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Credentialing approaches

4.2. Credentialing Approaches

“Credentials” often refer to academic or educational qualifications, such as degrees or diplomas that you have completed or partially-completed. “Credentials” can also refer to occupational qualifications, such as professional certificates or work experience.

A credential is official documented credit that verifies an individual’s qualification or competency in a specific skill. Credentials are earned and awarded by completing a course of study, successfully passing an assessment, or meeting specified requirements that verify competency

Micro-credentials are now widely accepted as short-form learning opportunities in higher education globally. Flexibility and personalised learning experiences, including the implementation of varied pedagogical approaches, were identified as critical components for the design of micro-credentials. The literature established that micro-credentialing improves learner engagement and learning outcomes, however a credential must have quality content, and be engaging, authentic and relevant, and beneficial for the learner. Micro-credentials should also be verified and portable across institutions and into the workplace, with consistent processes for awarding credit/recognition towards an existing qualification or professional requirement.

Postsecondary credentials are increasingly a prerequisite for access to good jobs and career advancement. It is estimated that by 2020, two-thirds of jobs will require some form of postsecondary education (Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl 2010). Already, labor markets value postsecondary credentials. Although the return to individuals differs by type of credential and field of study, on average, people with postsecondary education and, in particular, a credential earn more and are unemployed less than those with a high school diploma or less. But learners, whether in their teens and preparing for their first postsecondary learning experience or older and needing to make a career transition, face a complex, often bewildering assortment of choices. One subset of their credential pathway choices is better understood: those choices involved in pursuing a degree, whether at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral level.

  The choices among programs that result in other types of credentials are certificates, certifications, licenses, digital badges, and other “micro credentials.” The quantity of these alternative credentials has grown explosively in recent years, stimulated by the interests of diverse education and employment stakeholders, and offering many more choices than learners previously had. Each type of credential in different ways and for different purposes testifies to the holder’s knowledge, skills, and abilities. These credentials are offered by a wide range of education and training providers, employers, professional associations, accrediting organizations, and others. Many educational certificates are offered in occupational disciplines. Some are at the sub-associate degree level; some are at higher levels. Some are credit-bearing and transferrable, while others are not. The diversity and dynamism of educational options and credentials is a strength of our highly decentralized system because it creates many opportunities and serves many purposes. However, it also presents major challenges for the students, employers, workers, and policymakers using it.


There is no agreed definition or common standard for a micro-credential (Oliver, 2021; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2021; Universities Australia, [UA], 2021). Oliver’s 2019 paper proposes that  a micro-credential is “a certification of assessed learning that is additional, alternate, complementary to, or a formal component of, a formal qualification” (p. i). The New Zealand Qualifications Authority [NZQA], uses the following broad definition:

A micro-credential certifies achievement of a coherent set of skills and knowledge; and is specified by a statement of purpose, learning outcomes, and strong evidence of need by industry, employers, and/or the community. They are smaller than a qualification and focus on skill development opportunities not currently catered for in the regulated tertiary education system. (2021, a, n.p.)

Micro-credentials are a method of broadening reach to more learners. They are small learning packages or modules which target specific learning goals or outcomes. Micro-credentials have traditionally been competency-based and can be considered a more affordable, attainable, and flexible form of education than traditional university degrees. Micro-credentials “attest to skills acquired or learning undertaken in a short, discrete formats, distinct from longer traditional qualifications such as diplomas and degrees” (UA, 2021, p.4). A benefit is that they can provide evidence of very targeted skills, whereas a degree transcript contains only broad recognition.

Micro-credentials emerged from an array of different change agents such as the development and increasing availability of technology, the increasing cost of university degrees, changes to workforce demands, and reduced trust and value in university degrees from both employers and potential students (Oliver, 2019; Williams, 2019). Unbundling traditional degrees and introducing micro-credentials is having a gradually increasing impact on higher education in terms of flexibility and other challenges.

1. Microcredentials can be a complement to traditional credentials (certificate, diploma, degree or post-graduate certificate) or stand alone.

2. Microcredentials are subject to a robust and rigorous quality assurance process.

3. Microcredentials should represent competencies identified by employers/industry sectors to meet employer needs.

4. Microcredentials may provide clear and seamless pathways across different credentials (both non-credit and credit) and may be stackable.

5. Microcredentials are based on assessed proficiency of a competency, not on time spent learning.

6. Microcredentials are secure, trackable, portable and competency is documented in students’ academic records.

7. Microcredentials are to follow institutional approval processes (CICan, 2021, p.3)


Carnevale, Anthony P., Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl. 2010. Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.    (credentials )

Oliver, B. (2019). Making micro-credentials work for learners, employers and providers.

Oliver, B. (2021). A conversation Starter: Towards a common definition of micro-credentials. Draft Preliminary Report. UNESCO, Paris