New tool simplifies recognition of microcredentials
An increasing number of educational institutions, employers and social organisations are offering them: so-called micro-credentials. Short, flexible learning tracks available both in mainstream education and elsewhere.
This development has the support of the European Commission, which sees micro-credentials as a way to make higher education more accessible. Short learning experiences also help reduce labour market disparities, and contribute to Life-long Learning. The European Union wants member states to give micro-credentials a structural place in their education systems by 2025.
Merel Eimers, credential evaluator at Nuffic, considers the present moment to be 'a turning point'. 'The global market for micro-credentials has been growing for years, and it has now become a priority in various policy agendas.' There is an increased interest at a national level as well. Since October 2021, ten universities and 22 universities of applied sciences have been participating in the national Microcredentials pilot, under the direction of 'Flexibilisation of education' and the VH and UNL umbrella organisations.
"Institutions are often reluctant in recognising micro-credentials."
However, this growth brings challenges as well. When so many different parties offer learning experiences, how do we separate the wheat from the chaff? How do admission officers determine whether these microcredentials should be taken into account when assessing a student's entry level?
'Admission officers are often reluctant to recognise microcredentials, or are unable to due to institutional policy', says Merel. 'That's why the calls for regulation are growing. What is a micro-credential exactly, and how do we evaluate them?'
Nuffic is taking on this challenge with the Micro-Evaluator. The Micro-Evaluator is a newly developed online tool that offers institutions standards for the recognition of micro-credentials for admission or exemptions. The tool determines to what degree the learning experience fits within the Lisbon Recognition Convention, the main legal framework for recognition.
The tool, for which the methodology was already available from earlier projects, was developed with funding from the European Commission (Erasmus+) in the STACQ project.
Consistent with Lisbon
'Evaluating micro-credentials can be time consuming', Merel explains. 'Often you need information that is no longer available. Maybe the page or website of the online course has disappeared. The Micro-Evaluator takes you through a number of different steps, from quality, level, workload and learning outcomes, to testing. At the end, it will issue a recommendation. If all the lights are green, this means that the learning experience fully complies with the Lisbon Recognition Convention.'
In practice, not all the lights will usually be green, which means that it will still come down to the assessment officer, but they will now have a clearer grip on the subject matter in order to make their assessment. 'You will rarely get definitive answers, the range of courses is just too diverse. But the tool will bring the recognition procedure in line with the Lisbon Convention.'
Going through the steps
Marije van de Langkruis, admissions officer at Breda University of Applied Sciences (Buas), has not yet had to deal with micro-credentials much in practice. 'My day-to-day work is mostly at a system level where the frameworks are clear, but I can imagine that we might encounter micro-credentials more often in the future.'
Marije attended the presentation for the Micro-Evaluator at a gathering for credential evaluators. 'The tool looked good, and seemed easy to use. You go through the steps, and know exactly what to focus on. Thanks to the red and green lights, you can quickly get an idea of the level.'
Convenient for students as well
Merel hopes that the Micro-Evaluator will inspire higher education institutions to learn more about micro-credentials. 'We hope this will stimulate them to draw up policy. This will help to communicate to students that their certificates are of value. The tool is also interesting for providers and students. They can see which things matter from the perspective of recognition by looking at the steps.'
Marije can see herself using the tool in the future. 'I had only just started learning more about the subject when I heard that Buas is working on a micro-credential as well now, which I hadn't been aware of. It just goes to show that it's good to learn about this. Nuffic's tool is helping us get a head start.'