Edu Inspirations FME: Will Micro-credentials and Digital Badges Change the Face of Education? | Faculty of Management and Economics at the Gdańsk University of Technology

Page content


Date added: 2024-02-07

Edu Inspirations FME: Will Micro-credentials and Digital Badges Change the Face of Education?

Micro-credentials, also known as micro-credentials, in simple terms, are digital certificates confirming the acquisition of skills, knowledge, or competencies. They are evidence of completing educational forms smaller than, for example, university diplomas, such as e-learning courses, workshops, or trainings. They also allow for quickly showcasing what we know and presenting it in the form of an attractive digital portfolio.

Unlike traditional study programs, which can last for several years, micro-credentials are designed to be shorter and more focused. They provide students with the opportunity to learn from a chosen field in a more flexible way. They can also be arranged into collections and certification paths to build a wider set of skills, and even used as a pathway to higher education.

In 2022, the Council of the European Union adopted a recommendation on the European approach to micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability. Its aim is to implement the idea in institutions and companies in various countries. The EU believes that without common standards ensuring quality, transparency, recognition, and the possibility of transferring credentials, such as the ECTS points, their full potential cannot be fully utilized. Micro-credentials, due to their easily accessible nature, also have the potential to counteract social inequalities. They are, for example, part of the Action Plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights and the communication on establishing a European education area by 2025. Over the past few years, government agencies, academic analytical centers, and international organizations such as UNESCO and the OECD have presented a number of policy positions on micro-credentials. This means that they are being taken seriously and are being introduced into the world of education systematically.

How can their possession be proven? One possibility is to obtain so-called Open Badges, attractively designed badges with encoded and secured information using an international standard. They include, among other things, data on what they were obtained for, who obtained them, and who issued them. The whole is certified with its own digital "fingerprint".

Micro-credentials may also come with certain risks. Currently, there is no universally recognized standard, which can lead to difficulties in comparing and evaluating different certificates. Focusing on obtaining them may also result in neglecting general knowledge, which is essential for a full understanding of a given field. Additionally, an excessive number of badges may lead to market saturation. Another challenge is determining how small they can be. There is, for example, the case of the Relay Graduate School of Education, which offered training in "checking understanding through gestures" (in other words, how to raise your hand in class). There is probably an invisible point at which micro-credentials become so absurdly specialized that they lose their good name and value.

Due to the digital form of credentials, there is also a risk of document forgery and the creation of inauthentic badges, which can negatively affect their credibility. For this reason, many American universities (but not only) implementing micro-credentials are using blockchain technology. How does it work? It is a kind of chain of entries (records) called blocks, which grows as new ones (i.e., read transactions or digital events) are continuously added to it. Each transaction in the ledger must be confirmed by the majority of participants in the system. This means that the community verifies the authenticity of the new information and keeps copies of the blockchain synchronized between all nodes (between all participants in the network) in such a way that everyone agrees on which blockchain to follow. Thus, when a user performs a transaction, it is transmitted encrypted to the entire network, so that everyone in the system receives a notification about it within a few seconds. When they verify the transaction using a process called mining, a new block is added to the blockchain.

Due to its transparency and reliability, this innovative technology has many potential applications. It has been used, for example, in the open-source MIT Blockcerts project, which aims to develop an open standard for micro-credentials. The solution was adapted in an interesting way at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. A multifunctional creator in the form of an application for the study manager was built there. It functions as an online form used to enter details such as the certificate title, description, logo, date of acquisition, and others. These details are then compiled and passed to another module, which generates a certificate for each recipient. At this stage, they are unverifiable. To enable their verification, another module creates a certificate as a string of characters that uniquely identifies and issues it through blockchain from the issuer to the recipient. The certificates are then made publicly available online via a browser, which is used to display and verify them. Ultimately, each of them receives a unique URL address. They are then distributed among interested parties via email by the certifying module, and their recipients can be course students, current or future employers, or other educational institutions.

Micro-credentials and digital badges have the potential to shake up the educational world. They can become competition for long-form education, but also a good complement to it. It is certain that the process of popularizing them in the market will take a long time - first, educational institutions need to be convinced of them, then the students themselves, and also employers who will see their value in them. Unless the initiative is expedited by the legislator by issuing a law requiring their immediate implementation. Then things will move faster than we all think. This topic is definitely worth further monitoring!

The authors of the article are:

 Zdjęcie profilowe:  Alina Guzik MSc Alina Guzik

Zdjęcie profilowe: dr inż. Karol Flisikowski prof. PG, dr hab. Karol Flisikowski

The "Edu Inspirations in E&T" series is a collection of articles discussing modern educational solutions, best practices, effective methodologies, and interesting teaching tools.