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Five Most Common Misconceptions About Microcredentials

To best serve students and industry, it’s critical for higher ed to establish a common definition for microcredentials for everyone to be on the same page.

Since microcredentials have become ubiquitous across industry and higher education, coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, there are bound to be misconceptions about these wonderfully versatile credentials. As the pace of development heats up, it’s important for post-secondary institutions to clearly communicate the value their microcredentials offer learners, so both internal and external stakeholders are on the same page. 

This article briefly explores five common misconceptions about microcredentials, so we can better understand what they are and how they provide flexible, accessible and targeted learning options for students, employers and industry.

Misconception #1: Microcredentials Are New

Microcredentials may be unfamiliar to some, as they have been growing in demand and recognition in the past years, but they aren’t new. Microcredentials have been around for a long time in different forms. Tech companies, like Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, have offered their own form of microcredentials for decades through various certification programs. Automobile manufacturers offer short, competency-based training to automotive technicians that align precisely with what the industry is looking for. 

Microcredentials are now flourishing in new, diverse ways and being offered by more and more education providers across the globe. They are not here to replace traditional credentials but to complement them. However, it’s important to differentiate between the various microcredentials on the market because they’re not all the same.

Misconception #2: A Microcredential Is a Microcredential Is a Microcredential

Comparing microcredentials can be like comparing apples to oranges; they’re not all created equal. In fact, there’s no agreed-upon definition of a microcredential, but that doesn’t diminish the value they offer to a wide variety of learners. The world is rapidly changing, accelerating technological, cultural and social change that reshapes how we live and work. To stay current and relevant, we need different things at different points of our lifelong learning journey. 

Today, most people agree that microcredentials have five common qualities:

  • Short and quick to complete
  • Competency-based and focused on specific skills
  • Stackable and can be combined with other micro-credentials
  • Verifiable and industry-aligned
  • Digitally shareable

Misconception #3: A Microcredential Is a Badge

A microcredential and a digital badge are not the same thing, yet they are often used interchangeably. A microcredential verifies demonstrated proficiency that one develops through a course, learning on-the-job, or through other real-world experiences or training. A digital badge is a visual representation that earners can use to track, share and verify their skills. Of course, a digital badge is not just a shareable image—it’s backed up by metadata that verifies the issuer, demonstrated skills or competencies, proof of achievement, forms of assessment, etc. 

Technology empowers us to share and verify specific skills in previously impossible ways, including the ability to post and circulate credentials online (e.g., LinkedIn, online portfolio, digital wallet, social media, etc.). Digital badges enable us to control how we track, share, verify, promote and tell our story about the skills and accomplishments we achieve over a lifetime. 

Misconception #4: Microcredentials Deliver Value to a Narrow Group of Learners

Aligning taught skills with sought skills (and yet-to-be-defined emerging skills) is essential to filling the talent gap and assisting recent graduates, the unemployed and the underemployed in finding meaningful employment. Microcredentials are designed to do just that. Being industry-aligned, competency-based and quick to complete, microcredentials can help industry develop talent and find the right employees with the appropriate digital badges on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Meanwhile learners have great flexibility and access to develop and verify the skills they need through short, targeted courses and programs. 

More and more learners are looking for focused, personalized learning experiences that will help them develop practical, in-demand skills quickly. Microcredentials appeal to diverse audiences, including: 

  • Early and mid-career professionals (working, unemployed, underemployed) 
  • Post-secondary grads and alumni who need to further develop or round out their skill set  
  • Mature learners who want to upskill or reskill to find work, advance in their role or transition into a new career (needing to develop in-demand skills and verify competencies)  
  • Multiple generations, at all career stages, who are seeking an alternate pathway to education, employment or professional development 

Today, there’s a vast range of microcredentials to serve and benefit many different audiences, including employers, while meeting ever-changing market needs and employment gaps.

Misconception #5: Microcredentials Are a Passing Fad

When we consider microcredentials’ longevity, it’s important to highlight some trends in education and the workplace. We’re seeing growing emphasis placed on specific skills and people seeking flexible alternatives to traditional credentials to develop these skills. We’re seeing greater demand for quicker, shorter, more convenient and accessible training opportunities that one can pick and choose from based on their individual goals and needs. 

The world is changing, so are the ways we need (and want) to learn. COVID-19 thrust online learning upon the world and shone a spotlight on online microcredentials. Of course, microcredentials are offered in a variety of modalities (including face-to-face and blended delivery). The fact that they’re only available online is a misconception in itself. Will the planned return to face-to-face, full-time studies cool the demand for microcredentials? Not likely. Microcredentials are not a passing fad, and their value will not diminish with the decreasing COVID case counts. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that learners demand versatile, personalized and affordable pathways to education, which isn’t going to change.


Sometimes it helps to define what something isn’t before determining what it is. Microcredentials are a lot of things to a lot of people, but they’re not new, they’re not all the same, they’re not simply badges and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. 

Microcredentials are a great way to support continuous, lifelong learning, professional development and career growth or transition. 

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