What Are Micro-Credentials and How Are They Used?

Jasmine Quigley
June 5, 2023
Estimated read time: 5 minutes
Table of Contents

Micro-credentials, also known as nanodegrees, are bitesize chunks of knowledge studied within a short time frame. This article helps users to understand what micro-credentials are, how they are used, and how micro-credentials benefit learners and issuers.

What is a micro-credential?

Micro-credentials are a framework for delivering competency-based qualifications that are shorter than a comprehensive certification. They enable learners to demonstrate their knowledge and gain skills in a specific topic, leading to a digital badge or digital certificate award. 

An image showing how micro-credentials can lead into one another or branch off into alternative learning options
Example of a Micro-Credential Ecosystem

Micro-credentials are a type of modular learning, giving learners the flexibility to build a professional development portfolio that is unique to their needs. They support the learning experience by being:

  • Fast
  • Accessible
  • Reputable
  • Specialized
  • Global
  • Competitively Priced

Micro-credentials aren’t limited to higher education use. SaaS providers offer micro-credentials in product proficiency, professionals gain micro-credentials through continuing education, and non-profits provide micro-credential learning opportunities to their members. 

The goal of micro-credentials is to allow individuals to gain new skills on-demand, without the need to commit to long-term or expensive education. Whether researching a topic during a coffee-break or watching a lecture over dinner, micro-credentials exist to help learners fill the gaps in their skill set in a way that is flexible and accessible. 

How do micro-credentials work?

The demand for up-to-date knowledge within the workforce is growing. Employers are switching to skills-based hiring, placing a greater importance on the specific skills an individual holds. In contrast, professionals are struggling with a lack of time and budget available to pursue online courses and embrace lifelong learning. 

Enter micro-credentials. 

Micro-credentials enable learners to make efficient use of their time to expand their skill set and increase their employability. 

Micro-credentials support professionals by making digital credentials accessible as manageable modules of knowledge. The short courses are often undertaken online, rather than in-person and usually last days or weeks, rather than the years required for a full degree. 

Take Sam for example, he’s been in his role for a while but would like to advance professionally. He has experience with Microsoft Excel but has little to show for his knowledge. By taking a micro-credential focused on Excel, he can:

  • Easily train around his work-life balance
  • Show proof of his knowledge
  • Achieve a verifiable skill within a few weeks

Not only has Sam shown initiative to his employer, he’s gained some additional knowledge along the way. In addition to winning the promotion, Sam feels empowered to further his learning with additional micro-credentials. 

What are stackable micro-credentials?

Stackable micro-credentials are bitesize courses that can be combined to cover a topic in advancing detail. Just like a box of lego bricks can be used to create many different models; stackable micro-credentials can be combined in a variety of ways to create a personal portfolio of knowledge. 

A visual example of stacked micro-credentials that increase in complexity
Stacked Micro-Credentials Example

Read more about stackable credentials in our article on What Are Stacked Credentials? 

What are the benefits of micro-credentials for issuers?

With employers focusing on the skills held by candidates, credential issuers have an excellent opportunity to help fill the skill gaps in the job market. Issuers that offer micro-credentials to achieve this, benefit from program growth, better retention, and increased learner satisfaction.

Program Growth

Issuers that offer micro-credentials attract learners through affordable, flexible learning opportunities. Individuals seek specific skills to support their broader degree programs and help them stand out in the job market. Issuers providing micro-credentials meet this need and by targeting this audience, benefit from driving their course uptake. 

Issuers also have an opportunity to partner with organizations to enable a tailored approach to learning. This creates a learning pipeline that benefits both the issuer and the partnered organization. The issuer gains a steady stream of learners, while the organization utilizes this as part of their strategy to attract and retain top talent by delivering employee growth opportunities.

Learner Retention

Retaining learners and motivating them towards course completion requires issuers to create engaging programs. Micro-credentials help to retain and engage learners by allowing them to gain skills and knowledge around their work-life balance. Once they have earned a micro-credential, they better understand its value and are more likely to return and upskill through additional micro-credentials.

Micro-credentials also contribute towards employee retention. Organizations that implement micro-credential programs to support professional learning show they are satisfying the need for employee advancement. By supporting their employees in this way, organizations see less turnover and improve their overall efficiency and effectiveness.

What are the benefits of micro-credentials for employers?

Employers that utilize micro-credentials, either through internally created programs or through partnerships with credentialing organizations, benefit in a number of ways:

  • They increase the benefits to their staff which in turn boosts retention and referral
  • They boost the appeal of working for the organization and the ability to attract talent
  • They improve the ability to track and fill skill gaps across their departments
  • Staff feel more engaged with the organization and that their development is important
  • It becomes easier to move staff upwards or laterally depending on their ability and career track

By offering digital micro-credential awards such as digital badges, employers also have an opportunity to increase the awareness of their employee benefits. Digital badges are shared to social media in celebration, added to LinkedIn profiles, and uploaded to digital wallet cards on smartphones. Each time the micro-credential award is engaged with and shared, the visibility of the award increases, alongside the branding of the award and the details of how it was earned. 

How do micro-credentials differ from digital badges and digital certificates?

Individuals that earn micro-credentials are commonly issued with a digital credential award. Digital credentials is the umbrella term given to digital open badges and digital certificates. They are verifiable, shareable, portable awards that are issued to recipients once they meet a set of given criteria such as passing an exam, completing a module, or signing up as a member. Digital credentials enable recipients to share their award to their social media networks, add them to their LinkedIn profile, or embed them in their email signature. 

Each digital credential contains all the necessary information of the award including:

  • The issuer details
  • Who earned the credential
  • How they credential was earned
  • How it relates to other micro-credentials within a series
  • Where users can go to sign up for the credential
  • Demonstrable skills added as skill tags
  • Accompanying evidence such as transcripts, modules results, and dissertation scores
  • Any earning criteria that made the recipient eligible for the credential
A diagram showing the different sections and areas of detail included on a dedicated digital credential page
Breakdown of the contextual data included on a dedicated digital credential page

This contextual data is necessary for communicating the value of the credential. It helps third-parties understand what level of knowledge or skill the recipient can demonstrate in the given subject matter. As individuals gain more micro-credentials, they build a personal portfolio of development that they can take between roles or jobs and showcase their competencies. 

Issuers or organizations that utilize digital credentials for their micro-credentials modernize their awards. They benefit from a number of features that aren’t available for traditional physical awards or PDF certificates including the use of blockchain credentials to prevent fraud, longevity against loss or damage, and retained control over design and validity. 

Learn more about digital credentials in our detailed article: What are Digital Credentials?

Key Takeaways

In summary, micro-credentials are smaller courses of a larger achievement, skill, or topic, and improve employability by:

  • Enabling learners to gain knowledge fast
  • Helping professionals fill the gaps in their skillset
  • Offering a cost-effective method of learning
  • Making learning accessible to busy lifestyles
  • Optionally stacking towards a complete qualification
  • Combining to expand knowledge across a variety of topics

For issuers and organizations utilizing micro-credentials, they offer the benefit of:

  • Targeted, customizable learning opportunities
  • Cost-effective, scalable learning
  • Improved ability to attract and retain talent
  • Motivation towards continuous learning
  • Increased awareness for the issuer and their micro-credential programs
  • Versatility to represent any type of program or membership

Start the micro-credential journey today and explore how Accredible can help you to deliver feature-rich digital micro-credential awards to your learners or members by booking a platform demo.

Further Reading

Micro-credential achievements are commonly awarded as digital badges. To learn more about digital badges, download our Comprehensive Guide to Digital Badges here.

Ready to get started?

Schedule a demo and discover how Accredible can help you attract and reward learners, visualize learning journeys, and grow your program.

Book a demo