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MicroCredentials - the next big step to open Higher Education for the society#

Author: Martin Ebner, PhD, Graz University of Technology

Since one decade Massive Open Online Courses, shortly MOOCs, are disrupting Higher Education by offering education for free to a huge mass of learners. Additionally, if those courses are also open licensed, they get reusable in any educational context in various ways. In a former research we found at least 7 different pedagogical concepts how open licenses MOOCs can be used for lectures, workshops or any educational scenarios. With other words MOOCs bring more flexibility in our daily life and support our possibilities to learn anytime and anywhere. During the COVID19-pandemic this trend got a boost, due to the fact that teachers as well as learners were searching for online learning and teaching possibilities. From the perspective of higher education institutions the next big step towards open up education is to make it further accessible and available. This idea leads directly to the concept of microcredentials. Microcredentials are defined by the European Commission in 2022: “Microcredentials certify the learning outcomes of short-term learning experiences, for example a short course or training and offer a flexible, targeted way to help people develop the knowledge, skills, and competences they need for their personal and professional development.” Typically, microcredentials in Europe are referring to the European Crediting Transfer System (ECTS) and certify a so called workload (effort to get the final certificate) of 3–30 ECTS. As one ECTS credit equals about 25 working hours. The main idea of offering microcredentials is to make education more attractive to the labor market following the idea of professional continuing education in the sense of lifelong learning. With other words education should be strongly focussed on the needs of the labor market. From a meta-perspective this development is a consequent further step. As shown in the picture ("open up teaching and learning to the public") first of all we engaged teachers to offer their learning content open licensed to the students a couple of years ago. In the meanwhile the learning content is often delivered as online course and in the best case as open licensed MOOC. In both cases higher educations institutions are targeting moreless students or younger learner, because the final certificates are offered within a full study program. In the final step now, we also try to offer even the certification not only to students but also to the interested public. Consequently, we have to redesign how those microcredentials can be done, because the needs of the labour market as well as the learners who are fully engaged in their companies are differently from those of typical students. Mainly we need to allow a higher complexity in time and place. Therefore, at Graz University of Technology a 3-component-model was developed by the department of lifelong learning ("Fig 2"). The first part consists of a MOOC and follows the idea that learners can learn in their own pace at their favorite place the typical main content which is delivered mainly without interaction (online-phase). Typically, videos and recordings of the lecturers can be seen as the main educational resources combined with self-assessment and further online-materials. The online-course close with a confirmation of the course-participation and serves as entry point for the second part, the face-to-face training. In this time frame the lecturers directly interact with learners. This can be done offline on-site or if learners are widely-spreaded over the world in an online setting (e.g. videoconferences). The last part is called "transfer" and should allow learners to bring their new knowledge into their personal environment by working out practical examples. Finally, an on-site or online assessment leads to the final certification by the higher education institution. Following this idea, some challenges are popping up, which must be considered:

  • Microcredentials should be combinable. This means if learners are doing more and more, they maybe can combine it to a bigger program.
  • Microcredentials must be standardized and be accepted by all higher education institutions at least in Europe.
  • Microcredentials should help to personalize learning goals to address the needs of the labour market and the society as well.

In the near future Graz University of Technology will start with their first offers towards Microcredentials courses. Therefore a website (https:microcredentials.at) is being established with two courses beginning with the interterm 2022 and the MOOC platform iMooX.at will serve as partner-platform. iMoox.at itself is part of the European MOOC consortium and therefore directly working on the MOOC-Microcredentials framework to allow the exchange of MOOC based microcredentials between different higher educational institutions. This can be seen as an important further step to open education to the public. It can be summarized that microcredentials addressing the needs of the labor market for more formal education. Furthermore, based on the fact that the increasing digitalization will change and disrupt our future business market and people must be re-educated, universities can take over this role. Future Education must be flexible, independent from place and time and also personalized. Microcredentials are definitely a step towards addressing these needs.