Convergence Recap: Microcredentials Dominate the Conversation

Convergence Recap: Microcredentials Dominate the Conversation

I recently had the opportunity to attend Convergence: Credential Innovation in Higher Education, a joint presentation by UPCEA and AACRAO that examined new and emerging trends and models, especially at the institutional level, in the emergent field of alternative credentials. 

The conference included some standout sessions and sparked interesting conversations among the higher ed community. 

Microcredentials dominated the conference conversation. There seems to be an earnest commitment from stakeholders to establish a path ahead for embracing microcredentials as a key offering. I was impressed by the level of the conversation: several years ago, higher ed leaders as a group would not have taken the same position. Even registrars, who often have a (somewhat unfair) reputation for being “gatekeepers,” seemed excited about exploring the possibilities and dedicated to progress on this front.

Creating Demand for Microcredentials

One point of discussion that came to the forefront was the “push vs. pull” regarding microcredential adoption. Higher education is currently pushing certain aspects of microcredentialing. Schools have content they believe is valuable and are using higher education marketing efforts to promote that content to learners. 

However, for microcredentialing to truly take off as a viable alternative pathway in higher education, there must be a pull from the market—in this case, learners and the employers who evaluate them for job opportunities. 

The mindset around obtaining a driver’s license is a good analogy for where we should aim to be with microcredentialing. A driver’s license is, in its own way, a microcredential. If someone wants to drive a vehicle, they can’t do so legally without a driver’s license. This regulation creates significant demand (or a pull) in the market—if you want to drive a car, you also want a license.

If employers were to create more demand for workers who hold microcredentials and schools were to offer more microcredential programs focused on the competencies employers are looking for, learners would be more apt to pursue microcredentials to get the jobs they want.

Not all credentials are created equal

Another focus area at the conference was the idea that not all microcredentials are created equal. I overheard someone say that the average hiring manager spends only six seconds reviewing a resume in the first pass. 

The takeaway? If a candidate lists a specific badge on their resume, for example, the hiring manager isn’t digging deep into what that badge represents. It stands to reason that credentials affiliated with a professional or government association may have a higher likelihood of being universally recognized during the early screening stages of the hiring process. 

Logistics regarding credential records 

There was also some talk about the logistics of maintaining and enabling access to credential records. If a third-party company owns the credential records, how can learners ensure that they will have access to those records throughout their lives? 

This conversation was promising, as it demonstrated that schools are already thinking beyond the theoretical and into the practical applications of microcredentialing. 

Standout Convergence Sessions 

There were many excellent sessions at the event, but one in particular stood out for the quality of its discussion:

Breakfast Briefing | An Inclusive, Universal Microcredential Solution for Higher Education with Rupert Ward, Sheryl Grant, and Robert McDonald 

This session touched on the importance of bringing three key parties to the table regarding microcredentialing: employers, students, and schools. I like to think of students more generally as people who may be students for a brief time but will ultimately be employees (and always, of course, human beings). Schools and employers must consider how to integrate microcredentials into people’s lives regardless of the environment they’re in and where they are in their journey. 

Rupert Ward, Executive Dean at Sino-British College, used an excellent analogy to demonstrate the differences between skill and competency, key terms in the conversation about microcredentials. 

Imagine you’ve traveled from the US to the UK on a redeye flight. You need to hop into a rental car and drive across the country—on the opposite side of the road. Oh, and it’s pouring rain. The skill is driving. But the level of competency is determined by how well you can apply those skills under challenging conditions.

People graduate from college with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, signifying that they worked hard and persisted for 2-4 years to accomplish something difficult. There is value in that—no doubt about it. But it doesn’t necessarily represent whether they have the skills for a specific job, and it certainly doesn’t say much about their competency—the application of those skills in varying conditions

When it comes to competency mapping, employers seek to apply people with specific competencies to specific jobs or initiatives. A good talent management team can determine which people have which competencies and how to apply them in relationship to a role. There is a real opportunity for microcredentials, if thoughtfully and transparently structured, to serve as indicators of people’s competencies.

Converging Perspectives: How a Research University (R1) Approaches Alternative Credentialing

I had the privilege of moderating this session, which brought together a packed room of people curious about how the University of Delaware worked closely with an employer to develop a credential that the employer truly values. The initiative created a “pull” that drives a steady pipeline of learners to the benefit of everyone: faculty, students, and the employer. 

Strategic Innovation: Building a Better Infrastructure for Microlearning

I also had the pleasure of introducing a session with leaders from William & Mary about the preparation and planning necessary to change the paradigm from schools offering degrees to microcredentials. This session explored the significant work required and touched on the importance of securing the right buy-in across an institution to get an initiative off the ground. 

Higher Ed Has Made Progress, but Credentialing Requires More Work 

While great progress has been made, employers and schools still have work to do to unite around microcredentials and create the right amount of pull to attract learners. Both parties have related needs but haven’t quite figured out how to progress in alignment with each other. 

Schools feel they don’t have enough direction from employers about what skills and competencies their workplaces prioritize now and in the future. Employers want schools to offer credentials that demonstrate whether a candidate possesses certain skills and competencies or can reach that point eventually. Then, of course, there’s the issue of conflict of interest.

This particular conference primarily presented higher education’s perspective. Going forward, I’d love to see more representation from the corporate hiring world (SHRM was one of the few in attendance). 

Professional associations could also have a place at Convergence, though that may be trickier in cases where they compete directly with schools by providing their own educational credentials and experiences. Regardless, it’s always nice to broaden the tent to include more stakeholders.

Keep checking the MindMax blog for additional conference recaps, or reach out to us to learn more about our higher education marketing and enrollment services.