The effects of COVID-19 have led to a greater interest in different forms of learning, including microcredentials. Industries from finance to software development, from healthcare to property management, have all expressed interest in exploring the benefits of this short form of learning for their workforce. Those benefits are equally applicable to educators, too. But there are differences of opinion in what a microcredential means, how it links with other courses, and what benefits accrue to those who complete it.
There are a lot of different explanations of what microcredentials are, but they all should have at least two features. They should be ‘small’ - they are micro, after all. But what constitutes ‘small’ is open to interpretation: some microcredentials are only two hours long, while others can be 60 or even 100 hours of study. Microcredentials also need to offer a credential, too- for some, this is credit in a subject or program, while for others, this is no more than a digital badge or certificate indicating completion of a particular course.
Why a microcredential?
If definitions are not clear, it might be hard to determine why educators should be interested in completing one. Fortunately, this is much easier to answer. The first reason is that microcredentials are more focused on a particular competence than other forms of study. This narrow focus is a feature: not only does it allow the microcredential to target one area, and concentrate on that, it also allows the learner in question to be very clear about his or her focus and what they are seeking. This makes it a great option for teachers looking to upskill in a particular area.
The second reason is a combination of time and flexibility. While there are excellent postgraduate study programs available for teachers, they all require a significant investment of time and money - something to which teachers may not be able to commit with any regularity. Microcredentials are much smaller, and thus are easier to complete. In addition, many microcredentials are offered asynchronously allowing teachers to work through them at a suitable time.
Not all microcredentials are equal
So, if you’re interested in a microcredential, what kinds of things should you keep in mind when selecting one?
Find your niche
Choose a microcredential that interests you and will fit with those areas in your practice that you would like to improve. The granularity of microcredentials is an asset, so, if you want to do a course on teaching source analyses to primary school students, you should be able to find one to fit that need!
Feedback is king
Many microcredentials run entirely asynchronously. In these cases, feedback and assessment might be non-existent, or it might be based on commentary from your fellow learners. While there is a time and place for this, a well-moderated microcredential with a formal assessment that you need to pass in order to earn your credential will always be more respected than one that you earn a certificate solely through watching a series of short videos.
From small things...
Finally, keep in mind that, while one microcredential might seem like a drop in the ocean, they can often build up into something much more significant. Some universities, like UTS, are now offering microcredentials that count as subjects towards terminal degrees. So, if you are considering dipping your toes into the water of further study, consider how it might benefit you both now and in future.
Keith Heggart is a Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney