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Where Micro-Credentials Fit into the Certification Landscape

May 13, 2015  | By  | 2 Comments

Many evolving forms of credentialing are clamoring for our attention these days—digital badges, alternative credentials, verified certificates, nano-degrees and micro-credentials.  But what are these forms of “credentialing” and how can they can complement and even enhance certification programs, you know, the traditional ones that assess competency and verify the skills and knowledge required to do a job or define the body of knowledge for a profession/occupation.  And how does a certification body assess if “alt creds” are right for them?  These are two aspects of a complex topic we as certification and test developers are talking about.

Let’s start with micro-credentials—still largely undefined, but generally agreed to as a smaller, discrete, specialized opportunity for education and skills assessment, for both learners wanting to achieve a level of proficiency in a skill, and workers seeking the same to remain current in and/or advance in their jobs, some of which may already require certification.  As a company that builds certification programs, we’ve entered the fray of developing micro-credentials to help clients fill a need of providing more credentialing options in and across their industry, in a more timely way, and utilizing fewer resources.  While these are important considerations, so is upholding quality and credibility—and this point needs to be stressed—they want high quality micro-credentials.

Certification bodies in emerging fields (energy efficiency), professions that rapidly change (IT or medical), or those with certifications that cross-over several areas of expertise (coaching and safety), may find they are well-suited to developing micro-credentials.  Certification bodies often develop full-scope certification programs first to define the BOK, build a foundation, establish industry standards, and define the job or role.  As these fields continue to develop and additional specialized knowledge and skill areas surface, developing a micro-credential may be the next logical step to providing learning and assessment opportunities (before the next JTA study) for the certified persons to stay current, and/or for workers in a related field to supplement their skill-set.  Micro-credentials can become options for recertification for certified persons, as well as “stand-alone” opportunities that may extend to and include related professions (a real-estate agent learns how to assess the value of a home with solar panels). Micro-credentials may also fill a training void in emerging fields, and in fields that rapidly evolve so credentialed workers can remain current. Micro-credentials may even help workers qualify for certification and/or meet changing job demands, especially in instances where educational opportunities and training have not caught up.  For narrowly focused, in-depth, specialized knowledge and skill sets, micro-credentials may be a better option than the development of a full-scope certification program, and may not require the resources it takes to develop a certification program. And in a perfect world, micro-credentials should take less time to bring to market.

There are some advantages for established certification bodies to expand into the development of micro-credentials, so how do you know if this is right for your organization?

  • Assess the need a micro-credential may fill—is it resource related, time-sensitive, is there a demand for the content?  Currently, what need is not being filled that a micro-credential will fill?
  • Assess the reputation of your certification—will micro-credentials dilute it, be perceived as a replacement, considered equal to certification?  Will you create confusion in your industry?
  • Assess if your certification organization can withstand the internal competition a micro-credential might pose with your other products and services.
  • What is the likelihood that a competing organization will offer a similar micro-credential—how would that competition measure up?
  • What is the market for the micro-credential and who will seek it—your certified persons, other certified persons, other related professionals?  If the latter, is there an opportunity to “cross-pollinate or cross-populate” these credentials?
  • Where can resources be maximized—can you work from an existing JTA, or more than one JTA for a field with multiple credentials?
  • Where are efficiencies apparent? Can micro-credentials count toward recertification?  Can they help people qualify for certification?
  • What will it take to sustain micro-credentials—are they truly “one-and-done” or will they require continued maintenance, for example, administration of an assessment.
  • How will your organization assure the development and administration of credible micro-credentials?
  • What do you expect to gain as ROI? Will the value be long-term or short-term?

Determining if there is a role for micro-credentials in the credentialing landscape, and what they might look like is a conversation that is sure to continue.  What it reflects is the need and desire for people to qualify for jobs, remain current and relevant with the jobs they have, build their portfolio of skills, and for organizations to meet this demand with flexibility, creativity and credibility.  Not such a bad place to be in the credentialing landscape.

Now … about those badges!

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