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Best Practices to Scale the Development and Delivery of Microcredentials for Colleges and Universities

The impact microcredentials have on students, workforce and industry can no longer but denied, but meeting everyone’s needs requires thoughtful, intentional and collaborative development and implementation.

Our nation’s colleges and universities are well positioned to respond to the pressing employment needs of learners, communities, businesses and industries. One means of addressing the needs of all these stakeholders is developing, delivering and scaling microcredentials.

This unprecedented time in higher education, with the pandemic and societal challenges, affords us new opportunities. While we deliver the education and training programs for today, we are also able to craft the education and training programs for the workplace of the future. Holding both the present and future lens as we lead affords us the ability to respond and strengthen our academic programs’ value proposition; be solution-oriented for social and financial mobility for our learners, employers and communities; and strengthen the United States’ competitiveness for positive global impact.

Microcredentials offer learners wanting to join the workforce and others seeking to upskill or reskill the chance to rapidly develop relevant workplace skills. For businesses and industries, the benefits of seeking learners with microcredentials are (1) understanding the training and competencies new hires have achieved as they are on-boarded and (2) lessening and eliminating the skills gap for seasoned workers who need to maintain skills relevant to the current and the future workplace. Institutions of higher education, through their ability to be responsive and nimble, are the ideal vehicle for responding to these learner, business and industry needs.

Developing and delivering microcredentials in colleges and universities requires forethought, planning, implementation, assessment and evaluation to ensure their effectiveness and value for learners, businesses and industries.

Here are some considerations:

Access Market Demands

Employment and production data as well as operational and expert consultation with businesses and industries are crucial when identifying market demand. This information can be accessed by conducting market research to assess the demand for microcredentials and the specific skills or knowledge they offer. This will help ensure the microcredentials align with the businesses and industry needs and provides value to learners by giving them employability.

Engage Business and Industry Experts

Collaborate with subject-matter faculty, pedagogy and instructional design faculty, business and industry experts, employers, and professional and trade organizations to design the microcredentials. This collective input will help ensure content is relevant, timely and aligned with business and industry standards and practices as well as sound educational practices. Through these, partnerships and collaborations can be established for mutual long-term benefit. There will be added value in forging collaborations with secondary schools and higher education to expand the reach of program offerings and visibility of microcredentials. Finally, these partnerships can enhance the credibility of the program offerings through learner mentoring and employment opportunities.

Define Learner and Microcredential Learning Outcomes

Paramount is clearly defining the learning outcomes for each microcredential to identify the specific skills or knowledge learners will gain upon completion. This is good educational assessment practice, as it enables the learners to understand what they can expect to achieve and employers to recognize the credential’s value.

Incorporate Competency-Based Assessment

Implement rigorous and relevant assessment methods that evaluate leaners’ mastery of the stated learning outcomes and competencies. The use of hands-on (practical) exercises, assignments, projects or exams simulate real-world projects and workplace scenarios. Competency-based assessments can provide a more accurate representation of learners’ abilities and enhance the credibility and value ofmicrocredentials.

Through program assessment and evaluation, the effectiveness of the microcredential program can be achieved by incorporating learner feedback, industry trends, business and industry evaluation of program hires, outcomes data and employment data. This information can be used to update the content, education and training delivery methods and assessment strategies as a means of continuous improvement.

Leverage Technology

The use of technology platforms and tools can more effectively deliver and assess microcredentials. Online learning management systems (LMS) can provide a benefit by hosting course materials, facilitate assessments and monitor learner progress.

Design Modular and Flexible Programs with Embedded Microcredentials

By structuring microcredentials into modular units that can be completed independently or combined to form larger credentials, it is easier to achieve delivery and scalability. This approach allows learners to customize their skill development and competencies based on their needs and interests. The flexibility modular units afford also accommodates different learning styles and schedules.

Additionally, by embedding microcredentials within Continuing Education or credit-bearing courses, learners and employers are more aware of the skills attempted and the competencies achieved within each of the areas of education and training. At Richard J. Daley College, we offer multiple National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3) certificates within many of our advanced manufacturing credit-bearing courses. This approach strengthens the learning with theory and hands-on practice, utilizing world-class equipment and tools. The result is learners gaining the knowledge and documented competencies employers value and require.

Promote and Communicate Value

Actively marketing and communicating the value of the microcredentials to learners, business and industries, employers, communities, trade organizations and others brings value and impact. The specific skills and competencies gained, the benefits for career entry and advancement, and alignment with industry needs can be promoted and communicated, which brings clarity and strength to the higher education program’s value proposition.

Microcredentials provide learners with valuable and recognized credentials to enhance their skills and career prospects. Employers gain a better understanding of the training and competencies new hires have already developed. Employers also gain an understanding that reduces the skills gap for their seasoned workers, which provides a means for all workers to maintain the relevant skills required in the current and the future workplace. Communicating these benefits to all can aid in understanding the value proposition for institutions of higher education. As learners gain additional skills through education and training, their financial and social mobility will increase, resulting in a higher quality of life for learners, their family and our communities and strengthening the competitiveness of the United States for positive global impact.

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