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Young People and Micro-creds for Sustainable Futures

The Challenge

‘…we are currently situated in a posthuman convergence between the Fourth Industrial Age and the Sixth Extinction, between an advanced knowledge economy, which perpetuates patterns of discrimination and exclusion, and the threat of climate change devastation for both human and non-human entities…’

Rosi Braidotti (2019)

Introduction

The UNEVOC Centre @ School of Education, RMIT University  – drawing on the work of a number of recent projects – is developing a proposal for a program of applied research to co-design a series of micro-credentials for sustainable futures in different places. 

The program imagines that these micro-creds can deliver on the promise of developing place-based responses for young people’s health and well-being, and education, training and employment pathways for sustainable futures.

What are Micro-creds?

Micro-credentials (micro-creds or creds) are a relatively recent, digitally enabled, approach to the accreditation of skills development and training outcomes, often in usually non-accredited, informal or non-traditional training contexts ( see, BCA 2018, Learning Vault 2020). 

In Australia the most recent and high-profile policy engagement with the potential of micro-creds to capture skills development can be found in a section of the recent Australian Government’s Education Council review of senior secondary pathways into work, further education and training (Shergold 2020).

Chaired by Peter Shergold the review, titled Looking into the Future, defines a micro-cred as a ‘certification of assessed skills and knowledge that learners have demonstrated or acquired through a short course of study or training’. These short courses ‘focus on smaller elements of learning and may stand alone or be additional, or complementary, to other certificated training. They may also be a component part of a formal qualification’. 

The review makes a number of claims about micro-creds, including their ‘efficiency, cost-effectiveness and flexibility’. Citing a number of peak bodies, including the Business Council of Australia, the review suggests the ‘need for micro-credentials is increasingly well established in business, where they are used to address particular skill requirements in new or emerging occupations, provide evidence of workplace capabilities, or warrant the currency of existing skills’. 

The ‘potential of micro-credentials has come into particular focus as a result of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic’, according to the review, where the pandemic ‘has shown the value of being able to pivot an economy in unforeseen ways’. Prior to the ‘economic shock of the pandemic, the market for micro-credentials was growing in both higher education and the VET sector…[‘Thirty-six of Australia’s 42 universities are currently either offering or developing some form of microcredential’]’. 

In a pre COVID-19 world, these credentials were in increasing demand for a number of purposes, including: ‘as “stackable” credit towards aggregated awards’; employed to ‘recognise prior learning’; provide evidence of ‘graduate attributes’; and ‘warrant professional and continuing education for registration and licensing’. 

Given these claims, and the ways in which many institutions have been promoting micro-creds in the last few years, the review highlights significant issues and challenges for this form of credentialing, including, most significantly, that the ‘widespread recognition and transferability of micro-credentials requires a national approach, and the development of a verifiable quality assurance process.’ 

Our response to the issues outlined by Shergold, and in other places – for example, Australia’s National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) recent report on An analysis of ‘micro-credentials’ in VET –  is to suggest that micro-creds provide an important mechanism to deliver on the promise of innovation, flexibility, portability, co-design and place-based responses to the challenges for young people’s health and well-being, education, training and employment pathways, and sustainable futures.

And to do this outside of existing national qualifications frameworks, or where there are no existing national qualifications frameworks.

There are a number of models for how these promises might be met.

The Pluriversity Model

The Blue Mountains community to the west of Sydney (AUSTRALIA) has developed a placed-based, community led initiative to develop a range of accredited learning opportunities for young people.
The Blue Mountains Pluriversity “involves the community in providing a range of learning opportunities for young people after they have left school. Through workshops, mentoring, work experience, events and Youth Cafes, the Pluriversity expands the range of possibilities for young people aged 16+ to engage with one another and the wider community as they gain microcredentials and explore future life and career pathways!”

Micro-creds and Badges

“Offline Learning and Online Accreditation

Earn Digital Badges at the Blue Mountains Pluriversity

Through earning eBadges from the Blue Mountains Pluriversity you can fill a backpack with real-life credentials that you can take anywhere in the world. Follow your interests and passions to grow a community of like-minded friends, discover your future pathway, and build up your microcredentials!

You can share your badges in:

  • Blogs, websites, ePortfolios, and professional networks
  • Job applications
  • Social media sites – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
  • Even in your email signature!

They are linked to the verified training you’ve received

Verified Training

When you take part in our workshops, work experience, mentoring or events, we verify your participation by videoing and photographing your learning process. We also collate documents that demonstrate the content of what you’ve learnt. These are all uploaded to your digital badge. 

Collect Your Badges in a BackpackYou can store your badges in an Open Badges backpack. We use Badgr, but you can store and move your Open Badges between platforms. Your backpack gives you an easy way to collect your badges, sort them by category, and display them across social networking profiles, job sites, websites and more.”

The RSA Cities of Learning Initiative

The RSA (Royal Society for the Advancement of Manufacturing, Engineering and the Arts)  – based in the UK, but with networks in places such as Oceania – has been at the “forefront of significant social impact for over 250 years. Providing platforms, opportunities and networks for all those who share our vision to connect, engage, share ideas and expertise”.

Cities of Learning

The RSA’s Cities of Learning program is a “new model for cities and regions to design and deliver inclusive lifelong learning which is tailored to the needs of local people and economies. 

Cities of Learning helps people find new learning opportunities near them. Our digital platform lets learners transform what they’ve studied into new skills, qualifications and careers.

We work with local leaders, learning providers, and employers to find untapped sources of community education and transform local lifelong learning.

Cities of Learning:

  • Widens access to learning for all
  • Prepares young people for work
  • Joins up skills and industry
  • Creates a workforce ready for a changing world of work

Encourages a sense of place, identity, and ambition”

The initiative aims to make learning and accreditation:

The Cities of Learning initiative claims a number of benefits for Learners, Cities, Learning Organisations, Employers.

Micro-creds for Sustainable Futures

Drawing on these and other models – including our work in developing a discussion paper on the concept of 21st century skills, and the work on COVID-19 recovery scenarios for young people that we have written about in many posts to this website – our project is framed by a number of key ideas, including:

  • Involving young people as stakeholders in their own future
  • Developing processes of co-design for ethical innovation (innovation that is Responsible, Inclusive, Disruptive and Engaged – Rickards and Steele 2019)
  • Developing micro-creds for sustainable futures

Micro-creds for sustainable futures are not only about an individual young person’s learning, and the accreditation of this learning.

While this is important, the development of micro-creds in this project is about the learning that is required for building shared, sustainable futures in which young people are key stakeholders.

In this sense, we imagine these micro-creds emerging at the intersection of frameworks such as World Economic Forum’s understanding of “21st century skills”, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Finally, this project imagines that micro-creds for young people’s health and well-being, and education, training and employment pathways for sustainable futures can be developed to be:

  • Flexible
  • Co-designed
  • Innovative
  • Place-based
  • Portable
  • Platform enabled

References

Shergold, P. (2020) Looking To The Future: Report Of The Review Of Senior Secondary Pathways Into Work, Further Education And Training, Department of Education, Skills and Employment. Canberra, https://www.dese.gov.au/quality-schools-package/resources/review-senior-secondary-pathways 

Blazevic, O (2020) What Are Micro Credentials and How Can They Benefit You?, https://www.training.com.au/ed/how-micro-credentials-can-benefit-you/

Learning Vault (2020) https://www.learningvault.com.au/digital-badging/

Business Council of Australia (2018) Future-proof: Australia’s future post-secondary education and skills system, https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/bca/pages/4386/attachments/original/1542258016/LoRes-2018_BCA_EDUC_Future_Proof_WIP1A_%281%29.pdf?1542258016
National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) (2021) An analysis of ‘micro-credentials’ in VET, https://www.ncver.edu.au/research-and-statistics/publications/all-publications/an-analysis-of-micro-credentials-in-vet

Rickards, L. and Steele, W. (2019) Towards a Sustainable Development Goals Platform at RMIT, RMIT University

By Peter Kelly

I lead the UNESCO UNEVOC Centre in the School of Education at RMIT University.

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