Published on 2021/02/05

Evolving Our Credentialing Ecosystems for the Future of Work (Part 2)

The future of work will require institutions to offer a high-quality, standardized and structured credentials ecosystem to support student and market needs.

OWN the standards of the institution

Deborah Everhart (DE): Institutional leaders can drive credential transparency for your programs.

When credentials use shared definitions and a common open standard data structure, we can transform education and workforce systems.

The American Council on Education provides a white paper offering structured guidance on how to develop and evolve effective credentialing ecosystems. It focuses on how credentials can be more valuable when they are connected to each other and aligned to occupations and jobs. 

There are six dimensions of quality that support connected credentials: 

Equity

The credential is an enabling mechanism for promoting educational, social, and economic mobility. 

There are multiple entry points and practical supports to enable educational access for learners with varying abilities. 

Transparency

The competencies represented by the credential are clearly defined. How the credential leads to careers is clearly defined. The information provided about the credential is clear, enables comparison of credentials, and is based on shared open standards and schemas. 

Modularity

The credential includes units that carry independent value. These units within the credential can be combined in multiple ways with other units, credentials, and competencies to create education and career pathways.

Portability

The credential has value locally, nationally, and internationally in labor markets, educational systems, and other contexts. 

Relevance 

The credential prepares the earner for employment and civic engagement. The credential has relevant symbolic and documented value that gives it currency among stakeholders in ecosystems. 

Validity

Validity includes industry-recognized or accredited designations, as well as the appropriateness of the assessments that led to awarding the credential.

What is the ideal approach to managing diverse credential offerings to keep things aligned and understandable to learners? 

Tracey Taylor O’Reilly (TTOR):¬†Institutions often have a framework that defines their alternative credential categories and standards. In some cases, it’s done very formally through a policy that is sometimes led by the dean or the AVP. Sometimes it’s led through the provost‚Äôs office, and we participate in that process. It outlines each type of credential: the criteria, how they fit together, stack together, the meaning, and it’s sometimes passed through the Senate.

Sometimes it’s a little less formal. There might be a document that outlines the credential standards, and we ask the institution‚Äôs internal stakeholders to follow the same practices. And sometimes we have very little management of alternative credentials, which can lead to wildly different credential practices within an institution.

In addition to having a formal or an informal framework, it’s also really important to have a way of communicating‚ÄĒof monitoring and ensuring some compliance. Part of our role as leaders in this field is to work toward a consistent practice within our institutions. 

What role do we have to play in continuing education leading the institutional conversation around consistent credential definition?

Amrit Ahluwalia (AA):¬†One major takeaway is ensuring that we have buy-in from senior leadership. You want to be able to take these ideas and translate them to your provost, to be able to talk through the array of credentials that you offer at the moment. This is what it’s doing to our brand position. and to our learners, employers, and communities. You’ll stand a much better chance of actively having the conversation about owning credentials at your institution when they don’t fit into something that’s accredited. Take that seriously. As continuing educators in the professional ed space, this is our responsibility.

DRIVE the advocacy discussion 

DE: Regardless of where you find yourself on the road towards credential transparency, there is a roadmap of steps that can guide you:

‚󏬆 ¬† ¬† ¬† Understand the value

‚󏬆 ¬† ¬† ¬† Make the case

‚󏬆 ¬† ¬† ¬† Align with existing education and workforce data¬†

‚󏬆 ¬† ¬† ¬† Catalog and publish credentials and competencies

‚󏬆 ¬† ¬† ¬† Turn these data into actionable information

‚󏬆 ¬† ¬† ¬† Build enduring commitment

The first step to making any change is recognizing current challenges and finding solutions. 

‚óŹ      Leaders need to establish the expectation that everyone‚ÄĒlearners, employers, education and training providers, and policy leaders‚ÄĒdeserves to have timely, accurate, user-friendly information to guide their decisions.

‚óŹ      A growing number of organizations are committed to using the Credential Transparency Data Language (CTDL) and publishing their credentials to the Credential Registry. 

The next step to making any change is building awareness, understanding, and demand for that change. By committing to and communicating the value of credential transparency, all stakeholders will see their role in the work.

Make the case: Why should everyone have access to real-time, complete, and trustworthy information–anytime, anywhere–that lets them make the best-informed decision about which path to take?

Leaders should create a comprehensive inventory, a census of credentials offered in their states, provinces, or systems. These credentials should then be mapped and published into the Credential Registry using CTDL. 

This is a crucial step since meaningful transparency cannot be realized without comprehensive mapping and publishing. 

The roadmap reminds us that we cannot stop after we catalog and publish to the registry. For meaningful credential transparency, we also have to turn data into actionable information. Leaders need connect credential data with other datasets to allow for real-time data exploration and understanding of pathways.

Policy can ensure that the work is consistent and lasting. The commitment to transparency must be embedded in policy and practice across systems to ensure sustainability, alignment, and impact. 

What can we do to start to create transparency and some level of credential framework within the context of a single institution?

TTOR: I wouldn’t want to give up on advocacy, but in the absence of a state or federal structure, what do you do? You get together at a regional or state or provincial level and try to harmonize to the extent you can. We need to be relatively consistent. Our provincial government in Ontario that has taken a huge interest in the ‚Äúmicro-credential.‚ÄĚ There’s been a flurry of discussion here, and we need to drive that discussion, guide it, educate, and ask for what our students need; we cannot leave it up to a consulting company or a government administrator with little experience with the university sector. We have a role as leaders. We also have a role in working with our government relations offices and our presidents on the advocacy agenda. 

AA: If we can, within a single institution, create some kind of united front and within a network that we might compose of our own accord, then we have a lot more capacity to make change. As we build and develop this advocacy culture within our space, we recognize that beyond generating revenue for the institution and serving our learners, we have a responsibility to our industry.

An opportunity might come for us to create more funding pathways for learners. Once we can clearly state what we do, why we do it, and what it’s for, there’s a potential to really drive home the point that this rigorous stuff is worth financial support. With that support, people have access to education and can get most of it without having to pay out of pocket. 

TTOR: The challenge is that the people who should be making that call are at the state or provincial level because education is managed, in both the U.S. and Canada, at that level. But local representatives are missing in those consultations. So, we need to bring those groups together and be ready to participate in this advocacy discussion.

AA: Absolutely. So much of the core of the problem you’ve identified also comes down to a potential misunderstanding of what marketing is. We put our sales hats on, figure we can offer something quickly without paying attention to the rigor, and then generate revenue from it. That’s stemmed from a lot of the issues we have around non-degree credentialing more broadly.

BUILD a transparent credential ecosystem

DE: The quality dimensions of connected credentials are broadly stated, but we have the ability to achieve these opportunities now to build effective credential ecosystems. New technologies support these quality dimensions where credentials and competencies can be connected in ecosystems that combine data from multiple sources.

The Credential Transparency Description Language provides an open-source, machine-readable schema defining over 500 characteristics of credentials. This structured metadata is used by people and technology systems to understand and compare credentials based on characteristics such as cost, quality assurance processes, stack-ability, occupational alignment, competencies and learning outcomes, endorsements, employment and earnings outcomes, and more.

Organizations map information about their credentials into the common schema of CTDL and publish it to the Credential Registry.

The Credential Registry stores open CTDL data. CTDL provides a straightforward, readable set of web links that show the connections between the many different characteristics of credentials. It supports linked open data connections not only among one organization‚Äôs data but also across the data in the Registry. Developers can create specialized applications and products to utilize Registry data for different purposes. The Credential Finder is a basic web interface to view and explore the information stored in the Registry. The public can use the Finder to see all information published to it. 

 Stakeholders need to use common, open schemas and be able to meaningfully exchange data. Part of the problem now is that different stakeholders use different data structures that are not connected. Linked open data can bridge across education and training, quality assurance, employment, and importantly, the digital credentials issued to individuals, which empowers everyone in our ecosystems to get the full value out of credentials.

How would a clear credentialing framework support differentiation, especially with so many entrants entering the education and training marketplace?

TTOR:  The boot camps and private providers are coming into our system, and their programs are marketed to look a lot like ours. But if we do this well, universities can create an ecosystem of credentials that allow for a 60-year curriculum we‚Äôve never seen before. 

We have to build those credentials together, so that they’re transparent, stackable, and portable ‚Äď truly forming an ecosystem. That is how we fulfill our social mission.  It’s about meeting the needs of our students, of our employers, and ultimately supporting the economic development of our society. We need to think beyond standalone programs and instead sell an ecosystem of integrated lifelong learning programs.

AA: When it comes to lifelong learning, we think about our responsibility within this cohesive, proactive education, lifelong learning network. The role of the institution is changing. Before, institutions were the gatekeepers of knowledge. Now, the institution becomes a guide for ongoing learning built on continued development and pathways.

We‚Äôre beginning to really think cohesively about what an individual’s pathway looks like in the lifelong learning environment. We’re moving away from a three-stage life wherein students learn, work and donate money as alumni, then retire. Now, we‚Äôre reaching an environment wherein someone continuously up-skills and re-skills over the course of their 100-year life, which is nonlinear, incredibly complex, and requires them to shift careers potentially up to 20 times. We can have an unmatched ecosystem if we can create an environment in which we understand learner competencies and learning outcomes that lead to lateral moves to new spaces.  This ecosystem can actively support people‚Äôs growth and development. 

For more information, please visit evolllution.com/microcredentials. This is also the second component to a two-part series. For the first article, click here.

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