is to form an integrated whole.
The report highlights the advantages of microcredentials such as providing flexibility for learners, being an accessible and affordable route for adult learners, and their short, focused design which enables an agile response to current and future skills gaps. However, it also identifies that while microcredentials remain a relative unknown among UK businesses, their benefits to workplace skills development will go unrealised.
Staffordshire University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Martin Jones joined Chris Skidmore, Dr Kiernan and report author Mark Morrin at the report launch event last week.
Professor Jones said: “At Staffordshire University we are already seeing the benefits of micro-learning for individuals, businesses and the wider community by providing fast, flexible and accessible learning opportunities to level-up skills and the economy.
“This has so far been achieved under the umbrella of the University’s Innovation Enterprise Zone which offers tailored support to employers and SMEs. However there needs to be much wider recognition of microcredentials and an easing of the regulatory burden if we’re to make this work and increase the number of short course opportunities for people who want to upskill.
Key recommendations outlined in the report, include a government mapping exercise of all micro-learning courses in the UK to inform future policy making and funding, and tax incentives for employers to invest in this form of workforce training.
Read the full report – The Role of Microcredentials in Modular Learning