|The development of micro-credential programmes should be aligned with European and national initiatives:|
|Develop an institutional strategy and qualification structure for continuing education and professional development;|
|Align with the European Commission’s Proposal for a Recommendation to the Council of Ministers of Education on micro-credentials and the use the Bologna tools;|
|Connect with national frameworks under development;|
|Take advantage of European initiatives|
Develop an institutional strategy and qualification structure for continuing education and professional development
Institutions develop policies and strategies for shaping continuing education and professional development to put their third mission into practice. While promoting micro-credentials, the European Commission leaves room for innovation and experimentation for higher education institutions and government with regard to micro-credential programmes.
Many institutions and governments proactively seize this opportunity. It is important that they create an institutional qualification structure for continuing education, harmonize internal certificates and qualifications, and create a continuing education ecosystem, such as an extension school.
Gradually, they will create space for continuing education and professional development for the European Higher Education Area according to the European Commission’s plans for the implementation of a framework for micro-credentials until 2025.
Align with the European Commission’s Proposal for a Recommendation to the Council of Ministers of Education on Micro-credentials and use the Bologna tools
The Digital Education Action Plan
Already in 2018, the revised Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) sets out measures for high-quality and inclusive digital education and training in Europe at all levels. In this plan, “educational institutions will play an increasingly important role as providers of lifelong learning”. Digital technology should “facilitate the provision of flexible, accessible learning opportunities, including for adult learners and professionals, and help them to re-skill, upskill or change careers””, which can be supported “through micro-credentials which capture the learning outcomes of short-term learning. The plan announced that the Commission would “develop a European approach to micro-credentials” (European Commission, 2018).
The Recommendation of the European Commission to the Council of Ministers on micro-credentials
In 2020, the Commission launched its Communication “Towards a European Education Area by 2025”, in which developing a European approach to micro-credentials in higher education is a top priority. It announced a Recommendation to the Council of Ministers of Education by 2021 and a plan to take all necessary steps for the wider use, portability and recognition of micro-credentials by 2025 (European Commission, 2020).
The “Micro-credentials in Higher Education Consultation Group”
To prepare for this, the European Commission has set up the “Micro-credentials in Higher Education Consultation Group”. This defined a micro-credential as “evidence of the learning outcomes that a student has acquired after a short learning experience. These learning outcomes are tested against transparent standards. The evidence is contained in a certified document stating the name of the holder, the learning outcomes achieved, the assessment method, the awarding body and, if applicable, the qualifications framework level and the credits obtained. Micro-credentials are student-owned, can be shared, are transferable, and can be combined into larger credentials or qualifications. They are supported by quality assurance according to agreed standards” (European Commission, 2021).
In terms of volume for a micro-credential, the group left flexibility for innovation and experimentation: from one ECTS to less than a full degree.
Basically, the European Commission considers a micro-credential as a qualification that demonstrates the learning outcomes acquired through a short, transparently assessed course or module. Micro-credentials can be completed on-site, online or in a mixed format. The flexible nature of these qualifications allows learning opportunities to be opened up to citizens, including those in full-time employment. This makes micro-credentials a highly flexible, inclusive form of learning that enables the targeted acquisition of skills and competence.
The guidelines as presented on this BLOOM eBook focus on micro-credentials as offered in formal higher education and to be integrated into the European Higher Education Area (the Bologna Process).
Micro-credentials in higher education: using the Bologna tools (Microbol)
The European Microbol project with members of the Bologna Follow-up Group (BFUG) and European networks developed a definition of micro-credentials in higher education, targeting micro-credential programmes: “A micro-credential is a certified short learning experience, provided by a HEI or other providers, designed to provide the learner with specific knowledge/skills/competences that meet societal, personal, cultural or employability needs. Micro-credentials are subject to a quality assurance assessment in accordance with the ESG (Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area). They have an explicit reference to defined learning outcomes at a specific EQF-EHEA/NQF level (European/National Qualifications Framework in the European Higher
Education Area) that will be achieved, the workload, expressed in ECTS, and on the assessment methods and criteria used.
Any micro-credential can be recognized by a HEI as, and through recognition of prior learning procedures (RPL). Micro-credentials are not only useful for professionals, but can also complement the curriculum for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students. (Cirland, E. & Loukkola, T., 2020)
Students can list their higher education micro-credentials awards on Europass, in addition to micro-credentials obtained in professional or non-formal settings. In Europass, a “credential is a documented statement containing claims about a person issued by an educational organization following a learning experience”. Micro-credential qualifications owned by the learners will be made portable for communication to universities and employers throughout Europe by the “Europass” platform.
In 2020, with the new “Europass” platform, learners are enabled to create their own profile, register and display their digital credentials to be more attractive on the market (European Commission, 2020). In the framework of Europass, the European Commission is developing the Europass Digital Credentials Infrastructure (EDCI) to support efficiency and security in how credentials such as qualifications and other learning achievements can be recognised across Europe. Work is ongoing on the development of the Europass Digital Credentials Infrastructure (EDCI). The EDCI will support authentication services for any digital documents or representations of information on skills and qualifications.
Connect with national frameworks under development
Governments and universities in European countries are already developing policies and frameworks for continuing education and professional development including qualifications for micro-credential programmes (eg in France, Austria, Ireland, Belgium–Flemish23Align with European and national developments Community, the Netherlands), preparing steps to be taken for the implementation of the European Commission’s Recommendation to the Council of Ministers of Education on micro-credentials.
Universities are in continuous dialogue with ministries on micro-credential frameworks and are proactively developing and implementing micro-credential programmes.
Take advantage of European initiatives
The European MOOC Consortium, consisting of the main European MOOC platforms (Futurelearn (UK), France Université Numérique, Miriadax (SP), EduOpen (IT), iMooX (AU), AI Campus GE), NAU (PO), OpenupEd (EADTU) has developed standards for the Common Micro-credential Framework (CMF) for MOOC-based programmes (see the section on qualifications). CMF micro-credentials consist of a coherent set of MOOCs, have a size of 4 to 6 ECTS, link to a 5, 6, 7 or 8 level EQF level, and are awarded with a CMF qualification (a “gradeo” in France, Spain and Italy) after a reliable and valid assessment. A qualification supplement will be given. Quality assurance is done by the university’s internal QA system in interaction with the platform. CMF qualifications are endorsed by the partner universities in Europe, Latin America and Australia. The programmes have both an academic and professional orientation (European MOOC Consortium, 2018).
In 2017, EADTU members started developing short learning programmes (SLPs) supported by the European Commission (EADTU, 2021). They were a first step for the organization of online continuing education and professional development facilities that responded to time horizon of learners at work and the needs of the economy and society. In this concept, short learning programmes consist of a coherent set of courses in a field with a total size of 5 to 30 ECTS. Short learning programmes can be divided into CMF credentials that award intermediate qualifications. The Bologna instruments or used in a similar way. The name of the final qualification differs per institution.
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