Design the joint micro-credential curriculum



For the design of the curriculum of a joint micro-credential programme, successive joint decisions have to be made as the programme is co-owned and co-delivered by all partners in a distributed environment:
Define the learning objectives of the curriculum;
Design a coherent program in content and structure;
Make the programme stackable;
Define delivery modes;
Align media and tools;
Design room for flexibility;
Enhance the student learning experience;
Determine the study load;
Make the programme inclusive;
Design student and staff mobility modes.


Preliminary remarks

In the further design process of a micro-credential programme as described here, the focus is on curriculum design based on pre-existing courses, modules or learning building blocks in the partnership. Relevant courses from programmes in the partnership are integrated into the new micro-credential programme according to the agreed curriculum objectives. This is the most common approach for developing joint programmes (eg Erasmus Mundus), leveraging existing courses and thereby realizing significant cost benefits. Of course, jointly designed learning activities, courses, modules, learning building blocks can also be integrated in a micro-credential programme. In most cases this only happens for a limited part of the curriculum.

The other option is that the joint curriculum is composed of entirely new courses, modules or learning blocks that have to be designed and developed from scratch by the partners. This of courses takes a lot more staff time because the design and development of the courses have to be taken into account. The amount of staff time depends on the type and complexity of the intended learning activities. Starting with the design of completely new courses will easily double or triple the development time of the programme.

In the programme design guidelines below, we integrate the maturity dimensions for programme design, developed in the European Maturity Model for Blended Education (EM-BED, 2021), and extend these dimensions to digital education in general. They are based on up-to-date learning design research and validated by a Delphi study (van Valkenburg
et al., 2020; Goeman et al., 2019; Goeman et al., 2021; EADTU, 2021). For each dimension, guidelines are developed (Dijkstra & Goeman, 2021; Maina et al., 2020; Ubachs & Henderikx, 2012, O’Neill, 2015).

Taking these dimensions into account, the programme team seeks a constructive alignment with the objectives of the curriculum and takes into account the characteristics of the target learners.

Define the objectives of the curriculum

  • Define learning outcomes (Anderson et al., 2001; CEPS, 2018) and justify their relevance of the learning outcomes with a view to the students’ future academic opportunities (including the stackability to a bachelor’s or master’s degree) and to employability. If desired, translate the outcomes into competence categories, addressed by the European Skills and Competences taxonomy ESCO (European Commission, 2022)
  • Define the European or National Qualifications Framework level to be pursued for the micro-credential programme (EHEA, 2018). This is important for the recognition of the level of qualification awarded to learners upon completion of the micro-credential programme. The programme must therefore be sufficiently homogeneous in terms of qualification level. A higher education micro-credential programme can be designed on a 5, 6, 7 or 8 level.

In the further design process we follow the EMBED maturity dimensions for programme design, European Maturity Model for Blended Education mentioned above, broadening the application of these dimensions to digital education in general.

The programme team seeks a constructive alignment with the objectives of the curriculum and takes into account the characteristics of the learners (EDLAB, 2020).

Design a coherent programme in content and structure:

  • Define the main educational topics of the programme in relation to the objectives of the programme and the needs of the field. Seek additional expertise from key academic staff in the partnership to achieve the micro-credential programme’s objectives and engage them in delivering the needed topics. Build the curriculum from existing courses in the partner institutions. Courses can also be redesigned, although this will require considerably more preparation time. However, many collaborative programmes provide a small number of new components in various formats, such as lecture series, webinars, collaborative learning communities, independent studies, which require the commitment of teaching staff.
  • Order and structure the courses in a coherent curriculum consisting of separate modules or micro-credentials of 4-6 ECTS (CMF), which can easily be combined with a job over a period of 10-15 weeks with a study load of about 8 hours per week. In the context of continuing education and professional development, these short modules will encourage students to continue their studies and lead to study success, thus preventing dropout.
  • To make the programme coherent, both vertical (course-programme) and horizontal alignment (between courses) should be considered, based on a shared vision of the content of the programme.
  • The modules within a micro-credential programme can be offered linearly (one module after another) or in a branched structure (common core and differentiated options) where learners can choose individual study paths (ISPs). Describe and demonstrate the academic and professional relevance of such differentiated options or learning paths.
  • If applicable, explain how the internship or field work activities fit into the joint micro-credential programme and its objectives. Explain the interaction of the micro-credential programme with the relevant professional, socio-economic, scientific, cultural sectors.
  • What kind of involvement, if any, do these sectors have in curriculum implementation (needs analysis, content development and/or co-creation, course evaluation, internships, financial sponsorships, research providers, employment prospects, etc.)? What is their level of involvement in the programme?

Make the curriculum stackable

When determining the content and structure of a micro-credential programme, the stackability for broader educational programme must be taken into account (European MOOC Consortium, 2018; Nuffic,2022):

  • Seek coordination with programme boards in the partnership about the extent to which the micro-credential programme learning path can be stacked in a bachelor’s or master’s programme. This can lead to exemptions when the student enrolls in such a degree programme.
  • In some countries (e.g. the UK), master’s programmes at several universities are divided into micro-degree or micro-credential modules, which award first qualifications. This is especially applied when the programme attracts adult part-time students online.

Define delivery mode(s)

Determine which form of delivery will be used for the micro-credential programme and for each subject to make coherent arrangements about digital education.

Micro-credential programmes need a great deal of flexibility. More flexibility is needed for working and international learners to respond to individual time schedules and possible different time zones. Digital teaching and learning provisions are suitable for such groups, because the internet is accessible to everyone, everywhere and at any time.

In addition, scalability is needed, since major needs in the economy and in society must be met for many people and in several places. Digital teaching and learning is more scalable and therefore an important asset for continuing education and professional development.

Three key approaches to digital higher education in this regard are (Pieters et al., 2021):

  • Synchronous hybrid teaching and learning: based on settings that have in common that both on-site or ‘here’ students and remote or ‘there’ students are included simultaneously (Raes et al., 2020; Raes et al., 2020);
  • Blended teaching and learning with a deliberate mix of synchronous and asynchronous methods: based on a course design with a conscious combination of online and offline learning activities (Biggs, 2002; Garrison & Kanuka, 2004; Laurillard, 2012, 2015; Goeman et al.2019; van Valkenburg et al., 2020);
  • Asynchronous online and distance teaching and learning: based on a course design with a continuous physical separation between teacher and student (Maina et al., 2020; Martin, Sun & Westine, 2020).

These approaches can be combined and one of these approaches can be dominant while another can be complementary. This is to be considered by the micro-credential programme team and the course design teams (EADTU, 2022).

Align media and tools

The alignment and coherence of the learning tools (learning environment, software, media, …) used in the micro-credential programme should be based on learning activities in courses. Their use should be coordinated by the teaching and support staff of the programme and informed by evidence or experience (Delft University of Technology, 2020).
Tools are used for many functions in education, such as assessments and assignments, collaboration, communication, conference calls, virtual classrooms, polls and surveys, and feedback on learning performance.
In an inter-institutional setting, many tools are likely to be available in the respective learning environments and can be shared. However, they should be aligned and used in a coherent way across a programme, based on learning activities in the courses.
The rubric for e-learning tool evaluation of Western University (US) supports a multidimensional evaluation of functional, technical and pedagogical aspects of eLearning tools (Anstey &Watson, 2018).

Design room for flexibility

Micro-credential programmes, which are designed according to learning design principles, in many respects are already flexible, mainly through the modularization of the curriculum and through the use of digital delivery modes. However, working and international learners need a maximum amount of flexibility:

Consider whether learners can be given the opportunity to modify certain features of the programmes such as the selection of alternative courses/mobility pathways, alternative delivery modes (blended courses, online distance courses, traditional courses), workload (full-time/part-time), pace (institutional/self-paced) or possibly the opportunity to take courses at other institutions (Gordon, 2014; Universities UK, 2018; Zone Flexible Education, 2019).

The flexibility in a programme should be deliberately designed. Students have many opportunities to customize certain features of the programme and get advice about their options. Offering flexibility is based on evidence or experience.

Enhance the student learning experience

Academic success in a blended learning environment requires motivation, self-regulatory skills, goal orientation and time management. Learners do not always have these skills sufficiently and do not make appropriate decisions. They may even have negative previous learning experiences, low motivation and therefore do not get involved in learning. They need the knowledge and skills to complete the course or programme in a satisfying way (Goeman, 2019). Interaction with teaching staff and peer learners is important to challenge engagement and structure study behavior that leads to study progress and success and prevents dropout.

Therefore, a programme must actively support and mentor students to develop and improve their self-regulated learning skills (SRL). This means that SRL-related activities are included in every course and that SRL skills are regularly checked.

Methods and tools to measure self-regulated learning are described and based on both qualitative (eg surveys, observations, interviews) and quantitative data (eg from learning platforms, student information systems or other applications) (Winne & Perry, 2012; Gonzales-Torres & Torrano, 2008).

Determine the study load

  • Define the curriculum study load you envision in terms of ECTS credits, bearing in mind that the micro-credential programme is intended for working learners with a limited time horizon and who are willing to learn skills/competences and to develop a career. The study load for a CMF micro-credential is 4-6 ECTs (a volume of 100-150 hrs in 12-15 weeks). A study load of 30 ECTS (a volume of 750 to 800 hrs) seems to be reasonable for a micro-degree of one year for working students.
  • The study load of each course and peaks of parallel courses in a programme must be deliberately coordinated.
  • The study load in a programme must be monitored, evaluated and adjusted.

Make the programme inclusive

Consider the diverse needs and backgrounds of students to create a programme where all students feel valued, safe, included, and where all students have equal access to the programme. Integrate inclusiveness into all courses of the program.
An important aspect of inclusiveness is digital accessibility. This has to do with using accessible tools, instruments, communication software; accessible documents; and learning and teaching materials accessible in an equal way for regular learners and disabled or impaired learners (Claeys-Kulik, Jørgensen & Stöber, 2019).
The Universal Design Principles (Cast, 2018) offer a range of possibilities to design and develop an inclusive programme. The guidelines provide a set of concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure that all students have access to and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities.

Achieving inclusiveness must be based on evidence or experience.

Design staff and student mobility modes

In the design phase of the micro-credential programme, when sequencing and structuring the courses in the curriculum, the added value and relevance of the (virtual) mobility component must also be justified. How can staff and student mobility be made relevant and instrumental to the objectives of the curriculum? How are the mobility paths designed and embedded in the programme?

  • Staff mobility is needed at all stages of setting up a joint curriculum:

− internal or embedded staff mobility within the partnership: staff from the partnerinstitutions co-design the joint curriculum; develop the planned courses and technological resources; install the administrative framework; the joint
implementation of the programme, including the admission, examination and certification of students;
− external staff mobility from outside the partnership: external staff and experts can be invited, for example for guest lectures, webinars, projects or demonstrating good practices.

  • Student mobility is structurally provided for in a joint curriculum:

− internal or embedded student mobility within the micro-credential programme as students participate in the distributed curriculum at successive partner universities. In linear curricula, all learners follow the same mobility path. In branched curricula, they follow the core curriculum and then one of the optional curricula, possibly
requiring another university in the consortium to be selected. Individual study and mobility paths (ISPs) are planned in the learning agreement when learners begin the micro-credential programme;
− external student mobility as learners can still take courses in a third institution as part of a learning agreement between the learner, the partnership and the host university.

Because courses can be delivered in different ways, mobility can accordingly be synchronous hybrid (e.g. virtual classrooms, webinars), blended (face-to-face and online combined) or virtual/online (Henderikx & Ubachs, 2012, 2019; De Moor, Henderikx, & Keustermans, 2013; EADTU, 2020).

Tools from the ECTS Users’ Guide (European Commission, 2017) are used when designing mobility in the joint curriculum:

  • all parts of the joint programme are recognized by awarding ECTS credits (learning outcomes, workload);
  • a learning agreement between the learner and the partnership on his/her individual learning path (ISP) is signed before the start of the micro-credential programme and gives the student confirmation that the credits he/she successfully obtains (core and optional/mobility parts) will be recognized for awarding the micro-credential programme qualification (EADTU, 2020; ECCOE, 2022;)
  • the transfer of records (credits and grades for the mobility components are stored in the
  • central database of the micro-credential programme).

next chapter: Agree on a qualification
previous chapter: Share a joint vision on the micro-credential programme to be developed
back to overview: Models and guidelines for the design and development
of a joint micro-credential programme in higher education