11 Quality Assurance

Quality assurance is critical to the success of micro- credentials within the system. While the term “quality assurance” is hard  to define, all stakeholders agree that it is foundational to growth and acceptance of micro-credentials as a valid component within the educational landscape.

Both learners and employers rely on trusted providers who have demonstrated quality, and this is borne out by research reported by the European Union (Orr et al., 2020). However, while the importance of quality assurance may be recognized, this is new territory, and in many cases existing quality assurance frameworks are still being adapted to facilitate and monitor micro-credentials.

Several possibilities for assuring quality can be identified in the current ecosystem. Ontario higher education institutions are subject to specific quality and accreditation requirements within provincial jurisdiction, and micro-credentials may fall into existing administrative and governance processes for degree- bearing credits. In other cases, a specific professional organization (e.g., colleges or associations for nursing, engineering, health care, etc.) may be responsible for auditing recognized programs. Another scenario is applying a quality framework driven by one already established in industry (e.g., ISO, W3C).

Frameworks for Credentials

Context is key in determining the appropriate quality standards framework for a micro-credential program—whether that should be existing academic review and approval processes, or alternative, industry, or employer-led frameworks.

Academic quality standards frameworks

The governance of academic institutions can broadly be defined as the rules, relationships, and systems that assign decision-making authority, provide accountability, and report on performance. These processes apply to degree-bearing credit programs. Two definitions follow :

  • Colleges—“Governance may be defined as the legislation, policies and procedures under which an organization is governed and the decision-making structures it employs…The board of governors governs each college on behalf of the public” (Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, 2003, p. 1).
  • Universities—Ontario Universities Quality Framework notes, “Every publicly assisted Ontario university that grants degrees and diplomas is responsible for ensuring the quality of all of its programs of study, including modes of delivering programs and those academic and student services that affect the quality of the respective programs under review, whether or not the program is eligible for government funding” (Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance, 2021, pp. 6).

From a quality perspective, this governance is carried out through various committees, most notably a college council and a committee (e.g., a learning and engagement committee) for colleges, and for universities, a quality council and appraisal committee of the university board.

Alternative quality standards frameworks

When existing academic governance structures are not sufficient for the purpose of micro-credentials, a third party may provide structured quality standards and an audit process. These are used by regulatory, professional, and industry bodies and other non-academic educators seeking course certificates. For example:

  • Institute for Credentialing Excellence provides several services including:
    • Assessment-based Certificate Accreditation Program (ACAP) ICE 1100: 2019—Standard for Assessment-Based Certificate Programs for third-party accreditation of assessment-based certificate programs and certification programs (Institute for Credentialing Excellence, n.d.).
      • An overview of terminology can be found in this free introduction to the 2010 version of the standard: Background Information ICE 1100 2010 (E)—Standard for Assessment-Based Certificate Programs (Knapp & Kendzel, 2009).
      • A more recent, less-detailed reference, which does include definitions for micro-credentials, is TERM20 C.E Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology (Clark et al., 2020).
    • National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) for development of standards of excellence for voluntary certification programs in healthcare: ST 2021 NCCA Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs (Institute for Credentialing Excellence, 2021).
    • Common Microcredential Framework (CMF), developed by the European MOOC Consortium, uses the European Qualification Framework (and other national qualification frameworks of recognized universities) to provide high-quality courses that award academic credit.
Critical information summaries

Critical information summaries, as first proposed by Orr et al. (2020 ) are a form of checklists, or “manifests,” of micro-credential components. The author notes:

Having easily accessible, informative and comparable information items will create greater trust and transparency with regard to micro-credentials among employers, quality assurance agencies, qualification recognition bodies, higher education institutions, learners and other providers (e.g. private institutions, technical and vocational education and training providers, companies, government agencies, non-profit organisations, libraries and museums) (Orr et al. 2020, p. 14).

Given the potentially widely varying characteristics, the following list of critical information items is suggested to provide clarity to stakeholders on the form and nature of the credentials:

  • Title of the micro-credential, which precisely signals the learning outcomes.
  • Provider of the course.
  • Date when the micro-credential was awarded.
  • Description of the course content and its purpose.
  • Learning outcomes—what the successful learner knows, understands, and can do based on this assessed learning.
  • How the learner has participated online, on-site, or both online and on-site.
  • Number of credits provided, if credit-bearing.
  • Time period when the learning took place.
  • Any prerequisites that were required to begin the course.
  • Learning resources relevant for the credential.
  • Type of assessment testing, application of a skill, portfolio, etc.
  • Supervision and identity verification: unsupervised with no identity verification, supervised with no identity verification, supervised online, or on-site with identity verification.
  • Quality assurance: the body ensuring the quality of the course.
  • Outcome for a successful learner: admission to a degree program, credit toward a degree program, certification or digital badge earned, number of credits.
  • Integration/stackability options: stand-alone, independent course/integrated, stackable toward another credential.

Providing this metadata and descriptive information enables different “flavours” of micro-credentials to be appropriately identified. (See Case study: atingi.org for a detailed explanation of classification, formatting, and templating, and critical information summaries.)

Meeting Expectations

For many, quality simply means “meets expectations,” which implies managing those expectations through clear communication of intent and process, then confirming you have delivered. With micro-credentials, the expectations come from both learners and industry/sector partners, and it is up to the educational institution to ensure that both sets of expectations are met effectively.

The following can help manage expectations of both learners and industry/sector partners:

  • Clear classification of micro-credential types. Micro-credentials can vary widely in terms of scope, volume, level, stacking, rigour, etc. Clear labelling in the metadata (use of standard descriptors) and articulation of learning outcomes can manage expectations of both learners and industry/sector of what is being learned; allowing industry/sector partners to be active participants in the development of the micro-credential by taking on the role of reviewer should ensure that the content created meets their needs and expectations and fulfills possible accreditation criteria.
  • Predictable formatting and templating. Using copyable templates for the different kinds of micro- credentials can provide a good balance of predictability and flexibility in the metadata for the learner so that they do not have to navigate different LMS platforms, educational technologies, etc.
  • Use authentic assessment (explored more fully in section 9, above). A regular review by both the educational institution and industry/sector partner ensures that content is kept current and up-to-date.
  • Collect learner feedback. Administering end-of-learning experience surveys ensures that expectations are met consistently and that adjustments can be made quickly and efficiently before the next offering.
  • Match expectations to accreditation: If the micro-credential is to support eventual accreditation in a certain industry/sector, ensure that content developed matches the expectations of the accreditation body before it is first offered. Ideally, gain the seal of approval from the accreditation body to add to the labelling of the micro-credentials for learners and industry/sector partners.
  • Use critical information summaries (“metadata manifests”). The notion of using concise critical information summaries “to assist busy employers and learners” was proposed by Dr. Beverley Oliver (2019) in her paper Making micro-credentials work for learners, employers and providers. The idea was picked up by Orr et al. (2020) NESET analytical report, Towards a European approach to micro- credentials, which was an input document for the European Commission’s Final Report: A European Approach to Micro-Credentials (Futures et al., 2020). These are detailed assertions of quality by the issuer that may be endorsed by third parties.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

eCampusOntario's Micro-credential Toolkit Copyright © 2022 by Alissa Bigelow; Colleen Booth; Bettina Brockerhoff-Macdonald; Dave Cormier; Christine Dinsmore; Sam Grey; Laurie Harrison; Aaron Hobbs; Sharon Lee; Pat Maher; Fiona McArthur; Tracy Mitchell-Ashley; Jennifer Mosley; James Papple; Jen Porter; Don Presant; Jennifer Sommer; and Edmond Zahedi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book