Micro-credentials – measuring the value of soft skills

Non-formal learning has complemented vocational and higher education study for many decades, from on-going professional training such as Continuing Professional Development (CPD), to in-house workplace training. But as the number of online short courses, including ‘massive open online courses’ (MOOCs) and intensive face-to-face ‘bootcamps’, have grown exponentially over the past few years, a new term has emerged: the micro-credential.

Technology has rapidly evolved to make scalable, tailored online courses and assessments possible. At the same time, technology is changing the way we work – creating a growing need for upskilling and re-skilling. As a wider range of jobs are automated, ‘soft skills’ such as critical thinking, creativity and collaboration become as important as technical skills.[1]

The result is a perpetual cycle of demand for opportunities to continually learn and adapt. But in meeting this demand, are micro-credentials adding real value? How do we define them, and how can we ensure they have value and are recognised and transferable across different industries and global borders?

What is a micro-credential?

In her recent paper Making micro-credentials work for learners, employers and providers, Deakin University’s Emeritus Professor Beverley Oliver defined micro-credentials as ‘a certification of assessed learning that is less than a formal qualification’.[2]

This assessed learning may be an alternative to or component of a formal qualification, or it may be supplementary to a traditional qualification. The important word here is ‘assessed’. There are many ways to participate in informal learning, but it is the assessment that leads to the credential.

In practical terms, this definition could include nano-degrees, bootcamps, MOOCs or intensive short onsite or online courses – as long as the learning is validated through assessment. Some micro-credentials may in turn become credit-bearing if they are aligned with a specific qualification. Others may provide the learner with a digital badge, licence or certification.

Piloting micro-credentials

This year, Navitas Professional worked with workplace learning and recognition specialists DeakinCo to embed its micro-credentials into a number of Navitas Professional current course offerings. We have also worked with the joint accounting bodies to pilot a ‘Communication’ micro-credential in the Accounting Professional Year Program (PYP) and expect this initiative to be formalised across the Accounting PYP in 2020.

The PYP is a job-readiness program approved by the Department of Home Affairs available to overseas students who have obtained an eligible Australian university qualification and is designed to bridge the gap between full-time study and professional employment in Australia.

The DeakinCo micro-credential adds further value to the Accounting Professional Year Program by recognising the employability skills developed during the PYP, including the internship.

We have also worked with the Australian Marketing Institute to embed DeakinCo’s ‘Self –Management’ micro-credential into the Marketing Career Advancement Program (MCAP) delivered by Navitas Professional to marketing graduates to ensure the skills they acquire in their work placements are formally recognised by industry.

Micro-credentials acknowledge skills which can be transferred across different industries over the course of an individual’s career and as such offer great value to industry and professional associations.

Prioritising recognition

Recently, the Navitas Ventures team analysed over 60,000 news sources and 300,000 blogs around the world using Quid’s natural language platform to see how prevalent micro-credentials have become. It found increasing interest in micro-credentials over the last five years, particularly branded micro-credentials that align with recognised academic or platform partners.

While this interest was dominated by coverage in the US, India is also increasingly reporting on micro-credentials from platforms such as Udacity, Coursera and Edx MicroMasters.

By late 2018, there were reports that MOOC student enrolments had reached over 100 million.[3] However, the number of students commencing these programs appears to be far greater than the number who actually complete them.[4] And this may indicate a shift in perception of value amongst learners: will this be worth my time and money?

As a result, a second-wave of MOOCs is seeing credit-bearing components within an academic qualification – essentially becoming stackable units towards formal study.

But we will still need other types of micro-credentials to address broader challenges for learners:

  • How can I ensure my prior learning is recognised by future employers and education providers?
  • How can I upskill or extend my knowledge, without taking three years out to complete a degree?
  • Can lifelong learning become more accessible and affordable?

National approaches to micro-credentials  

Around the world, innovative initiatives are being explored and piloted. EY’s inhouse apprenticeship program in the UK is one successful initiative, with a micro-credential-style targeted skills development program leading to greater workplace performance.

In the US, Sweden and France, there are national strategies in place to recognise the prior learning and experiences of mature students, while in Korea, China and Singapore digital platforms allow citizens to log their lifelong learning credentials.[5]

In Australia, the current review of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) is considering the role of micro-credentials in Australia’s formal credential architecture. It is understood that current thinking supports the role of micro-credentials in the broader Australian education landscape, but to minimise complexity, the mechanism for prior learning recognition – the AQF Qualifications Pathways Policy – needs to be elevated and reinvigorated. Navitas recommends a reform of the AQF so that it clearly defines a method for recognising shorter form credentials and transferable skills that are increasingly being demanded by students and employers.

Navitas advocated for this approach in our submission on the review of the AQF, recognising the valuable role shorter form credentials play in supporting learners and employees to develop new capabilities and transferable skills to enhance employability. We believe micro-credentials can provide learners with a cost-effective, flexible way to re-engage in study and respond to a specific workforce need, augmenting existing qualifications and helping to meet critical skills gaps.

Governments across the world will need to coordinate as they formalise their own policies. Likewise, education providers, industry bodies and employers will need to work together to clarify the role micro-credentials will inevitably play as the 21st century education model continues to evolve.


[1] Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce, McKinsey Global Institute, May 2018

[2] Making micro-credentials work for learners, employers and providers, Emeritus Professor Beverley Oliver, Deakin University, August 2019

[3] By The Numbers: MOOCs in 2018, Shah, D. Class Central December 11 2018

[4] The MOOC pivot: What happened to disruptive transformation of education?, Reich, J. & Ruipérez-Valiente, J. A. (2019) Science

[5] Making micro-credentials work for learners, employers and providers, Emeritus Professor Beverley Oliver, Deakin University, August 2019

About The Author

Lynette Harris is the Director of Navitas Professional, part of Government Services and Employment in the Careers & Industry Division. Since joining Navitas in 2014, Lynette has expanded Navitas Professional operations from five to eight locations across Australia and diversified program offerings to include a range of work integrated learning partnerships and tailored career preparation and employment programs. Lynette has over 25+ years’ experience in the international education sector with extensive experience in the leadership and management of multi-sector operations including tertiary and employment pathways, academic and ELICOS programs, IELTS testing, vocational and government programs and offshore program delivery. Lynette holds a Masters of Educational Leadership (University of Wollongong), a Diploma of TESOL (University of New South Wales) and has undertaken professional development programs through the Australian Institute of Company Directors and Colombia University Business School and was a Director on the English Australia Board 2010-2013.

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