The Rise of Microcredentials

National
Posted By Eliana Osborn on September 10, 2015 at 9:54 am
The Rise of Microcredentials

Already have a job working as a teacher, but want to move into technology when a position opens?  You may consider getting a certificate in networking or programming.  These microcredentials, most common in the business world, have traditionally been outside the purview of colleges and universities.  Now, that may be starting to change.

A new project called the University Learning Store is jumping into the credential game.  Seven universities are involved, including the University of Wisconsin Extension, which plays a leading role.  An online service, the Learning Store will function like any big store, allowing people to choose among many different microcredentials and certificate programs.

The goal is to create an “alternative credentialing process that would provide students with credentials that are much shorter and cheaper than conventional degrees,” said David Schejbal, dean of continuing education, outreach and e-learning at Wisconsin Extension, in an interview with Inside Higher Ed.

Some classes will have traditional modules or units like any other online class, led by an instructor.  Others will allow students to test first to see what skills they’ve already mastered.  Students will be able to choose content from multiple universities instead of just one, allowing a custom experience.

Some credentials will focus on those just entering the job market, while others will be more suitable to those who have been in the workforce for a while.  Business and technology subjects will be available, as well as more diverse topics like customer service and agriculture.  For employees looking to build up their resumes or increase their worth to their employers, adding credentials is a smart move.

Some massive open online courses (MOOCs) already offer credentialing programs.  The Learning Store microcredentials will be short-term, demand-based, and similar to nano-degree programs available elsewhere.

Today, few people start a job straight out of college and stick with it until retirement.  Being able to add skills without the financial or time constraints of a full degree program is valuable for many employees.  And for businesses, hiring someone with added credentials in specific skill sets can mean less on-the-job training and better-suited candidates.

Current plans for the University Learning Store are for credentials to be reasonably priced and more accessible.  The programs will not be eligible for federal student aid dollars.  As planning is still in the early stages, no one yet knows if these credentials will also carry traditional college credits.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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