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. 

A Digital Edge: Week 2 Reflections – Learners Better Prepared to Thrive Learning Online

We wrapped up Week 2 of A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner at the end of last week. By the end of the week almost 5,000 learners from across the globe had registered to enhance their online skills set against a wider context of life skills and the LifeComp Framework as colleges and universities explore the potential of online, hybrid and blended models of teaching and learning.

A Digital Edge: Life Skills Framework

After a strong start in the first week, in which learners reflected on their experience and noted a shift in their feelings towards online learning from “anxious” to “confident”, the second week continued the steady growth in the level of interest and engagement. As a socially-focused course, it was rewarding to see comment sections brimming with observations, experiences and advice from people as they progressed through the week’s “Ways of Thinking” and “Ways of Working” sections.

While the first week focused on starting with the right mindset and laying down foundational principles for learning online, Week 2 shifted the focus to some more practical aspects with “Tools for Working” and “Tools for Thriving”. Kicking off with a quiz on “What are you concerned about?” to help our team of facilitators to better understand the needs and concerns of learners, Week 2 then moved ahead to address some of those challenges in “Tools for Working”. This included handling issues around getting connected, avoiding the “shiny new toy” syndrome to get organised, creating plans and to-do lists, accessing appropriate tools for different activities, and getting into the habit of backing up data.

“Tools for Thriving”, the last section of the course, had a mix of articles, videos, polls and student advice that all stressed the importance of digital well-being and social interaction. The step “Think, Reflect, Think!” introduced the idea of becoming a ‘thriving’ citizen by honing one’s critical thinking skills and civic engagement with an open mind. Spotting fake news and avoiding its spread was highlighted in the ‘Beware!’ section, which sparked a lively discussion in the comments section.

As the course comes to an end, a poll under the step ‘A Worry Shared’ was conducted to determine which aspects of online learning people were most concerned about. Here are the results of this poll so far…

Which of the following aspects of online learning are you most concerned about?

Almost half of the learners (43%) said they were most concerned about staying focused and self-motivated. The next highest group, a little over one in four learners (27%) said they were concerned about the lack of social interaction. Organising group work/study sessions and limited access to lecturers/tutors were the next highest concerns, followed by lecturers’ experience in online teaching.

Notably, 6% of course participants said they were concerned about internet speed/availability and 2% about access to computers/technology, reflecting the need for institutions and governments across the world to upgrade their internet infrastructure for the benefit of higher education in the ‘new normal’.

It was good to see that learners embraced the message of the need to collaborate with others and support fellow learners. Here’s a good example of learners participating in the course already starting to help out each other in their online learning journey…

After an Orientation Week webinar with students at Dublin City University (DCU) taking the course, it is pleasing to see that over 700 have already completed the course and uploaded their FutureLearn Certificate onto their MyDCU portal. The level of uptake at DCU demonstrates the value of this type of course when it is fully embedded like this as part of the student welcome and orientation experience. We were also pleased that DCU’s President, Professor Daire Keogh has a final video at the end of the course to wish everyone all the best for their online study over the remainder of the year, and beyond.

Overall, the general feedback on the course in the final section was overwhelmingly positive. Most learners appreciated the social nature of the course, the reflections at the end of each step, and the ability to learn from other learners’ advice. This was a key aspect of the course design. Most of all, they found comfort in finding a community of learners who felt like they were in this together: journeying from ‘anxious’ to ‘confident’, ‘concerned’ to ‘excited’.

As Christiaan said…

This course really brought it home to me that we’re all in the same boat! That really helps with any anxieties I may have as I approach the start of term. There was an article earlier in the course about the humanity of the student, I really liked that. Be vulnerable, there’s great capacity for development when you move to that space which lies outside your comfort zone.

In a similar vein, Grainne P wrote…

I’ve definitely learned a lot from this course and I really enjoyed it too. I’ve learned about different tools that I will use to thrive in my new online learning environment. I’ve discovered areas that I need to work on and I’ve gotten a clearer insight into how I learn. I’ve learned about the importance of being organized, having a good balance in life and of taking time off. I learned about how active citizenship interlinks with becoming a student. The digital tools and skills that I have learned about have prepared me for online learning and the year ahead now seems less daunting. Thank you.

And Deidre C shared her course reflections including several valuable takeaways…

This course really helped me. It was interesting, interactive, and informative. It helped me to reflect and learn. I really liked the discussion forums at the end of each article as they made me realise that I share many of my feelings with others who are in the same position as me so I am not alone. The forums also allowed me to learn from others. My top 3 takeaways are:

1. Don’t be shy and engage with others on Zoom and other online learning platforms

2. Develop a good routine and stick to it – manage my time effectively, don’t leave things until the last minute

3. Keep up with my study but take regular breaks and know when to switch off as this is so important for my well being

What’s next?

The course is still open for learners to complete. However, this week any late comers and those people still finishing the course won’t receive as many personal replies and comments from our team of facilitators. At this stage, we would like to thank our team of DCU Student Ambassadors, in particular, for their comments and valuable contributions to the course over the past few weeks. And keep in mind that the comments already posted under each step from both learners and our facilitators remain a valuable resource and serve to illustrate how online learning can be a socially interactive and critically reflective experience when you choose to engage. We also encourage participants to provide feedback on the course in the end survey, and elsewhere, as this feedback will be used by the team in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) at DCU to help enhance the next course offering. We anticipate a revised version of the course will be available again in January 2021.