There is no one way to microcredential.

Microcredential implementations are rising across the U.S. Over one million credentials have been recorded by the national nonprofit Credential Engine. The focused, competency-based credential provides a way for learners to upskill while they continue to work, driving demand for more institutions to implement these programs.

During a national scan of microcredential implementations, co-conducted with partner Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, we found:

  • According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employers value transparent microcredentials, however, their human resource information systems (HRIS) are still catching up.
  • Higher education researcher, Remie Verougstraete found that microcredentials carry the most value for employers and learner-earners when they are rooted in the skills needed to fill local positions.
  • Learners are confident in the utility of microcredentials for procuring work and demonstrating their skills. However, they are concerned that without wide adoption they hold less value for employers, according to research by Arttu Kukkonen.
  • EDUCAUSE reported that companies are signaling their move to skills-based hiring by removing four-year degree requirements from job descriptions.

Understanding the type of microcredentials that exist can help higher education leaders decide whether or not to add these credentials to their academic offerings. To help, we’ve put together a basic guide to the key tenets of microcredentialing as well as the most common types of programs.

Key Tenets of Microcredentialing

At their core, microcredentials should be relevant, verified, and portable to meet the needs of both the learner and the employer.

  • Portable: One appeal of microcredentials is their transferability, especially compared to traditional degrees. The credentials earned in a program must move with the student. Unlocking credentials means learners don’t have to waste time demonstrating competency in a new environment.
  • Timely and relevant: Microcredentials have a faster development process, including the ability to be updated every six months, instead of the two-year review cycle for traditional academic programs. This allows microcredential programs to shift more quickly and explicitly align to high-demand workforce needs.
  • Stackable: Learners should be able to stack microcredentials before enrolling in a degree program, allowing them to gain recognition of mastered skills and knowledge en route to a degree.
  • Discrete or continuous: Microcredentials can be stand-alone or they can be a series of badges that lead to a microcredential.
  • Relevant and authentic assessment: Credentials must require validation of competence and should be assessed using authentic, real-world workforce use cases.
  • Validated open skills: To ensure market value, credentials need to represent skills aligned to industry partners and/or external bodies.

Types of Microcredentials

Two types of programs that have grown out of the microcredentialing movement are micromasters and nanodegrees. These terms have been used to describe specific programs offered through partners like edX and Udacity, however, there are others of a similar vein being developed by institutions and organizations alike.

  • MicroMasters programs are a series of online graduate level courses launched by edX that learners can take to develop standalone skills for career advancement or earn graduate-level credentials from participating universities, equivalent to a semester of a full master's degree.
  • NanoDegrees are project and skills-based educational credential programs.
  • Stackable Credentials - degree path
  • Stackable Credentials - non-degree path

Microcredentials are a useful way to evolve higher education’s role in the learn-work-learn cycle. They give learners the opportunity to continuously learn while still being part of the workforce. Likewise, employers can help workers continue to build new skills that keep their business growing. By understanding the key tenets and some of the types of microcredentials, you can begin to assess what will work for your college or university and for your students.