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6 Common Misconceptions About Microcredentials and Stackable Credentialing

While microcredentials lacks a common definition, implementing microcrdentials will help your institution deliver relevant education just in time.

People looking for a way to upskill, move up in their field or tap into a new career may be familiar with terms like microcredentials, badges and stackable credentials. Even though many post-secondary institutions have been offering this kind of flexible, focused and accelerated short-term programming for years, they’ve only recently entered the mainstream. With their rise in popularity, there also comes a bit of confusion, misinformation and a need for clarification. And that’s certainly understandable as there are many nuances–even with something as simple as is the definition of a microcredential.  

According to TechOnline/Contact North, there’s no common definition for microcredentials in Canada or anywhere else, in terms of period of study, range of content or specific forms of assessment. However, there are several components widely recognized as core characteristics of microcredentials such as being short and flexible, modular and stackable, skills and competency-based, personalized, geared toward industry needs, verifiable and shareable.

At Georgian College, we define a microcredential as representing the completion of competencies driven by industry or market in a short timeframe. A key component is assessing those competencies. These microcredentials can help learners quickly gain new skills, upskill or retrain for a new career. 

There’s also general consensus in Ontario that microcredentials are transcriptable, which means it shows up on your college or university transcript and is deposited to your digital wallet or e-portfolio. 

But there are some areas in which there’s no general consensus, such as portability between countries and the timeframe to complete a microcredential.

This brings us to our misconceptions.

1. All Microcredentials are Created Equal: Microcredentials and Badges are the Same Thing

There are differences within the Continuing Education and professional development communities around microcredentials.

At Georgian, there are three types of microcredentials: 

  • Module: represents the successful completion of competencies and is driven by industry or labor market need. 
  • Microcertificate: represents the successful completion of a series of modules based on industry or labor market need. 
  • Certificate: represents the successful completion of a series of microcertificates based on industry or labor market need.

Microcredentials are also available in a variety of formats and modalities, from face-to-face, to blended or fully online, depending on the content and how the microcredential is assessed. 

There is often confusion around the differences between a badge and a microcredential—and the terms are often used interchangeably. A badge is a digital representation or type of award issued to a learner upon successfully demonstrating specific skills or competencies. The digital badge the learner receives contains the hard-coded evidence and institutional verification that a student has demonstrated their skills or competence in a specific area. It’s important to note that some badges issued from other sources may not have any assessment or formal processes to ensure academic quality and assessment rigor, hence the confusion.

Microcredentials–especially those offered in Canada–follow a formally approved or accepted set of standards or competencies based on industry and employer consultation. They’re also overseen by an industry-experienced faculty member who is responsible and accountable for ensuring the student learns and demonstrates the expected outcomes of the microcredential.  

And finally, some microcredentials can be stacked to achieve a credential recognized by other institutions.

Now, this isn’t to say there is anything wrong with the many thousands of badges that do not meet the criteria of a microcredential. They offer skills and knowledge in a specific area for anyone looking to learn something new. 

2. Microcredentials Are The Wild West of Learning

While there may not be consensus on everything when it comes to microcredentials, work is being done to alleviate that. Here in Canada, eCampusOntario and Colleges and Institutes Canada have developed frameworks and guiding principles for microcredentials to shape a consistent Ontario-wide approach and proof of capabilities.

Colleges are all saying we need to properly define a microcredential framework in Canada, so regardless which institution you attend, you know exactly what a microcredential means.

For Georgian and other institutions, being transcriptable, having academic quality and rigorous assessment is a big part of that consistent framework. All microcredentials go through institutional quality assurance processes to ensure they’re based on the demonstration of industry-needed competencies. 

Other framework principles include:

  • Being industry-driven
  • Having pathways 
  • Being verifiable and earner-owned

3. Everything Has to be a Microcredential

While microcredentials allowr learners to quickly upskill or reskill, not every new course needs to be a microcredential. Some content areas–particularly general interest Continuing Education courses–might be better suited as regular non-credit CE format. 

4. You Can’t Do Anything with Your Microcredential

Microcredentials are transcriptable, verifiable, competency-based, assessed and learner-owned. An employer can validate that someone has completed a particular microcredential offered by a credible institution with rigorous standards. 

While some microcredentials could be stand-alone learning opportunities, others could be stacked into pathways for lifelong learning. Where possible, microcredentials should be mapped from modules to microcertificates and from microcertificates into certificates.

Many institutions offer academic guidance for transferring microcredentials into credit or credential equivalents. An expanded Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) or related process could be considered to help evaluate microcredentials.

For example, at Georgian, some of the training learned in our Supportive Care Assistant microcredential can be a PLAR toward a course in our Personal Support Worker credit program. 

5. Microcredentials Are Widely Recognized or Valued By Industry 

In our experience at Georgian, this isn’t true, yet. We still talk to employers who don’t know much about microcredentials. But we know it’s coming. Employers are increasingly interested in demonstrable skills and a clear commitment to lifelong learning when hiring new employees. 

Microcredentials help employers identify job candidates who have the required skills. The proof is in the digital badge. Employers can also rely on microcredentialing programs to provide the right type of focused training to new or transitioning employees who need to improve their skills or fill a skills gap in their company or organization. Employer buy-in and endorsement is critical, and employers who seek to partner with post-secondary institutions will be ahead of the game. 

6. Microcredentials Will Replace Traditional Credentials Like Diplomas or Degrees

This is simply not true. While some organizations may not necessarily place as much emphasis on formal diplomas or degrees, they’re not going away any time soon.

Microcredentials are a complementary or parallel opportunity for learners, but they won’t replace the full credentials currently offered at post-secondary institutions. They’re ideal for those committed to lifelong learning and in need of a focused opportunity to upskill or retrain.

There may be some exceptions in areas such as information technology, where companies may not be looking for a traditional credential but ones geared to specific training for a very defined skill, like programming in Python. But bottom line, microcredentials are here to stay, and they’re increasingly seen as crucial to creating a modern workforce that meets industry-specific needs. They provide learners with a flexible, rapid and accessible pathway to gain in-demand skills employers need to advance and succeed in a competitive job market. 

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