Self-directed learning continues to expand with concepts like micro-credentialing.NSTP/File pic

A degree from a higher learning institution (HLI) has always been regarded as a recognition of formal education.

They are designed to provide knowledge, skills and values over three to four years of study, which enable graduates to enter the job market.

However, with the rapid growth of technology and digitalisation of knowledge, sticking to macro-credentialing, like traditional university awards, may not be an accurate indicator of one’s competency.

To be more competitive, students and working adults can look to micro-credentials to upskill and reskill, as well as create more value and demonstrate a certain level of mastery that would make them more attractive to employers.

Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Centre for Development of Academic Excellence director Professor Abd Karim Alias said micro-credential, which is a type of competency-based education — as opposed to the traditional time-based education — was designed to enable a person to earn recognition for skills and competencies they had learned throughout their lives.

“Micro-credentials are based on the concept of micro-learning through short, digestible and well-planned units (micro-modules). This is to address the issue of the short concentration span of learners in the era of digital technology,” he said.

Each micro-module can be knowledge-based (theory, concept or principle) or skill-based, or both. A micro-module is designed to focus on one or two concepts or skill.

Upon the completion of the module (including the assessment), the learner will be awarded a “digital badge”.

A digital badge is a digital file, which is a visual representation of knowledge and skills a person earned over time. This creates a more streamlined process for evaluating a person’s competencies.

“A comprehensive micro-credential programme will support lifelong learners and educators, as well as an organisation or an industry’s workforce in acquiring desired competencies aligned to their needs and priorities. It is designed to make learning and training flexible, manageable, convenient and affordable,” said Karim.

So, how do micro-credentials work at universities?

Karim said academic programmes in higher learning institutions (HLI) were based on the just-in-case and time-based curriculum. With the advent of digital technology, hyper-connectivity, and affordable mobile devices, the trend was increasingly leaning towards learning-on-demand.

“This means a person can learn anything just-in-time, just enough and just for me (personalised based on the need of the moment). In other words, learning can be made flexible,” he said.

To stay competitive and relevant, he said the structure of an academic programme could be redesigned to make it flexible

He added that its content could be divided into smaller packages by using the micro-credential model, i.e., moving away from time-based (fixed maximum credit per semester) to a competency-based system.

“This will shorten the period of completion for the programme. (For example, from four years to three years or less),” he said.

While the concept applies to Malaysia, its academic ecosystem is not yet ready.

“Realising the potential of the micro-credential model as part of the enablers for supporting flexible education, the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) is taking the initiative to support its implementation. MQA is working to produce a guideline for micro-credentials for academic and professional development programmes,” said Karim.

“With APEL (Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning) already in place, non-traditional students (those already working or any ordinary citizen with no formal qualification) will have the opportunity to get a formal qualification through the micro-credential programme.

“HLIs will have more options to offer their academic programme in the traditional (time-based) programme concurrently with the micro-credential (competency-based) programme.”

At USM, a few groups are working on developing a micro-credential model for its master and executive diploma programmes.

“It is easier to start with a small programme to make the process more manageable. It is not about replacing or substituting the current traditional time-based academic programme, but rather the micro-credential offers a flexible option to those interested in earning a formal qualification through a flexible education system,” said Karim.

He had earlier delivered a presentation on micro-credentials at a plenary session during the inaugural Flexible Education Seminar 2019, which was co-organised by the Malaysia Higher Education Department and MQA in Putrajaya.

In March, MQA had introduced the “Guideline on Micro-credentials” to provide HLIs and stakeholders with information on principles and good practices in the implementation of micro-credentials. This is to encourage, support and guide all types of micro-credentials offered by HLIs.

It will, in due time, be developed into a full “Guidelines for Good Practices”, which can address all types of micro-credential and provider issues, and integrate the micro-credentials into traditional awards and qualifications.