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Micro-Credentials : Building Blocks for 21st Century Digital Education

Blockchain-based Digital Badges will provide a foundation for better connecting employers with learners.

A key foundation for Scotland’s future digital economy and education policies and infrastructure are Digital Badge ‘Micro-credentials’.

As FutureLearn describes a Micro-credential is a “Certification of learning that can accumulate into a larger credential or degree, be part of a portfolio that demonstrates individuals’ proof of learning, or have a value in itself.”

They are offered by Education providers like the Open University and Glasgow University among many others.

Route to Work Pathways

They are especially potent due to their modular nature making them ideal for utilizing them to define a series of steps that constitute and lead to specific job roles. A great example of this is the PMI offering micro-credentials.

The QAA offers this detailed definition, highlighting:

“Micro-credentials have a key role to play in upskilling and re-skilling the workforce as short, credit-bearing courses that support a learner-led engagement in higher education which could be spread over many years.

Micro-credentials would not normally constitute an award in their own right, but they have standalone value and could also contribute to a recognised qualification. They also widen access to learners who might not have considered a more traditional approach to achieving a qualification, as well as potentially assisting with meeting skills needs for employers and learners.”

Critically:

“While higher education providers have a long history of running short courses, micro-credentials are closely aligned with employability and also offer more structured opportunities for progression which brings new challenges.”

The BCS describes this as the future of professional development, with many organizations like Siemens using them this way. The Scottish Social Services Council using them to underpin workforce learning.

Writing for the RSA Jillian Linton provides a great overview of how badges can help jobseekers stand out from the crowd. This Lincs report examines how they are ideal for supporting adult learners, with both combined highlighting how they offer great potential for helping those experiencing difficulty with getting back into the workforce.

Digital Badges

Highlighting the enabling role of technology micro-credentials can be implemented and represented through ‘Digital Badges‘. These can enable gamified learning models through to providing a complete framework for a common, industry-wide credential recognition system.

As the Racoon Gang describe they provide a modular approach for rewarding achievements and encouraging motivation.

“With digital badges you don’t have to depend solely on exams and other conventional assessment methods. The badges can be associated with everything, including class participation, information retention, attentiveness, positive behavior, etc.”

In his article the Power of Digital Badges David Niguidula explains how they can be utilized to define learning pathways, steps of progress required to achieve the badge.

These journeys are often described as “quests”, highlighting the sense of adventurous fun and reward they offer students.

Digital Nation Infrastructure

Implementing this type of technology further highlights the fact this would form one component part of a common national infrastructure, calling upon technologies such as the Blockchain and Digital Identity, which would also be used for other industry requirements.

The building block of how these are work are an aspect of Digital Identity technologies, notably the sharing of ‘Verifiable Credentials‘, the mechanism for different digital services to recognize those login details provided by another, and ‘Blockcerts‘ is an open source blockchain project for enabling a Universal Verifier that will verify any digital certificate issued by any institution, anywhere in the world.

Students will be able to store their Digital Badges in their own digital wallets. In his Medium blog Timothy Ruff provides an excellent, detailed summary of this interconnected ecosystem will begin to take shape and the role these wallets will play, functioning as a ‘Learner Wallet‘.

He explains how:

  • Organizations like the T3 Innovation Network, within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are developing Learning and Employment Records, powered by the same VC standards and technologies that enable self-sovereign student ID, with the same issue, hold, verify model to/from an SSI wallet, which they call a “learner wallet” for simplicity.
  • This will help reduce and eliminate student fraud. Once organizations realize they can receive cryptographic proof directly from the student, they can lessen their reliance on passwords, social security numbers, and other personal information.

Conclusion

This strategy offers Scotland multiple levels of accelerating economic benefit, most notably:

  • An improved approach for explicitly linking the skills requirements of employers to available skills programs and academic courses.
  • Advancing a common digital economy infrastructure that will service multiple use cases including this one.

Action Plan

digitalscotland

Editor of DigitalScot.net. On a mission to build a world leading Scottish digital nation.

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