Commenting at the launch, then Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Michaelia Cash said: “The marketplace will provide consistency that gives students and businesses the assurance they need to invest in this new mode of education.”
The Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) has announced that it has won an Australian government grant to build the nation’s first marketplace for micro-credentials.
Course contents need visibility
Academics are expecting the micro-credential marketplace to go live this year.
“It is a little tricky as a learner, I think, to navigate exactly what the micro-credential is going to offer you,” says Renee Desmarchelier, director (Micro-credential Unit) at University of Southern Queensland.
“And what the marketplace will give us is a way of making all of that much more visible. So it will be a great step for consumers, for learners to be able to know and judge across different institutions what they’re actually going to get for their learning experience and for their money.”
Many micro-credentials come with digital badges — verified credentials that allow earners to easily communicate their skills and qualifications online. They can be used in email signatures, websites and social media platforms.
A prospective employer, for instance, could click on a job applicant’s digital badge in their CV and it would bring up metadata about what the course taught, its duration and how achievement was assessed.
There should be some minimum information that would be available on that particular credential to industry and organisations.
— Georgina Ma, Griffith University
But a digital badge is not necessarily a micro-credential, says Desmarchelier. Badges can be issued to someone just for attending an event.
Micro-credentials can in theory be taught by any organisation, but most people stick with recognised learning institutions.
“People are asking themselves ‘if I’m going to put this on my CV and show somebody that I’m trying to get a job with, what’s going to be credible?’” says Tim Kastelle, director of external engagement at the University of Queensland School of Business.
So far, that’s tilted some advantage back to those more traditional education providers, like universities and TAFEs and registered training organisations.
Kastelle says micro-credentials operate on three levels on many platforms, such as edX, an American massive open online course provider created by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
How they operate
The first level is free and is for students who don’t need to prove they have done the course, as there is no assessment. The second level charges a small fee and participants receive a certificate after a couple of small pieces of assessment.
The third level is one which counts towards a degree, such as a master’s, and there is an even more rigorous assessment.
As a general rule, the more a student engages with a course through assessments and assignments, the more they will learn, but Kastelle says that under the current system, what goes onto a CV might not meaningfully reflect the learning level and it’s hard for a human resources department to assess the worth of micro-credentials.
“It’s a massive problem for everyone and it’s one of the things that’s slowing down uptake of micro-credentials because the question of what does it actually mean still hasn’t been sorted.”
While there are currently no government-mandated requirements for micro-credential content or assessment, there is one exception — where the micro-credential counts towards a university degree. In that case they will have to meet the same standards as the degree.
“In that instance, the micro-credential is really just a smaller slice of a bigger course in many cases,” Kastelle says.
“But if you are getting a micro-credential that doesn’t articulate into a formal degree, there’s pretty much no definition about what it needs to be, how you need to design it, what it needs to look like. And so it’s a lot more fluid than the areas that universities normally deal with.”
With this in mind, Griffith University made sure it had rigorous quality assurance standards when it launched its micro-credential program in 2019.
“But what we realised was there was actually more and more interest in micro-credentials that were not credit bearing and so we wanted to tighten up our procedures around governance, particularly in relation to development approval and review of those non-credit bearing micro- credentials to ensure that they’re aligned with our definition and that there were certification then of assessed learning and that there was some kind of rigour to those,” said Georgina Ma, director, student credentials at Griffith University.
Like others in the sector, Ma hopes that the proposed micro-credentials marketplace will help students and employers decipher the difference between credentials. Currently, different institutions provide different information about their micro-credentials and it can be hard to compare like for like.
“There should be some minimum information that would be available on that particular credential to industry and organisations to assess whether that particular micro-credential meets the requirements for the position or whatever the person is looking to do,” Ma says.
In the meantime, prospective students will have to do their own research. “Students who are doing their homework should be looking for what are the key learning outcomes that I can achieve from this proposed micro-credential? What assessment am I going to do? And they would need to make some judgments on what is provided,” Ma says.