Accreditation and endorsement
A micro-credential is a type of claim made by the issuer stating that a learner has achieved a quantum of learning. A micro-credential also contains evidence to support that claim about this learning, and sometimes includes direct evidence demonstrating how the individual learner achieved the learning outcomes.
Beyond direct evidence, how can the consumer or viewer of the credential trust that the claim is true and significant?
- One way is through branding: Open University and IBM micro-credentials tend to be trusted because of their brand. Ontario post-secondary institutions also have strong brands, particularly in their regions.
- Another way to enhance and consolidate trust for any issuer is through third-party validation, which can include everything from formal accreditation and non-formal and informal endorsement.
Existing provincial policy for higher education in Ontario has a clear framework for accreditation of degree and certificate programs (Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities, 2022b). Professional organizations may provide specific requirements and audit compliance for training in their domain. Some third-party organizations provide certification of compliance with non-academic standards to add additional credibility to the claims of micro-credential providers or support transferability.
Endorsement can mean different things in different contexts. We are using the term here as defined in the Open Badges standard, which is the vehicle for most micro-credentials. Open Badges are trustworthy records of achievement. The vocabulary or metadata when combined with the validation and verification procedures establish Open Badges as a reliable method for expressing and verifying achievements online.
However, these open badge procedures don’t answer questions such as, “Who trusts this micro-credential to be a good certification of the competency it describes?” Endorsement allows micro-credentials to represent specific claims about other profiles (issuers), badge classes (issuable micro-credentials), or assertions (micro- credentials as issued to individuals).
So, according to the Open Badges standard, third parties can endorse three things:
- Micro-credential issuers: This could include formal or non-formal accreditation that can be verified within the credential (“this meets our standards”), or more informal approval (e.g., “we work with this organization”). Examples include micro-credentials issued by continuing education units of Ontario institutions.
- Issuable micro-credentials: These can range in formality from rigorous approval specifications by an employer or professional body to less formal support such as “we co-created this” or “we find this useful.” Examples include endorsement by businesses or organizations, such as eCampusOntario’s Ontario Extend program, which is endorsed by selected colleges that accept it for credit. Google has its own ecosystem of micro-credentials that signal readiness for a professional role at their company.
- Micro-credentials issued to specific individuals: This is less common and not implemented on all platforms. It can be a way of adding more detail at the time of issue about the recognition event, or after issue, as part of the “socialization” of the micro-credential. Examples include linkage to a portfolio such as Canvas Student Pathways competencies achieved, as in the case of Riipen’s micro-experiential programs (Wong, 2020).
Stackability within or across programs is another signal of endorsement and recognition of micro-credentials as a common currency. Transferability of micro-credential credits levels the playing field as barriers to entry may be reduced through open admissions or low-cost alternatives. Quality assurance processes can improve recognition of a credential, regardless of the program provider.
Stackability also builds credibility with learners who value the portability of credits. They will have the ability to build a portfolio of credentials from multiple institutions to reflect their unique interests and skills. They may also be able to curate the skills sets presented to a specific employer or audience to highlight their strengths relative to the opportunity they are seeking, whether a career opening or an academic program admission threshold.