In recent years, there has been a shift towards more flexible and agile learning opportunities in education. Credentialling of those opportunities often takes the form of a micro-credential or digital badge. We undertook research into this area in relation to a partnership project with North-West Regional College (NWRC) in Northern Ireland.
An adaptable work place
The main aim for increasing access to skills development is to produce a labour force that can quickly adapt their skills sets to a rapidly changing economic environment. The Future of Jobs Report 2023 from the World Economic Forum explores how jobs and skills may evolve over the next 5 years. The report outlines the potential for micro-credentials to accelerate skills-based talent management. It also suggests that the number of employers planning to adopt education and workforce development technologies in the next five years is 82%.
Fallout from the pandemic
More recent phenomena like Covid-19 have changed the workforce to become more remote. A workplace study by IBM revealed that nearly 60% of respondents had accelerated their digital transformations and introduced training initiatives address the tech industry’s skills gap.
Whilst Covid-19 no longer has the same level of global public health concern in 2023, it has raised awareness of the impact a global pandemic can have; WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus advised, “When the next pandemic comes knocking – and it will – we must be ready to answer decisively, collectively, and equitably,”. This readiness can be linked to skills and the capabilities and flexibility of our labour force to adapt to sudden changes in the economic landscape.
Automation at work
Technological developments may create further drivers for flexible learning. An increasing number of jobs are being automated and replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). Some employers project that by 2027, 42% of tasks could be automated. That creates a need to re-skill people to get different jobs or be able to take on new roles created because of automation.
There are concerns that current HE and FE provisions might not be flexible enough to develop a more adaptable workforce. Flexible learning pathways are supported in principle. Credit transfer possibilities between HE institutions exist, but without an explicit national credit transfer policy. Currently curriculum differences between institutions, institutional competitiveness and possible concern about potential losses of fee income by students moving institution all detract from flexible learning. More flexibility is needed to support lifelong learning. Micro-credentials could be the solution to fill the gap, on a day-to-day basis and during cultural, political, and economic shifts and crises.
What is Jisc doing?
During 2022/23 the Jisc Pathfinders team carried out an investigation into the use of pedagogical frameworks for micro-credential creation (blog to follow soon!) with a group of colleges in Northern Ireland, in particular the North West Regional College (NWRC). One of the drivers for micro-credentials for NWRC is providing access to education in an economically deprived area.
In Jisc’s 2020-2023 Further Education and Skills strategy, automated certification of micro-credentials (with badges) to promote achievement was included in the Digital Elevation model as a Transform part, or something that institutions “should” aim to have. There was further encouragement to adopt a curriculum “modularised with micro-credential opportunities” to reach the Elevate level – a “can have” digital component.
We have previously studied the support the HE and FE sector might need to implement micro-credentials more widely. In 2020/21 the ed-tech and co-design team investigated the provision of a Jisc hosted micro-credentials service. At that time, we concluded that the sector did not require a national intervention in the form of a Jisc service as other badging operators were suitable and available. The Jisc advice team has continued to give support to the sector around the development of micro-credentials.
Possible ways forward?
If HE and FE in the UK are affected by any of the drivers for micro-credentials, then employers and other education providers understanding them will be key to their uptake. In the absence of a unique learner identification, it is difficult for learners to link together information about their various qualifications. With a rise in micro-credentials, and flexible and remote learning from multiple providers, transferability of qualifications is likely to increase in importance. A single ID could be like ORCiD, which successfully links publications and other professional information relating to an individual researcher to confirm their earlier work. We are continuing to work on issues around trust and identity, as well as supplying degree verification services (HEDD) to employers through Jisc Student Services.
Micro-credentials can build into a lifelong digital record that transfers from institution to institution with the learner. Digital technologies have a role to play in enabling access to education, streamlining processes and managing a personalised journey for learners. Micro-credential delivery aided by technology has the potential to be embraced as part of lifelong learning, in line with the new Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE), due to come into effect in 2025.