Design the joint micro-credential course



A joint micro-credential course is conceived as a self-contained, formal and structured learning experience that focuses on a coherent set of learning outcomes or competences and consists of learning activities in line with the course objectives and assessment criteria.
The course design requires several design steps to be taken:
Define course objectives, learning outcomes, competences to be achieved;
Develop a course plan and assign modular course units to course team members;
Design and sequence learning activities for each course unit;
Integrate international learning activities with embedded mobility;
Define delivery mode(s);
Enhance the learning experience;
Design course interactions;
Select and align media and tools;
Create room for flexibility;
Determine the study load;
Make the course inclusive;
Determine formative and summative assessment methods;
Organize peer review for the course units.


In the joint course design guidelines below, we integrate the maturity dimensions, developed in the European Maturity Model for Blended Education (Dijkstra & Goeman, 2021), which have at least a face validity for 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, 2021a). For each dimension, guidelines are developed (Dijkstra & Goeman, 2021).

Taking these dimensions into account, the course team seeks a constructive alignment with the objectives of the curriculum. This implies that the objectives, the content, teaching and learning activities and the assessment of a course must naturally correspond (Biggs & Tang, 2011). The teaching and learning activities bridge the gap between the objectives and the assessment. taking into The characteristics of the learners are taken into account.

When the course is part of a programme, the constructive alignment can extend to the objectives of the curriculum.

This leads to the following design steps for a joint course design:

Define course objectives, learning outcomes, competencies

Describe and justify the objectives of the micro-credential course. Link them to the objectives of the wider programme, if the course is part of it or stackable within it.

Take into account both the academic and professional orientation of the course. Stakeholders can already be involved for this, for example public and private employers, professional associations or alumni. They can help analyze needs in the field and define priorities. They can anticipate on the organisation of specific learning activities such as project work or internships.

Agree on the cognitive processing and competence level of the course in terms of EQF level.

Describe the profile of the learners: their motivation to follow the course, the competences they want to acquire, their prior knowledge and experience, the available study time and work situation. For this, it is advisable to listen to (future) learners.

Define concrete learning outcomes or competencies for the course, using a consistent approach, e.g. Bloom’s taxonomy revised(see: and/or the ESCO- classification (

Develop a course plan and assign modular course units to course team members

Develop a joint course plan and divide it into modular course units, which can easily be studied in a time frame of, for example, 4 hours. This makes it possible for learners to study in blocks, possibly combined with synchronous course sessions. For example, a course of 100 hours will consist of 25 course units.

Each unit is assigned to a course team member for design and development, based on expertise in a specific area. This will lead to a rich course content and to spread design and development costs across the partnership.

The design of each unit includes the further specification of learning outcomes in relation to the overall concept of the course, the choice of content (topics, subtopics), the design of learning activities to achieve the learning outcomes, and the formative and summative assessment. In this design phase, open education resources (OER) can be consulted which can contribute to the quality of the course. OER are openly licensed online educational materials that allow teachers and learners to freely use, share, and modify (see: the Open Education Consortium; OpenLearn; France Université Numérique–Ressources).

In order to realize the course according to the joint objectives and planning, a strong coordination with the entire course team is necessary.

Design and sequence learning activities for every course unit

Use a solid learning design approach, for example

Learning activities should have a meaningful sequence: a course can consist of acquisition activities through virtual lectures, followed by virtual classrooms or reading assignments, then webinars, group discussions, exercises, simulation games, and end with productive collaborative activities such as writing a publishable wiki. This makes teaching a “design science” (Laurillard, 2012).

Detailed examples of learning activities can also be found in design guidelines for flexible and scalable short learning programmes (SLPs) (Maina and et al. , 2020. See: ), such as learning tasks connecting theory and practice, case studies, peer learning activities, social learning activities, virtual classrooms, interactive video, augmented reality, the flipped classroom, etc.

The development of learning activities should include elements that increase student motivation, for example through interactions with teaching staff and peer learners, formative assessments that enhance motivation or through gamification (e.g. learning competition points, receiving an award for an achievement, etc.) (Antonaci, 2019).

If a micro-credential course is delivered as a MOOC on a platform such as Futurelearn, specific templates for learning design may be used. These templates can be based on the learning design approaches just mentioned. MOOC design will take into account that the course is accessible to everyone everywhere and for a large number of participants.

MOOC platforms and universities are also increasingly developing micro-credential programmes or MOOC pathways based on a coherent set of self-contained courses or MOOCs, e.g. CMF micro-credentials programmes, MicroMasters and nanodegrees (see eBook on joint micro-credential programmes).

Design international learning activities with embedded staff and student mobility

Within a micro-credential course, specific international learning activities can be integrated, such as intensive programmes, summer or winter schools, international webinars, think tanks, projects, simulations, field work, virtual labs, etc. These collaborative learning activities are jointly designed by the course team. The mobility of staff and students is then embedded in the course. Interactions between learners and with staff are an important
feature of this type of mobility.

Bologna tools are used. Mobility is the subject of the learning agreement between the learner and the partnership that is established when the learner enrolls in the programme. It is part of the course and thus contributes to the allocation of ECTS credits for the course (see section on assigning awards).

Mobility activities may also be offered as a non-compulsory or alternative option in a curriculum. In some cases, mobility is offered as an option in an honors program.

Mobility is listed in the cross-institutional ECTS course description.

Define delivery mode(s)

Determine which delivery method(s) will be used for the course and agree with the entire course team what the most important options are.

The delivery mode to be chosen is dependent on criteria such as flexibility and scalability.

More flexibility is needed for working and international learners to respond to individual time schedules and possibly different time zones. Digital teaching and learning provisions are suitable for such groups, because the internet is accessible to everyone, everywhere and at anytime.

Scalability is required for many micro-credential courses, as major needs in the economy and society must be met for many people and in multiple 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 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, 2020)
  • Blended teaching and learning with a deliberate mix of synchronous and asynchronous methods: based on a course design with a deliberate combination of online and offline learning activities (Biggs, 2002; Garrison &Vaughan, 2013; Goeman et al., 2019; Dijkstra & Goeman, 2020; 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 (Martin et al., 2020; Mathes, 2018)

These approaches can be combined within a course and one of these approaches can be dominant while another can be complementary. However, the general approach must be homogeneous enough for a smooth learning process.

Enhance the learning experience

For a positive learning experience, the course must meet a number of conditions. The content must be relevant for the learner and match the intended learning outcomes or competences. The course must lead to deep level understanding, be well-structured and stimulate thinking. The course should also activate the learners through adequate and
meaningful learning activities. These dimensions of the learning experience must be taken into account when designing and developing each course unit.

An important aspect in digital learning is also facilitating students self-regulated learning (orienting and planning, monitoring, adjusting and evaluating) (SRL) and metacognition, for example by integrating the seven recommendations of Quigley, Muys and Stinger (2018). See: and-self-regulated-learning/

Design course interactions

Design deliberately course interaction. Different kinds of interaction can be organized: learner-learner interaction; learner-teacher interaction; learner-community interaction; learner-material interaction and learner-technology interaction (Anderson, 2003; Stanley, 2013).

In order to be effective, each of these interactions must be facilitated. Examples of interactive formats are whole class discussions, small group or paired discussions, tutorials, seminars, online discussions, virtual classrooms, discussion of others’ outputs online, organizing a peer review cycle, building a wiki or preparing a report or presentation together.

In some pedagogies, social learning is a key concept, for example, in Futurelearn’s MOOC design (Futurelearn, 2022b).

Select and align media and tools

The coordination and coherence of the learning resources (learning environment, software, media, …) used in the micro-credential course must be geared to supporting the learning activities in the course. Their use should be coordinated with the micro-credential course team and with the teaching and support staff of the lead institution. It must be informed by evidence or experience.

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 institutional learning environments and can be shared. However, they should be aligned and used in a coherent way across the course units.

This rubric supports a multidimensional evaluation of functional, technical and pedagogical aspects of eLearning tools. (Lauren et al., 2018)

Create room for flexibility
If needed, design deliberately flexibility for the course which means that learners can adjust particular features of the course according to their needs and preferences, for example the choice of some content and learning activities, the selection of resources, the mode of delivery (online, blended, face to face), the pace of study progress (teacher-paced/selfpaced; full-time–part-time).

Online modes of teaching and learning support flexible learning schedules, enabling flexible pace and flexible places of learning, supported by technology.

Course flexibility makes learning activities accessible to all students (potentially on multiple campuses), respecting different time zones and course schedules through a trade-off between asynchronous and synchronous activities.

Determine the study load

The study load of a course for the “standard” student is to be determined in advance, taking into account the objectives of the course, the content and the learning activities planned. During the implementation stage the match between intended and achieved study load should be monitored on a regular basis. Course designers should be aware that large differences in study load can occur between students. Also, it is well known that blended and online learning can easily lead to overload. Study load indications per learning unit can help students to plan their study.

Furthermore, it is important that courses are designed in such a way that it makes it easier for learners to structure their studies, for example in 2 or 4 hour blocks, by dividing the course into course units, by planning synchronous teaching and learning in regular course sessions or by allocating a “standard” time to assignments. Structuring the study load for cohorts of students will contribute to avoiding dropout.

Make the course inclusive

Inclusiveness is a complex concept, related to issues such as digital accessibility, social inclusion, ethnicity, gender, physical disabilities, learning disabilities. It can also indicate taking measures for specific target groups such as learners at work and athletes, artists or prisoners.

This dimension means that different perspectives on students’ needs and backgrounds are incorporated into course design and that students feel valued, safe and a sense of belonging.

Recently, an EADTU Task reported on new developments in policies, good practices and research and innovation for diversity and inclusion in digital education. It involved 12 countries and covered the sub-groups mentioned above (Ubachs, 2022). A website on diversity and inclusion is launched, covering all out comes of the Task Force:

The Universal Design for Learning guidelines are a tool to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. They can help course developers to improve inclusiveness for many groups (Cast, 2018).

Organize peer review for the course units

At different stages of course design and development, quality is ensured through internal peer review within the course team, regarding aspects such as coherence of learning outcomes with the whole course, relevance of the content, the learning activities designed, the digital tools used, the formative and summative assessment. This quality assurance is supported by course developers of teaching and learning services.

A specific methodology has been developed for this when designing MOOCs. The design and development of MOOCs is then monitored at a number of ‘quality gates’, where decisions are made about the further steps in the process. This is the case, for example, in Futurelearn (Futurelearn, 2022a).

Course teams can also decide to engage an external peer review after the design phase or after the development phase of the course.

In this regard, digital courses have a comparative advantage over traditional colleges because quality assurance can take place before the course is delivered to the students. This is especially true for asynchronous parts of a digital course.

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joint micro-credential courses and microlearning units in higher education