Microcredentials: A new category of education is rising

At the core of the traditional higher education system is a degree. However, over the past decade, enrolment in four-year degree programmes has steadily declined in the United States and, more recently, this trend has spilled over into emerging markets.

Administrators, policymakers and employers began to question if there was a better way to fulfil student and labour market needs.

Meanwhile, a new category of structured education was on the rise, offering smaller learning units with the potential of achieving a faster return on investment. As the pandemic took hold, interest in new learning models and digital offerings boomed.

A globally accepted definition doesn’t exist yet for these smaller learning units but microcredentials – also often referred to as alternative or non-degree credentials – are emerging as a term to describe education that falls between courses and degrees. Microcredentials include certificates, digital badges, licences and apprenticeships, the latter equating to full qualifications in Europe.

What is driving microcredentials?

There are several primary drivers of non-degree credentials. First, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the gap is widening between the type of education offered in traditional higher education institutions and the skills needed to work in today’s digital world.

Second, the lack of equal access to education has highlighted a need for solutions that provide the skills that lead to work, particularly for marginalised populations.

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