The term ‘microcredential’ has grown in prominence globally over the last decade as an alternative to more established methods of achieving qualifications, and has been generally well received as a concept for its potential benefits to people, industries, and educational providers.

While the concept has been readily employed, its application may reflect differing intent and requirements. Due to the relative infancy of associated, formal frameworks, an inconsistent understanding of the term microcredential appears to exist that may contribute towards inefficient or ineffective conduct, management, or requirements of learning within organisations – Defence included.

What is a microcredential?

Broadly, a microcredential is something that provides recognition against a discrete (small) body of completed learning. The term is further considered to reflect both the credentialing of learning as well as the learning activity itself. Microcredentials may target or contribute towards a specific skill requirement (e.g., digital literacy), a professional development requirement (e.g., associated with an all-corps outcome), or may reflect a formal VET or higher education sub-set of knowledge/skill (e.g., potentially an aeronautical engineering component of a qualification).

Through these learning ‘chunks’, skills and knowledge may be built upon (‘stacked’) to complement other chunks and potentially contribute towards a larger qualification.

Microcredentials can be desirable as they reflect self-directed learning, are job-related, and are relatively short so may reduce time away from the workplace. Conceptually, microcredentials provide a practical opportunity for learning that is delivered at a point of need and is flexible and efficient for the learner and organisation.

Australia’s National Microcredentials Framework’s (NMF) definition of a microcredential specifies that a learning activity is to contain a ‘minimum volume of learning of one hour’, and while it may be ‘additional’ to, an ‘alternate’ to, ‘complementary to or a component part of’, it is to be less than an awarded qualification under the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF). The microcredential also certifies that the learning has been assessed.

In order to achieve the NMF’s definition of a microcredential, learning is to contain a clearly stated learning outcome – subject to assurance – be linked to an assessment strategy. Recognising these requirements, Defence should ensure the integrity of the learning and structure is a part of a defined and coherent pathway.

Associated terms

Additional terms that are commonly linked to microcredentials, either as alternate definitions or as assumed equivalents, include digital badges and microlearning. Digital badges are logically tied to online learning and through its contained meta-data can provide a level of authenticity and transparency regarding the conducted and completed learning.

Microcredentials, however, hold associated, but different purposes. Whereas a microcredential reflects an endorsed and conducted learning activity, digital badges may support learning that is more informal. When digital badges reflect the achievement of a microcredential outcome in a digital format, such demonstration is or can be used to highlight the learner’s professional credibility online (inclusive of social media) and promote further learning.

Microlearning is another term that may be associated with microcredentials. The key point of distinction between both terms is that microlearning is the learning activity whereas microcredentials include the accreditation of such learning in line with a formalised framework.

Microlearning have however been identified as holding some limitations in comparison to microcredentials. Largely based upon its greater flexibility, microlearning may have less value in supporting complex skills, knowledge, or behaviours; it may not provide confirmation of learning or provide feedback; and some learning activities may not be effective to satisfy the definition of learning.

Digital badges and microlearning can as a result hold a greater level of relevance to Defence requirements. This is because both have a level of flexibility to support other learning opportunities (non-formal learning) as well as provide the learning through means that may not require an assurance model, or one as detailed.

Can microcredentials provide value to Defence?

The concept of providing learning that is flexible in its delivery and accessibility, specific in nature, delivered in bite-sized chunks, point of need focussed, and can be stacked with other activities potentially provides versatility to how Defence may deliver training and promote learning.

Value may be realised where Defence either ‘unbundles’ qualifications (inclusive of UoCs) that currently exist or engages with a provider that can facilitate this, in accordance with the NMF. Such value, however, would be dependent upon its relevance to capability and ability to provide a return on investment. Its employment should also be based upon sound design principles (i.e. the SADL) and considered for Defence writ large as opposed to isolated efforts.

Adoption of a common understanding of what a microcredential is and is not, will further assist in the identification and development of suitable learning solutions for Defence. Microcredentials will add another approach to learning that is subject to further management and administration for Defence’s learning environment.

While potentially providing a level of flexibility, investment in them may prove excessive to actual requirements or returns. What is apparent, however, is that the value of microcredentials should be recognised as real as opposed to perceived prior to their application.

Note: This article is an abbreviated outline drawn from a more detailed essay. Please contact the author for further information.