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The nontraditional learner is transitioning to the “new traditional learner” as undergraduate degrees are no longer sufficient for a career. With technological advancements and AI, these learners focus on acquiring a compact, curated skill set. Microcredentials are emerging to validate lifelong educational journeys, while higher education can serve as an incubator and early adopter.
So, What are Microcredentials?
Micro-credentials, or micro qualifications and micro certifications, are brief, laser-focused certifications that attest to a person’s proficiency in a particular area of expertise. Micro-credentials are unique in that they are meant to be obtained quickly and are brief.
In response to the shifting demands of diverse industries, those seeking to reskill or upskill can find these bite-sized learning opportunities to be a compelling substitute for a full college degree program.
Do Employers Value Microcredentials?
Some employers are more attracted to applicants with bachelor’s degrees. In contrast, others holistically assess their applicants, evaluating their skills and what they can contribute to the company in the long run.
Employers will value and recognize you more if you possess skills and initiatives applicable to the field that will help them grow. Micro-credentials, though short and quick, can be powerful tools to enhance your professional profile and demonstrate your commitment to ongoing learning.
Acquiring valuable skills not only makes you a competitive candidate but also addresses the gap between the skills graduates possess and the ones employers seek. According to Sean Gallagher, the founder of Northeastern University’s Centre for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, the expanding global presence of technology underscores the noticeable disparity between the workforce’s skill supply from universities and the specific skill sets employers need.
As long as you can demonstrate your experience, dedication, training, and, ideally, substantial effort in a specific skill set, you can unlock various job prospects in your particular job market.
The Relevance of Microcredentials in Higher Education
Micro-credentials are not a new concept in higher education. In fact, 60% of US colleges and universities are offering or are considering offering microcredentials for working professionals, whether they’re enrolled in a degree program at the university or not.
Moreover, 42% of colleges and universities with microcredentials want to expand their offerings to encourage more students to continue their education. Among the most popular microcredentials include electrical, plumbing, and auto repair—commonly offered by vocational schools for decades.
The main reason two- and four-year colleges started offering microcredentials is to cater to the unique needs of adult learners. These programs are designed to provide industry-specific knowledge and abilities without the need for long-term commitment to expensive degree programs.
This approach not only saves adult learners from the burden of student debts but also aligns seamlessly with the schedules of nontraditional students who have limited time for education. Many are already engaged in full-time employment or have familial responsibilities, making it crucial for them to translate their learning into tangible earnings swiftly.
Microcredentials also serve as a valuable stepping stone to an industry. Some students who initially pursue microcredentials find themselves inspired to delve deeper into the field, eventually enrolling in full degree programs for a more comprehensive understanding.
With online education gaining much attention and growing rapidly, people are wondering if these programs are as good as the education you get at traditional colleges. Some worry that microcredentials, which are short and self-directed, might make cheating more common. However, many students think micro-credentials are just as good as regular college courses.
Another common query about microcredentials is whether they will replace the unique and immersive experiences you get from traditional college life on campus.
According to Northeastern University’s founder and executive director, these programs are more of a supplement than a complete replacement. In short, microcredentials will never replace traditional higher education.
What Are the Advantages of Microcredentials?
Microcredentials offer several advantages. For one, working professionals can pursue microcredentials focused on their specific goals and intestines. These credentials facilitate a quick understanding of new concepts for prompt application. This adaptability makes microcredentials an appealing choice for timely and applicable skill development.
Moreover, microcredentials are designed to be stackable. Individuals can seamlessly build upon their existing knowledge and expertise by acquiring multiple credentials over time. Microcredentials, strategically chosen and accumulated, foster a dynamic, adaptable skill set, promoting a lifelong learning mindset and professional development beyond initial educational milestones.
The targeted nature of microcredentials ensures alignment with market demands and emerging trends, significantly enhancing employability for students and professionals alike. Moreover, the agility of microcredentials enables quick adaptation to evolving market demands, positioning individuals as valuable assets in a competitive job market.
Are There Disadvantages of Microcredentials?
As with other things in life, microcredentials have their share of disadvantages. You must know these drawbacks to make informed decisions about their suitability for your educational and career goals.
#1 Not all employers will recognize it.
One of their main drawbacks is that microcredentials are not yet as widely recognized as a standard college degree. Many businesses are unaware of microcredentials, even though certain employers could be and regard them just as highly as they would a traditional two- to four-year degree. In some instances, this reluctance may prevent those who mostly rely on microcredentials as proof of their abilities and subject-matter expertise from finding employment.
#2 Not all microcredentials follow industry standards.
With many options on the market, it can be hard to determine which courses are reliable, respectable, and capable of giving students a top-notch education. Certain micro-credentialing schemes might not provide meaningful examinations, or they might provide courses taught by underqualified teachers. These programs’ accrediting requirements differ from those for degrees from respectable universities.
On a brighter note, numerous esteemed universities, including renowned institutions like MIT, Boston, and UC San Diego, are beginning to broaden their microcredential portfolios. If these universities don’t have the microcredentials you’re looking for, there are other institutions to consider. However, it’s crucial to thoroughly assess the institution’s reputation first before enrolling.
#3 Some microcredentials have hidden costs.
Many students enroll in microcredentials instead of a degree program to save money since a lot of microcredentials are marketed as less expensive alternatives to more conventional degree programs. However, for some microcredentials, there will be hidden costs. And since employers set particular expectations for a position, students may be required to obtain numerous micro-credentials. If you add it all up, it can be just as expensive as obtaining a degree.
Before pursuing a micro-credential, be sure you understand the costs associated with the courses. Sometimes, you can ask for financial assistance from your current employer to help you finance your micro-credentialing journey. Other universities extend financial aid to working professionals as well.
Reliable Platforms for Microcredentials
Udemy Micro Courses are quick online classes that teach students new information or abilities in a certain field. The courses, which can be taken to augment a standard degree program or for professional development, are taught by professionals in the field.
Udacity Nanodegrees are online programs that provide learners with practical, industry-specific skills. The courses are taught by experts in their field and are designed to apply to real-world scenarios. Learners can earn a Nanodegree upon completion of the program, which can be used for professional development or to supplement a traditional degree.
Coursera Specializations offer comprehensive, high-quality courses partnered with top universities and industry experts, earning learners certificates of completion for each course and specialization program.
edX MicroMasters offers online master ‘s-level courses designed by top universities and recognized by institutions, and graduates can earn a MicroMasters credential, which can also be used for professional development or supplementing traditional degrees.
Coursera MasterTrack Certificates offer a flexible, affordable, and recognized professional credential program taught by top universities, with each course granting a completion certificate.
The Microsoft Professional Program equips students with crucial data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity skills, preparing them for a technology career in recognized higher education institutions.
An extensive selection of Salesforce skills courses is available to users of the online learning platform Salesforce Trailhead. The platform is user-friendly, and the courses are interactive. Numerous higher education institutions accept microcredentials obtained from Trailhead, which can be added to a standard degree or utilized for professional growth.
Through the IBM Skills Academy platform, learners can gain proficiency in cutting-edge technologies like blockchain, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. The course is intended to educate students for careers in technology and is recognized and accredited by numerous higher education institutions.
With the help of Google Career Certificates, students can acquire employable skills in fast-growing industries like project management, data analytics, and IT support. The credentials are intended to prepare students for careers in technology and are accepted by many postsecondary educational institutions.
Learners can choose from many courses in software development, IT operations, and creative industries on the Pluralsight Skills platform. The platform offers top-notch courses that several higher education institutions accept by collaborating with notable authorities in each discipline. Upon program completion, learners can receive a certificate of completion for each course and a Skill IQ.
As mentioned, you can also pursue microcredentials in reputable US colleges and universities focused on innovative learning. Here’s a short list of colleges and universities with their microcredential offerings.
- University of Michigan
- University of California, Irvine
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Purdue University
- Georgia Institute of Technology
How Do I Earn a Microcredential?
Micro-credentials resemble college degrees or certificates in certain aspects. Similar to college degrees, there are numerous varieties of micro-credentials and a wide range of requirements for each. But you should consider your options carefully if you’re spending thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education.
Consider your goals.
To research microcredentials, create a list of goals and understand them in each program’s curriculum. Consider your preferred learning style, whether in-person or online, and the speed of earning your credential. Contact the program coordinator for options and determine if synchronous or asynchronous delivery is best for you.
Choose the right program.
Quick, self-paced online courses abound, but they’re not all made equal. You can anticipate receiving guidance from reputable instructors and extra assistance from the university if, for example, your program of choice is administered by an accredited nonprofit organization. Respectable professional associations might also provide workshops or courses that lead to microcredentials.
Research micro credential programs read past student reviews and LinkedIn messages, and consider conversations with professionals with badges to choose a provider and program.
Display your badge.
After completing your chosen course successfully, the following step is to create an account on other websites, such Credly. Credly is a company that specializes in digital badges, which are a modern way for professionals to demonstrate and certify their talents. The badge can be incorporated into your email signature or embedded on your website, showcasing your proficiency and enhancing your online presence.
Place your digital badge strategically to celebrate achievements and enhance your professional image. It’s a symbol of expertise that travels across platforms, leaving a lasting impression on colleagues and clients.