Higher Education 4.0: Exploring Big Questions to Shape the Future

What is your vision of Higher Education by the year 2030? What are the big questions we need to be thinking about in shaping the post-pandemic world for Higher Education? What are the major challenges and opportunities facing universities over the next decade? Who will get to shape the future environment and whose voice is missing from efforts to reimagine Higher Education in response to Industry 4.0?

Our new online masterclass starting on March 8th explores these questions and more. In Higher Education 4:0: Certifying Your Future we take a closer look at the future skills agenda, the rise and the rise of the micro-credentialing movement, and how we can harness new pedagogies for new times.

The masterclass offered over 3-weeks through the FutureLearn platform begins by establishing why universities and other educational stakeholders need to engage with the future skills agenda.

We explore the future of work along with the increasing focus on transversal skills, and in doing so attempt to answer a number of key questions: 

  • What are future skills?
  • Why are they important?
  • How can they be measured? 
World Economic Forum, 2020

In Week 2, we look at the new possibilities and challenges micro-credentials offer for certifying the future.

This rapidly evolving approach to accredited learning and continuing professional development has the potential to redefine Higher Education and the traditional credential ecology, which arguably is a legacy of the 20th Century that may no longer be fit for purpose.

We will explore a number of the different micro-credentialing initiatives around the globe profiled in the Micro-Credential Observatory, including a recent ECIU white paper and the European Commission’s groundbreaking work in this area, and in doing so try to answer several key questions:

  • What are micro-credentials? 
  • Why the growing focus on them?
  • Are they just another passing educational fad?
European Commission, 2020

In Week 3, we explore how the future skills agenda and micro-credentialing movement may be able to support new authentic forms of pedagogy that help to develop more active citizens, lifelong learners, and innovative work-ready graduates. More specifically, we discuss the value and transformative potential of new approaches such as Sprints, Hackathons and Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) and how they can be intentionally designed to harness the pedagogical affordances of new digital technologies. We will share a number of case studies, including how CBL is being adopted by the new ECIU University as a “signature pedagogy” to support more impactful and real-life learning; and in doing so endeavour to answer a number of key questions: 

  • What are authentic pedagogies?
  • What do we already know about learning?
  • How will Higher Education 4.0 impact future pedagogy?

We have been told for over a decade that today’s universities and colleges are at risk of preparing a new generation of students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using old fashioned teaching methods, and out of date technologies.

This free online masterclass, supported by and developed under the umbrella of the new ECIU University initiative, gives you the opportunity to debunk, challenge and/or add your own perspective to some of the current debates about the future of Higher Education.

We hope to raise your critical awareness of major change forces influencing the future, and provide useful examples of how different institutions and/or organisations are responding to the new global Higher Education environment. Participants can engage in a number of ways. Some people may wish to work through each topic on their own at their own pace, or alternatively as part of a group of educators from their own institution. Keep in mind that FutureLearn is a social learning platform and so the masterclass is designed to promote your active participation.

Our NIDL team at Dublin City University (DCU) will be facilitating your learning over the 3-weeks but we don’t have all the answers. Accordingly, the masterclass endeavours to be highly interactive throughout each week as we “open the floor” to your contributions.

We hope you can carve out some time in your busy calendar in March to contribute to Higher Education 4.0 as we discuss some of these big issues. You can learn more about the topics we cover and register for the masterclass on the FutureLearn website. We hope to see many of you online!

All Roads Leading to Micro-credentials: Latest ECIU University White Paper

Last week we were pleased to launch a new ECIU University white paper on the rapidly evolving micro-credential movement. This paper, Paving the Road for the Micro-credential Movement’, follows close on the heels of a much anticipated report presenting a European approach to micro-credentials with a related roadmap published in December (Commission Consultation, 2020). A major contribution of this report is a common European definition and language for micro-credentials to address what is acknowledged as a global barrier to wider uptake. 

Video of Launch Event

In April 2020, ECIU University published its first white paper on this topic which identified a number of guiding principles and emphasised the point that micro-credentials should be in the service of big ideas rather than being the big idea itself.

The latest white paper illustrates how the new ECIU University is one of these big ideas with its focus on developing an exciting new co-creation learning ecosystem that connects learners for life.

Micro-credentials are core to the 2030 Vision and concept of developing smart new learning pathways for learners across the ECIU University partners. An implementation roadmap with defined actions across a number of building blocks is also presented in the white paper.

The launch event anchored growing worldwide interest in micro-credentials in a number of competing and consisting drivers, including a trend which is emphasising skills over degrees and the need to urgently address an increasing skills gap due to ongoing digital disruption and the changing nature of work. A focus on developing and recognising transversal skills was also noted along with the global impact of MOOCs. 

While Neoliberal critiques of the movement were noted the role of different interest groups with competing agenda was claimed to be precisely the reason why educators need to be in the driving seat. After all, one of the most important underlying drivers of the micro-credentialing movement is the need to develop new flexible pathways to address current low rates of life-long learning across Europe. Such pathways may be able to better support the pillars of life-long learning:

  • Learning to be
  • Learning to know
  • Learning to do;
  • Learning to live together
  • Learning to transform

Moreover, the development of micro-credentials can potentially support more agile responses to new and emerging developments and growth areas, such as the European Green Deal and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Over 300 participants from Europe, and beyond, participated in the virtual launch event, which included presentations from Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of the Unit in charge of Higher Education Policies and Programme at the European Commission. Anthony Camilleri, Director at Knowledge Innovation Centre, Dr Henri Pirkkalainen from Tampere University and Professor Mark Brown. 

In his keynote presentation, Mark shared news of a new online course, “Higher Education 4.0 – Certifying your Future” available later in February through the FutureLearn platform. This course, developed by a NIDL team to support the ECIU University initiative, explores the new skills agenda, the emergence of the micro-credentialing movement and new authentic pedagogies for new times. The course also draws on findings of a National Irish Survey on Micro-credentials that will be published shortly.

This forthcoming report and the latest ECIU University white paper can be found on the NIDL’s Micro-credential Observatory that is regularly updated to provide a comprehensive collection of policy and research initiatives in this burgeoning area.