Quality is the result of considered and continuously improved policies and procedures impacting a variety of activities across an institution. The elements below are frequently identified in quality systems; however, they are sometimes arranged differently with greater or lesser emphasis:
- Credential design
- Course design
- Instructor preparedness
- Student/learner perspectives
- Employer perspectives
- Technology infrastructure
- Leadership, management, and resourcing
The following section outlines areas to consider as you build and refine your quality assurance system for micro-credentials, including some questions for building policy and related implementing procedures:
1. Credential design
The design of the credential has a great impact on quality. Alignment, content of the micro-credential, and pathways are integral to maintaining quality. These factors should all be considered within the structure of the credential.
Is the credential comprised of micro-credentials that can be aligned to create a larger milestone credential?
If the credential is stackable, or can become a larger milestone credential, does the larger milestone credential need a set of competencies or learning outcomes? The competencies or learning outcomes can tie the smaller micro-credentials together and provide the learner with a complete set of skills.
Determining the organization of the micro-credentials can show the alignment of competencies and scaffolding of learning.
How will the micro-credential, or set of milestone credentials, pathway to other credentials? Align the outcomes to those of courses, programs, and other credentials to determine pathways the learner can follow to ladder their learning.
How long does the micro-credential need to be? The length should depend on the competencies or outcomes and how specific the learning experience needs to be. The micro-credential needs to provide clear links to the competencies and align to assessments.
Content lifespan and renewal cycle
When will the content of the micro-credential be reviewed? It needs to be often enough to determine its accuracy and currency. Industry input may need to be solicited to determine the lifespan of the content.
Other factors to consider are the nature of the competencies assessed in the content. Are the competencies timely and for a specific span of time? Do they apply to a specific group of learners? Is the content meant to bridge the learner’s skills to a new technology? Will the micro-credential become obsolete once the learner has learned the new technology?
Work-integrated learning, applied research, and experiential learning opportunities
How will the content be delivered within the micro-credentials? Will work-integrated learning, applied research, or experiential learning opportunities be incorporated?
The delivery of the content should be considered before the design of the course. Work-integrated learning and experiential learning opportunities, especially when simulated, require in-depth planning and organization. This should be initiated prior to the design of the course to expedite the course development. If simulations or digital assets are required, the content should be developed so that it can be refined and built in conjunction with the design. Any simulations and digital assets must align with competencies or learning outcomes.
Development of competencies
Competencies should be developed based on data and industry consultation. They should align with industry need and be targeted to the learner requirements. They should also align with milestone competencies, pathways, and assessments (Duklas, 2020).
2. Course design
The development of a micro-credential can be broken down into three consecutive steps:
- Design: Main characteristics of one specific micro-credential are defined, including its learning contents, how skill attainment is measured, its connection to other micro-credentials, and other characteristics (e.g., duration of validity, visual design).
- Implementation: Technical implementation of the micro-credential design within the chosen learning environment (e.g., an institution’s own learning system or a cloud-based learning platform) and consideration of related challenges (e.g., level of data privacy, ease of use of the environment, performance of system).
- Deployment: Making a micro-credential available for use by its target audience (e.g., opening the registration). This also includes further consideration such as how to make a micro-credential easy to find and be shared by those stakeholders it is relevant to.
Planning for micro-credential design
Design of the micro-credential should ensure explicit and reasoned coherence between the intended learning outcomes, the assessments, the strategies for teaching/learner engagement, and the resources. Appropriate levels of resources should be set aside for course design and development, for administrative systems, and for supporting learners. If the micro-credential is scaffolded into a program, consider where program learning outcomes can be threaded back into the micro-credential course learning outcomes while incorporating relevant institutional protocols for course development.
In addition, the structure of the LMS or online platform must make it both clear and easy for learners to:
- Know what the micro-credential seeks to measure.
- Understand what they must do or complete to earn the micro-credential.
- Submit all the necessary materials to earn the micro-credential.
- Get feedback and know why they did or did not earn a micro-credential.
- Write out some goals of your course. These will later become learning outcomes.
- Determine the delivery format and modality. Will the micro-credential be offered online (asynchronous, synchronous), hyflex, self-paced, or hybrid?
- Construct a one-page overview of each micro-credential module or week.
- Think about the content title for each session or learning unit. Add some subtitles to the headings, including the details of the content, as these will become your elements of performance (i.e., the competency’s breakdown).
- Move the content pieces exactly where you see them; scaffold from easy to more difficult, sequential. etc.
- Incorporate labs or studio time where necessary into the micro-credential sessions.
- Place your assessments in the most appropriate place in the course. Resources should be provided outlining types of assessments, measuring instruments, rubrics, etc. (See section 9 Assessments.)
- Select a framework to work with (e.g., the ADDIE model of instructional design, backward design).
- Create a plan to monitor, review, and subject the micro-credential to reapproval regularly to ensure that the content of all learning materials remains current and relevant to the workplace. (See also section 3 on the micro-credential life cycle.)
Designing micro-credential lessons
At the micro level, a micro-learning lesson of about 20 minutes duration should include:
- Activation of prior knowledge, delivery of information, and some form of assessment.
- Structured lesson plan templates to be used institutionally for standardization and transferability (PLAR, credit transfers, etc.).
- Lessons centred on the workplace skills set (e.g., use of problem-based learning).
Stories from practitioners
While developing their micro-credentials for teachers, the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University considered several design elements including:
- Self-directed: Teachers can pursue micro-credentials at their own pace either on their own or as part of the MOOCs for educators.
- Job-embedded: Each of the micro-credentials is directly tied to classroom practice and provides a scaffolded approach to building useful classroom skills.
- Competency-based: Micro-credentials must measure an educator’s demonstrated ability to apply one specific skill in the classroom context.
- Research-based: Micro-credentials are designed around skills that have been thoroughly researched and have a demonstrated impact on classroom practice.
Resources to support micro-credential design
Fischer, T., Oppl, S. & Stabauer, M. (2022, February). Micro-credential Development: Tools, Methods and Concepts Supporting the European Approach. Paper presented at 17th International Conference on Wirtschaftsinformatik, Nuremberg, Germany. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/356568140_Micro-Credential_Development_Tools_Methods_and_Concepts_Supporting_the_European_Approach
Welch, T. & Reed, Y. (Eds.). Designing and Delivering Distance Education: Quality Criteria and Case Studies from South Africa. Nadeosa. https://www.saide.org.za/documents/Nadeosa_Quality_Critiera.pdf
- The Nadeosa Quality Criteria report provides some case study examples within an online delivery context that illustrate some of these ideas. Additionally, a number of quality assurance tools are available to support micro-credential course design reviews.
European Commission. European Skills/Competences, Qualifications and Occupations (ESCO). https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1326&langId=en
International Labour Organization (2010). International Standard Classification of Occupations. https://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/stat/isco/index.htm
3. Instructor preparedness
These skill sets are required for micro-credential instructors:
- Facilitation techniques
- Writing learning outcomes to match competencies
- Active learning and group dynamics
- Assessment techniques and measurement instruments
- Portfolio thinking
Micro-credentials can also be used to prepare instructors for learning environments. With the use of an agile online system, instructors have opportunities to document their formal and informal learning and professional development through micro-credentials:
- Individually and in teams, teachers can identify and develop important skills, submit evidence of their competence, and earn digital badges verifying their expertise.
- Educational systems can tap the resulting data to inform decision making about investments in professional development.
- Instructors can use micro-credentials as an avenue to more fully own and advance their profession.
Findings from the use of micro-credentials in teacher education (Acree, 2016) found that:
- Teachers who earn some micro-credentials want to earn more.
- Micro-credentials encourage teachers to apply skills to classroom practice.
- Micro-credentials scaffold teachers to engage at an increased level of rigour.
- Teachers can demonstrate competency/mastery in a variety of ways.
- Instructional design and online platform matter.
- Micro-credentials should not have a one-size-fits-all approach.
4. Student/learner perspectives
Micro-credentials can prepare individuals for employment by supporting them in developing human skills, intercultural competence, teamwork, and communication skills, among others. Simulation-based activities have been used as part of micro-credentialing to provide experiential opportunities for learners to hone both interpersonal and technical skills. They may also be used to prepare individuals for a specific project; for example, micro-credentials that provide skills that intersect with design, technology, and social theory could prepare workers to develop a new product prototype.
Ways to consider learner expectations, needs, and goals:
- Request learner feedback on their success and experiences.
- Ensure learner supports are accessible in similar delivery through competencies: are learners able to discuss skills/competencies meaningfully?
- Engage learners in understanding outcomes and competencies.
- Engage learners in assessment design.
- Ask for employer review of micro-credential content to ensure relevance.
Competency-based education (CBE) training
Program stakeholders can benefit from a systems perspective of how their assessment practices contribute to the efficacy of the system as a whole (Burns, 1972).
The following principles are important to consider when reviewing competency-based programs and courses for quality:
- Competency-based programs and courses affirm the student’s ability to not only “know” but “do” (Adelman, 2013).
- Competency-based assessment validates learning (Klein-Collins, 2013).
- Competency-based programs focus on learning rather than time spent (LeBlanc, 2013).
- Learning is student-centred in terms of flexibility and personalization (Klein-Collins, 2013).
- Students are able to learn at a variable pace and are supported in their learning (Johnstone & Soares, 2014).
- Use technology for teaching and learning (Mendenhall, 2012).
- Effective learning resources are available anytime and are reusable (Johnstone & Soares, 2014).
- The faculty role changes (Mendenhall, 2012).
- Valid, reliable assessments are a key component (Mendenhall, 2012).
The evolution of micro-credentialing from providing digital badges, to demonstrating differences among users, to demonstrating skills and abilities now provides learners with the ability to engage in a performance-based assessment. (Fong, et al., 2016; Wu et al., 2015).
Methods of assessment are consistent with the learning outcomes being assessed, and are capable of confirming that all specified learning outcomes are achieved and that grades awarded reflect the level of student attainment. Assessments should cover a wide range of self, peer, collaborative, and content expert assessment tools.
Resources related to assessment design
The IMS Global Learning Consortium provides standards and solutions to enable the sharing and transferability of digital credentials.
Making Informal Recognition Visible and Actionable (MIRVA) is a European Commission project looking at conditions for effective continuity between informal and formal recognition and aiming to produce a series of enabling guidelines.
Adaptation of the Quality Matters Framework for Course Evaluation can also be considered for short courses.
5. Employer Perspectives
The perspective of the employer plays an important role in the creation of the micro-credential . The requirements of the employer and employee, and the relation of the requirements to the overall industry, play a role in content development and competency creation. Alignment, pathways, and employability stem from employer consultation and all have an impact on the quality of the micro=credential.
Employer consultation on skills and competencies
Research and data can provide questions for an employer to probe information about the skills and competencies for the micro-credential. The employer can give information about the industry and the demand for the area of the micro-credential. Currency of the industry and the content covered in the micro-credential determine its relevance and lifespan. Consulting with more than one employer can give greater insight into the skills and competencies required.
Outcomes/competency and engagement
Employers should provide information about the skills and competencies required for potential candidates within the organization. Competencies should be specific and targeted to a set of skills. Once the competencies/learning outcomes have been created, the employers should evaluate them and provide feedback on how they will be assessed and covered in the content. Employers should also determine if changes to the competencies need to be made.
Employers should give insight into industry practices that could translate into authentic assessments. This includes details on processes, procedures, skills, and tasks that would be expected of an employee. This should translate into assessments, work-integrated learning, simulations, or experiential learning opportunities that reflect the workplace. Once the content has been created, the employer should re-engage to determine if the content does authentically reflect the workplace.
Learner success/satisfaction consultation
During the content review process, employers should be consulted to provide feedback on course content. They should speak to the reception of course content and the impact of the learning experiences on the workplace. Employers can share changes that need to be made to the material, consult on the currency of the content, and determine competency changes that may be needed.
Surveying individual employees
The intersection of employers, employees, and the micro-credential needs to be examined. Employers can give information about candidates who completed the micro-credential and how it improved, or hindered, employee skill level in the workplace. Reflecting on employee performance can determine the success of the micro-credential and initiate improvements.
Employer review of the content
An employer’s content review is essential to maintaining quality within a micro credential. The employer can assert the accuracy of competencies/learning outcomes, the alignment of content to assessments and assessments to competencies, and the authenticity of content and assessments.
Consider user experiences:
- Are existing policies and practices effective against the intended purpose of the micro-credential?
- Have approval and development timelines matched market expectations?
- Has performance been measured against institutional estimates and expectations?
- Has performance been measured against procedure and process?
7. Technology Infrastructure
Technology plays a role in the quality of a micro-credential. Tools can provide labour market data, the opportunity for the creation of digital assets, and monitor user data. The integration and use of technology can also ensure consistent micro-credential delivery. Technology can also provide learners with easy access to materials, seamless integration of digital assets, and simulated authentic assessment. Technology must always be included in the quality process. Quality checklists should evaluate the effectiveness of technology, the relevance of digital assets, the currency of materials, and surveys of user data.
Learner and employer access of open digital badges: Analytics
The quality process can be informed by learner and employer analytics. An institution can gather data based on employer and learner access of micro-credentials, and can determine how many times a user has accessed them, the completion rate, problematic areas within the micro-credentials, and other important statistics. Statistics can include:
- Number of micro-credentials issued, accepted, and shared (and where shared).
- What skills are supported; what skills are sought.
Labour market tools
The use of labour market tools can provide insight into the industry and competencies. Micro-credential quality should be based on skills, as opposed to training for a broader role. Industry consultations provide an in-depth perspective on the skills for the competencies or learning outcomes.
Learning Management System (LMS) analytics
Data pulled from the LMS can provide detailed information about the quality of the micro-credential. LMS analytics can give information about user access, issues with the micro credential, the completion rate, problematic areas, and learner access. (See also chapter 10, Technologies and Platforms.)
8. Leadership, Management and Resourcing
Each micro-credential and the program it is intended to fit into should be mapped and communicated to demonstrate overall capability.
Regular review and self-assessment are pivotal to the quality process. The institution needs to evaluate the competencies/learning outcomes, the delivery, and the assessment of the micro-credential to determine the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement.
Institutional review of performance against procedure and process
- The institution should evaluate the success of the alignment of competencies, assessments, and learning experiences in the micro-credential.
- The institutional self-assessment should evaluate the data pulled from the LMS, labour market tools, and badge providers to determine how the learner interacts with the micro-credential. The analysis of the data will drive the quality of the review.
- Instructor feedback should provide feedback on the success of the micro credential and opportunities for change.
- Learners should provide feedback on the learning materials, the assessments, the accessibility, and other key factors in quality. The learner feedback should provide important data in the review of the micro credential.
- There should be institutional review of performance against procedure and process.
Resources to support institutional reviews of micro-credentials
- The NADEOSA Quality Criteria report provides some case studies within an online delivery context that illustrate some of these ideas. Additionally, several quality assurance tools are available to support micro-credential design reviews.
- Quality Matters rubrics might be a springboard for ideas on measurement tools.
Tools and resources for micro-credential design quality
Tools and resources that are used for online and other program design are equally applicable for micro-credential development. The following are well-known tools that may be adapted for the micro-credential curriculum planning process. These principles and guidelines are well recognized as critical to the success and quality of courses and programs.
- Quality Matters: Course/program based, includes competency-based learning.
- SUNY (2022) Scorecard: open course-based micro-credentials.
- User Experience Design (Nielsen, 2017).
- Usability 101: Introduction to Usability (Nielsen, 2012).
- Decisive dozen heuristics (Thalheimer, 2012).
- Work-Learning Research, Research-to-Practice Reports (Work-Learning Research).