Online distance teaching and learning



Fig. 22. Online distance education: concept and design in context
Fig. 22. Online distance education: concept and design in context

Online distance learning was an emergency practice during COVID and will continue to be the main pedagogical approach in specific contexts of digital higher education (fig. 22):

  • the concept and the challenges or explained with reports on state-of-the-art research, innovation and best practices;
  • online distance learning is the main pedagogical model for the open and distance universities,
    developing innovative approaches such as the virtual campus;
  • the MOOC movement has influenced digital higher education. MOOC platforms play a major role in
    the design of online courses and as an interface with the labor market;
  • online micro-credentials are at the center of continuing education and professional development;
  • online microlearning units serve less complex learning (sub)tasks for the labor market.

Concept and challenges of online distance education


Online and distance learning is based on a course design with a continuous physical separation between teacher and student, synchronous and asynchronous.

Online delivery of education via the internet enables teaching and learning ‘anywhere, anytime, anywhere’: in various locations (e.g., home, libraries, study centers), settings (e.g. individual, small
group, large group) and moments in time (e.g. asynchronous, synchronous). Online delivery requires
appropriate teaching and learning design, which enhances learning in an online environment. Therefore, resources and expertise are needed at institutions” (Brouns et al., 2022).

Online distance teaching requires collaboration between teachers, educational and technical support services.

Reports on research, innovation and selected best practices

An overview of the recent research literature on online distance education is found in recent European
projects such as DigiTeL Pro:
Sangra, A., Guitert, M., Riccò, I., Brouns, F., di Pomponio, I., Raffaghelli, J.(2022). An open access
report on the state of art research, innovation and good practices of online and distance education
and conclusions related to the COVID 19 context
. DigiTel Pro, EADTU. Project funded by the European

Sangra, A., Guitert, M., Riccò, I., Brouns, F., di Pomponio, I., (2022), A compendium of selected best
practice training materials and/or resources for CPD for online and distance learning
. DigiTeL Pro
project, funded by the European Commission. EADTU.

Challenges in online distance education

In recent review studies of DigiTeL Pro (Brouns et al., 2022; Sangra et al., 2022; Wahls, Dijkstra, & Ouwehand, 2022; Raes, 2022), reported main challenges in online distance education related to:

  • the presence of professional digital teaching and learning design models (competences to develop
    new teaching and learning materials suitable for online delivery);
  • an appropriate technical infrastructure and support system for teaching staff and students (good
    technical resources, resources and internet access);
  • professional development of staff to design or redesign courses and curricula, making use of
  • consistent student support throughout the student lifecycle (integrated into course design, student
  • assessment (giving assessments and taking exams);
  • health and well-being of students (educational culture, counseling
  • inequality between students (digital divide and greater negative effects for disadvantaged groups)

Several online distance learning solutions are being developed that are specific to the context in which courses are delivered: COVID and post-COVID design solutions for mainstream education, teaching and learning design in online and distance universities, MOOC design, and micro-credential design for continuing education and professional development. Finally, short micro-learning units require a design that is suitable, among other things, for mobile learning in the workplace.

Online distance education in mainstream degree education during and after COVID

During the COVID crisis, universities switched to digital emergency remote education they were unprepared for, in many cases completely online. This online distance learning was central to the first
phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Because universities were not equipped for online learning and “the quality was not always as it was”,
this has led to dissatisfaction from both teachers and students, even among institutions that had already
developed some practice in digital education, although this clearly had an advantage (Brouns et al.,
2022; Sangra et al., 2022).

Many universities have subsequently organized continuous professional development for teaching
staff to deal with the situation, and teaching staff have gone to great lengths to teach online. CPD
efforts are being continued (DigiTel Pro, 2022). This will ultimately accelerate the digitization of
teaching and learning and the modernization of universities.

Online distance education requires a rethink of education, as teachers and students work in a
completely new environment, supported by new tools and media. Teaching staff should develop
professional approaches to course and curricula design and use digital resources to achieve the best
possible results. Students need to develop skills and competencies to study in digital learning

After COVID, fully online distance learning will be mainly applied in learning provisions
where learners require a high degree of flexibility (independence of place, time and pace of
learning), for example working students and adult learners combining work and study, as well
as international students.

Models for synchronous hybrid and blended education as described in 3 and 4 of this eBook
can also be used to design online distance learning. They are developed for both.

However, it is expected that synchronous hybrid and blended education are expected to be commonly
adopted in mainstream on-campus education as universities want their students to return to campus for
face-to-face education. This will be the “back to normal”, although it will take time to fully develop as
it requires professional development and other conditions such as the availability of suitable learning
environments and technological tools.

Highly flexible online distance learning will be organized in the context of continuing education and
professional development to make it more flexible, accessible and scalable, and cost-effective.
Universities learn and use typical applications of online distance learning in open and distance
learning universities and in MOOCs.

Open and distance teaching universities

Open and distance learning universities have a tradition of high quality teaching and learning design, as they offer supervised independent learning with limited face to face interventions. Today they are evolving into a virtual campus reaching individual students served by a network of study centers.

Maximizing quality and accessibility

Since the establishment of the Open University of the UK in 1969, ten other open and distance universities in Europe offer distance learning (EADTU, 2022), mainly for adult students, as it was
originally intended to provide a “second chance” to participate in university education, and to provide
continuing education and professional development in a lifelong learning perspective.

Open and distance universities have been developing quality courses in printed materials for years,
designed according to innovative pedagogies that guarantee maximum accessibility through flexibility.
Flexible means that students study where and when they want to, according to their job, family and
other commitments.

The open and distance universities have always had a huge influence on pedagogical innovations in
traditional universities, as many teachers there once taught or tutored at a distance university.

Educational approaches to open and distance universities and the development of their pedagogical
ecosystems are inspiring traditional universities to fulfill at least some of their missions.

Towards a virtual campus

With the internet, open and distance universities are now evolving into virtual campuses where digital
education is delivered using asynchronous but also synchronous course designs. They teach large
groups of students while ensuring lively interactions with staff and smaller groups of peers getting the
most out of the internet.

Open and distance universities have developed their own educational ecosystem with the student at the
center. They have at least three basic elements in common: high-quality learning resources, personalized student support by teachers and tutors and collaboration in networked groups, as illustrated for example in the UOC model on which it has built its virtual campus (fig. 23) (DigiTeL Pro, 2022). The campus has virtual classrooms, where students can find their teacher, tutor and fellow students, as well as their course materials and learning resources for starting their learning activities, individually or in collaboration with other students from their classroom.

Fig. 23. Virtual learning space with learning activities at the centre, and interactions with learning resources, teaching staff and a networked community (UOC, Barcelona)
Fig. 23. Virtual learning space with learning activities at the centre, and interactions with learning
resources, teaching staff and a networked community (UOC, Barcelona)

Teachers and tutors

Typically, in open and distance universities, the teaching function is differentiated between teachers
and tutors.

Teachers are academics, responsible for the design, quality and supervision of a course, probably in a
course team. Multidisciplinary course teams can include academics, educational experts, technologists
and media specialists, as well as respected academics from other universities.

Tutors assess and guide students and their learning process. Cunselors advise students in choosing
their personalized study path during that time at the university.

The Open University has a network of over 5.000 tutors. They grade assignments, provide detailed
written feedback, and provide support to students via phone, email, or computer conference. In the OU
system, they also provide group or online tutorials and day schools.

At the Open University, also external examiners are involved. We appoint an external examiner to
oversee a group of modules to advise on academic standards and parity with similar modules at other
UK universities. Examiners provide written reports of their findings, which are circulated to module
teams and university boards and committees for response.

Study centers and tutorials

Open and distance universities in most cases offer limited face-to-face components, voluntarily or
involuntarily, e.g. at the start of a course and at certain times during the course. The Spanish UNED
even characterizes its model as an online and blended method. Like most distance universities, it has a
network of study centers across the country, where students will find facilities for student support and
guidance in addition to these face-to-face elements. Exams are also taken face-to-face, although this
has changed during the COVID crisis.

Today, tutorials are face-to-face or via video conference, which can be weekly or bi-weekly. Synchronous hybrid/virtual classrooms, supported by advanced video conferencing and interactive whiteboards, allow simultaneous live tutoring to different study centers or individual students. This is optimizing the available resources, regardless of the size of the centers. Especially the live interaction, face-to-face or online, is considered a key to the success of distance learning pedagogy.

At the Open University, students meet face-to-face in working groups, day schools and informal study
groups and online through online conferences, study networks and course forums. Social learning is an
important aspect of Open University pedagogy.


Open and distance university students can be assessed by various assessment methods, sometimes
restricted by legal regulations. The largest range of assessment methods is probably found at the Open
University where students are assessed through tutor-marked and computer-marked assignments, oral
or practical assessments, projects, examinations, dissertations and portfolios.

An EADTU Special Interest Group has published a report and website detailing key aspects of eassessment: assessment design; trust, privacy and ethics; and operational processes, technology and
support (Rossade, Jansen, Wood, and Ubachs, 2022)

Research and innovation

Open and distance universities host key research and innovation centres in order to research teaching
and learning strategies and technologies to ensure that online teaching and learning, course materials
and learning environments are effective and appropriate for large-scale delivery.


The MOOC movement

Massive open online courses or MOOCs were initiated in the USA in 2008. In 2013, the MOOC platform Udacity was established followed by Courseware and edX. Also in 2013, the Open University in the UK built its own platform Futurelearn, followed by the OpenupEd M OOC platform as a European initiative coordinated by EADTU The European MOOC Consortium is now comprising: Futurelearn, France Université Numérique, Miriadax (Spain), EduOpen (Italy), iMooX (Austria), AI-Campus (Germany), openHPI (Germany), NAU (Portugal) and OpenupEd (European MOOC Consortium, 2022).

Although all of the four words are interpreted sometimes differently, the following definition was
shared by many European partners in the MOOCs movement and can be seen as a common denominator: “MOOCs are online courses designed for large numbers of participants that can be
accessed by anyone anywhere as long as they have an internet connection, and are open to everyone
without entry qualifications and offer a full complete course experience for free” (Jansen and Schuwer, 2015; Decorte et al., 2016).

Today we still see that MOOCs are for free, but learners pay for taking an assessment awarded with a
badge (freemium model). In the case of Futurelearn, MOOCs remain available to learners against a
small subscription after the delivery period of course. A monthly or yearly subscription can also be
taken for all courses on the Futurelearn platform.

MOOC-based programmes

MOOC platforms have started MOOC-based programmes by integrating a coherent set of MOOC courses for learning more complex competencies. Examples are MicroMasters from edX, nanodegrees from Udacity or MasterTrack certificates from Coursera. Some universities also offer academic degrees through MOOC platforms. Also European platforms offer a variety of MOOC pathways such as short courses, ExpertTracks, micro-credentials and online degrees at FutureLearn.

All platforms in the European MOOC Consortium have developed the standardized Common Microcredential Framework (CMF) for use by MOOC platforms and by universities organizing
continuing education and professional development (European MOOC consortium, 2018)
The CMF framework gives MOOCs and MOOC-based programmes academic and professional value.

MOOC platforms as interfaces with the labour market

MOOC platforms are not only providers of MOOCs, but increasingly offer services as an interface between universities and the labor market (e.g. companies, centers of competence, knowledge and innovation communities, professional associations, public employment services, etc.).

Business spaces (Miriadax) or white label platforms (FUN-MOOC) are being created, where public or
private companies and sectors can shape education and training for their own employees by selecting
MOOC courses or co-developing courses or programmes together.

Within such a space, a trilateral dialogue between platform-university-sector/enterprise arises, leading
to joint operations and co-creation of new provisions.

This sheds new light on the future of continuing education and professional development in
partnership with universities and on the design of MOOC courses and programmes.

Monitoring of online and distance course design by MOOC platforms

MOOCs must meet high quality criteria to make them online accessible to everyone everywhere without face-to-face components. MOOCs can contain synchronous and asynchronous components. In some cases, they remain available on the MOOC platform for asynchronous self-paced study after their delivery.

MOOC platforms monitor these quality criteria and have established procedures that guarantee a high
quality of their MOOC offer. Because these criteria are struct, it is challenging to keep the timetable
for designing and developing the MOOC before launch.

Some MOOC platforms have developed their own course design and development models and guide
universities in their use. Others rely on models that universities use for their regular online courses. In
both cases they strictly follow the development schedules, which is a challenge.

MOOC support teams in universities

More than for mainstream online education and learning design, media and technology are paramount
to the delivery of MOOCs, as they need to reach a large number of learners completely online. Both
educational design and technology must meet high standards in education and technology, such as the
video clips, discussion forums, and assessment and feedback tools. That is why universities create
special MOOC support teams that combine the horizontal expertise of educational, technological and
media support services.

MOOC support teams provide support in the educational design, development, launch and evaluation
of the MOOC. In the development phase, in addition to extensive educational support, multimedia
support will be provided with camera and media training, multimedia production (video, podcasts,
animations), support for self-recording studios, and feedback on pre- and post-production.

MOOC design models and guidelines

For MOOC design, online course design models as presented in Sections 3 and 4 of this eBooK can be
applied with mainly asynchronous and possibly synchronous components. To be flexible in terms of
“anytime to study”, options should be left open for full asynchronous delivery.

In many cases ABC-LD is used as a design model. This has been adapted for MOOC development for
both Futurelearn and edX platforms:

A consortium of Ibero-American universities and TU Graz, under leadership of Universidad Carlos III
de Madrid, have developed MOOC-Maker in Spanish, consisting of a comprehensive set of MOOC
design and development modules:

Futurelearn design models and guidelines

The first European MOOC platform, FutureLearn, has built a consistent MOOC design and development model, based on the conversational theory of learning (Sharpless & Ferguson, 2019) and its previous operationalizations, notably the Learning Designer and ABC-LD (see section 4).

Futurelearn does not have self-paced courses. It works with cohorts of students for basically 6 weeks.
Universities do the moderation and tutoring.

In the design and development of a MOOC, a Futurelearn team of course development managers work
very closely with the MOOC teams at the universities. They provide direct feedback on all important
quality aspects (pedagogy, technical and business) when designing a course. Such a course design
includes 70 key quality control points. For each quality control point there is a green, orange or red
level (traffic light system). If a course gets too much ‘red’, it will be postponed until it can be solved.
Partners are contractually obliged to comply with this.

New partners participate in a FutureLearn workshop to make sure they are familiar with all of the
guidance. Partners joining FutureLearn can look in the openly accessible partnership website that
includes more information on the criteria and on how to design courses

Partners joining FutureLearn are also invited to do a MOOC on how to teach online. They also have
access to the weekly learning design drop-in sessions, a partners’ forum and different focus groups.

Futurelearn is a mobile-first platform, the content must be mobile friendly as at least 50% of their
users use mobile phones for their learning journey. Accessibility is also part of their quality assurance
process as it is an essential part of the mission. They have a text checker to help teachers make their
courses understandable. In addition, all videos have subtitles, all images have alt text, and all
interactive content has accessible fallbacks.

Online micro-credentials for continuing education and professional development

Micro-credentials will be a new approach to the provision of continuing education and professional development that meet the needs of the economy and society. The EU Council of Ministers has agreed on a common concept on micro-credentials certificates. The development of micro-credentials will now be on the agenda of higher education institutions and ministries of education in dialogue with the Bologna Process. Micro-credentials are also jointly developed for the EUI alliances. The design of micro-credentials aims at a combination of an academic and professional orientation, possibly in co-creation with external stakeholders such as companies, sectors, professional associations and public services.

Micro-credentials or preferably delivered online to guarantee sufficient flexibility and scalability.


The need for up-skilling and re-skilling is so high in a fast-changing world and considering the ongoing digitalization of the economy, that continuing education is becoming crucial for all. A fit qualification, like a micro-credential, is needed to support these developments through continuous knowledge transfer, upskilling and reskilling. Micro-credentials with a recognized qualification would serve a wider audience of learners, not all of whom have the ability or ambition to complete a full degree at a later stage in their lives. The stackability of micro-credentials would further trigger students to continue education in a larger programme and eventually to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree (Şenocak & Kır, 2022).

European developments

The European Union has laid an important foundation for the future development of micro-credentials and thus for lifelong learning and professional development in Europe. This was nurtured by research
and innovation in various projects representing bottom-up processes of institutions and networks.

In the Digital Education Action Plan (DEAP), the European Commission refers to micro-credentials that “facilitate the provision of flexible, accessible learning opportunities, including for adult learners and professionals, and help them re-skill, up-skill or change careers”, capturing “the learning outcomes of short-term learning” (European Commission, 2018).

Microcredentials in the Bologna Process

In the Rome Ministerial Communiqué (2020), the Bologna Ministers of Higher Education were asking
“the Bologna Follow Up Group (BFUG) to explore how and to what extent smaller, flexible units,
including those leading to micro- credentials, can be defined, developed, implemented and recognized by our institutions using EHEA tools” (EHEA, 2020). In response to this, the Microbol project brought together members of the Bologna Follow up Group and experts to examine how micro-credentials fit within the framework of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and linked micro-credentials to the main commitments of the Bologna process. (Soenen, M., Finocchiettti, C., Korhonen, J., 2022).

In the report, a micro-credential in higher education is “a certified small volume of learning and
designed to provide the learner with specific knowledge, skills and competences that meet societal,
personal, cultural or labour market 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 (European/National Qualifications Framework in the European Higher
Education Area) level that will be achieved, the workload, expressed in ECTS, and to the assessment
methods and criteria used. Any micro-credential can be recognized by a higher education institution
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).

The Recommendation of the EU Council of Ministers

The European Commission has commissioned the Micro-credentials in Higher Education Consultation
Group to develop an advisory report on micro-credentials (European Commission, 2021a). In addition
to the expertise of the group members, the Consultation Group was able to draw on input from ongoing EU projects and extensive reports on the state-of-the-art of micro-credentials (Orr et al., 2020; Brown et al., 2021 ).

Micro-credentials certify the learning outcomes of short-term learning experiences, for example a
short course or training. They offer a flexible, targeted way to help people develop the knowledge,
skills and competences they need for their personal and professional development (European Council,

Consequently, micro-credentials are defined by the EU Council as “the record of the learning
outcomes that a learner has acquired following a small volume of learning. These learning outcomes
will have been assessed against transparent and clearly defined criteria. Learning experiences leading
to micro- credentials are designed to provide the learner with specific knowledge, skills and
competences that respond to societal, personal, cultural or labour market needs. Micro- credentials
are owned by the learner, can be shared and are portable. They may be stand-alone or combined
into larger credentials. They are underpinned by quality assurance following agreed standards in the
relevant sector or area of activity” (European Council, 2022).

In the EU Council Recommendation, micro-credential awards should contain a number of mandatory
, such as the learning outcomes targeted by the learning experience, the notional workload
(in terms of ECTS), the level in the EQF or QF-EHEA frameworks, the form of participation in the
learning activity, the type of quality assurance. Optional requirements to the micro-credential
description are for example: the prerequisites to enroll, the supervision and identity verification
during assessment, the stackability/integration of the micro-credential, and the grade achieved by
the learner (fig. 24).

Fig. 24 Mandatory and optional elements in the Recommendation of the EU Council of Ministers on Micro-credentials
Fig. 24 Mandatory and optional elements in the Recommendation of the EU Council of Ministers on

Future steps at institutional, national and EU level

Member States are recommended to use micro-credentials, where appropriate, as a tool to increase participation in lifelong learning and help reach the target of 60 % of all adults participating in training
every year as set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan and is approved by the EU in
new European Agenda for Adult learning 2021- 2030.

The EU Council Recommendation is expected to be implemented by Member States and reported by
the Commission within five years, with micro-credentials recognized as qualifications for lifelong
learning and professional development in the European Higher Education Area.
Member states are invited to inform the Commission by December 2023 about measures to support the
objectives of the Recommendation.

National governments will take measures in dialogue with higher education institutions. Several
institutions are already preparing a vision on micro-credentials in the perspective of a policy on
continuing education and professional development and the organization of continuing education

Micro-credential courses and programmes

In terms of volume for a micro-credential, the “Micro-credentials Consultation Group in Higher
Education” allowed “flexibility for innovation and experimentation: “from one ECTS to less than a
full degree”. From a design point of view, however, volume matters. A distinction must be made

  • a micro-credential course, consisting of a single course (1-3 ECTS) using a method of course
  • a micro-credential programme, consisting of a coherent set of courses covering a complex of
    competences in a particular area, requiring a curriculum design methodology.

In higher education, micro-credentials cover levels 5 to 8 in the EQF framework.

A micro-credential course can provide an assessment for which transferable ECTS credits are awarded, more than 1 ECTS in most higher education institutions. The course can serve as a standalone
offering or can be stackable to a broader micro-credential or degree programme.

A micro-credential programme can be awarded with a qualification. For example, the Common
Micro-credential Framework as developed by European MOOC Consortium awards a standardized
CMF Micro-credential (in France, Italy and Spain a Gradeo) after a programme of 4 to 6 ECTS. Some
universities offer a micro-degree after about 20 ECTS.

In the coming years, a more detailed qualification structure for micro-credentials has to be be
developed at institutional and national level in dialogue with the EU. A convergence should be found
to make micro-credentials of different size and EQF level readable for academia and employers
across Europe, but this depends on the institutional and national developments indeed, next to
discussions in the Bologna Process and the EU.

MOOC platforms in the European MOOC Consortium offer MOOC-based micro-credential courses
and programmes.

Combining an academic and a professional qualification

Micro-credential courses are sometimes co-created, endorsed or accredited by a professional
association, business sector or public service (e.g., health care, education, IT or psychology). These
organizations recognize then these courses in their own continuing professional development
framework. In this way, micro-credential courses can sometimes be recognized for an individual
learning account in a sector. In these cases, micro-credential courses or programmes may provide
specific professional credit in addition to the academic award.

Design of online micro-credentials

Online and distance learning will be applied in learning provisions where learners require a high degree of flexibility (independence of place, time and pace of learning), for example adult learners combining work and study, as well as international students. This is eminently the case for microcredential learners. Therefore, in order to be flexible and accessible, online distance learning methods would be preferred for micro-credentials. This also makes them more scalable, which is important to meet the enormous needs in the economy and society.

The design model used is depending from institutional practices. The Learning Designer, the ABC-LD
and the Four Components for Instructional Design (4CID) models are all suitable for online distance
learning. In the case of virtual classrooms, synchronous teaching and learning can be applied (see
sections 3 and 4 of this eBook).

Design of joint micro-credentials within EUI alliances and networks

Within EUI university alliances, joint micro-credential courses and programmes are being developed, involving teachers from multiple alliance or network members, and may be awarded a joint certificate.
The design and development of such joint programmes includes a lot of pedagogical and organizational problems which have to be solved step by step, for example connecting with institutional and cross-institutional policies related to continuing education and professional development, sharing a joint vision on the micro-credential to be developed, composing a joint course team, ensuring cross-institutional educational and IT support, teaching and learning design of the course, deciding on the digital delivery platform, determine formative and summative assessment and feedback, agreeing on assigning an award, defining an admission framework, agreeing on a joint quality assurance scheme, developing a joint business plan, developing a learner recruitment plan, concluding a consortium agreement and developing a sustainability framework.

For the design of such initiatives, specific models and guidelines for joint programmes, courses and
micro-learning units are developed by EADTU (Henderikx, Ubachs and Antonaci, 2022a, 2022b):

Henderikx, P., Ubachs, G., & Antonaci, A. (2022b). Models and guidelines for the design and
development of a joint micro-credential programme in higher education
Global Academic

Henderikx, P., Ubachs, G., & Antonaci, A.. (2022). Models and guidelines for the design and
development of joint micro-credential courses and microlearning units in higher education.
Academic Press.

Online microlearning units


In addition to micro-credential courses and programmes, which focus on complex knowledge and skills in a specific area, there is a growing practice in micro-learning units that include a much shorter learning experience for less complex knowledge or skills. Microlearning is an emerging educational format. According to recent meta-research, it could mature and develop into a critical major trend in its own right (Leong et al., 2020).

The “micro” characteristic is central. However, there are no rules about the volume of microlearning
units as it depends on the types of learners, the complexity of learning, the learning context and
learning strategies adopted by the learning organization. They often range from bite-sized “nuggets” of
5 minutes to 30 minutes when used in corporate workplace training. They can also be part of a larger
set of units or alongside a programme, which is the case with some typical approaches to language
learning or software training.

We consider any learning experience that is less than a micro-credential as a microlearning unit. In the
European Commission’s definition of micro-credentials, this would mean less than 1 ECTS (see Table

Although microlearning is currently increasingly applied in corporate environments, there is also interest in developing microlearning units in mainstream higher education for teaching specific knowledge and skills. One of the benefits is that these units can be developed faster and used as sort of reusable learning objects or open resources that can be integrated into the design of other courses. Micro-learning units developed for business can also be used as learning objects if they comply with higher education design principles applied.

Because there is a need for flexibility for use in the workplace or anywhere, microlearning units
should be suitable for use on mobile devices.


Microlearning units do not have the same functionality as micro-credentials, because they are short
and therefore not suitable for more complex knowledge and skills. They can still provide a high-level
view on a subject. Sometimes they are also used as a preparation or addition to a more complex online
course or programme.

Therefore, microlearning is not the answer to every learning need. It focuses on solving one problem
or answering one question at a time. It cannot therefore be used to provide broad, fundamental
knowledge on any subject. It’s great for on-demand microlearning, but it should be found right when
needed (Tipton, 2020). Microlearning is also used to introduce customers to a product, train salespeople to sell products, etc.

In a corporate learning context, microlearning units are in particular suitable for just-in-time and onthe-
job training for a particular task or for the training of professional knowledge and skills, also for
21st century skills. For employers, making learning available at the point of need is a seamless way to
blend learning into the regular flow of work activities, supporting a culture of learning (Tipton, 2020).
Because microlearning units are short, they can be developed and delivered faster, responding to
changing business goals and new training demands (Andriotis, 2018).


Follow procedures of micro-credential course design

The design of micro-learning units should follow the same rules of constructive alignment as is the case with the development of micro-credentialing courses: first the learning outcomes or competences should be defined in terms of knowledge and skills and learning activities should be designed starting from the learner’s prior knowledge and skills.

There are at least two alternative avenues for developing microlearning units: breaking down microlearning units from existing courses or course units, or (co-)creating a new microlearning unit
from scratch.

Break down microlearning units out of existing courses or course units

As a first alternative to developing microlearning units, it may be appropriate to split an existing course or course unit into modular, self-contained microlearning units suitable for workplace learning. More complex content or learning tasks are broken down into specific small knowledge or skill components for on-the-job training in corporate training environments.
The advantage of this approach is that the content of these microlearning units is already developed and they share the credibility of courses that may already have been credited.
The pitfall of using existing course material is that it is not entirely suitable for learning in a corporate
environment, neither from a content standpoint nor from a microlearning course design perspective.
When taking it to a corporate environment, adjustments are necessary.

(Co-)create a new microlearning unit from scratch

The second alternative is the development of completely new microlearning units, possibly in cocreation
with employers or professional associations. The collaborative design of such microlearning units may include the analysis of the specific knowledge or skills required, the development of authentic learning activities or learning tasks relevant to the business environment and eventually the professional recognition of the unit. Universities in this case provide content, based on research and innovation, and support the learning design of the programme. During the process, it can be decided that a microlearning unit can be stacked into a micro-credential course, possibly in combination with other units.

In this second approach, it may be more difficult to gain recognition for a self-contained microlearning
unit in an academic setting. The academic valorization of a microlearning unit assuring access to a
broader academic course or programme may require a procedure for the recognition of prior learning
or experience. However, universities and quality assurance bodies are thinking about ways to recognize these types of microlearning units.

Adapt the learning design to learners on the workplace

Microlearning for workplace learning should preferably be limited to one learning objective or skill.
The content should be short and focused and capture the essence of what is being taught. The connection to other units in a wider set of units or a course should be clear.

The design should be attractive, because students learn independently. A wide variety of formats are
used. Here are some examples of microlearning activities (see also: Andriotis, 2018):

  • reading a text (sentences, short paragraphs);
  • listening to a short podcast;
  • watching a short video clip (animations, simulations);
  • learning with microgames;
  • learning with apps;
  • social/cooperative learning with social media;
  • analyzing images (photos, illustrations, infographics);
  • completing tests and quizzes (micro-assessment to assess progress);
  • writing a reflection on just viewed content;
  • remembering a word, vocabulary, definition or formula;
  • making practical exercises.

Self-assessment will increase learner control and encourage students to engage in ongoing training

Review the microlearning unit

An advantage of online education courses is that they can be reviewed before they release to real learning situations. in the case of microlearning units, peer reviews can be done by academics or

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