Building blocks for flexible education
Do you want to work on making education more flexible? And actually develop flexible education within your institution? This publication
Since October, 32 higher education institutions – 10 universities and 22 universities of applied sciences – have been taking part in the Duth national Microcredentials pilot under the direction of the Making education more flexible zone, the Universities of The Netherlands, and The Association of Universities of Applied Sciences of the Netherlands. Microcredentialing – breaking down education into smaller units certified separately – stimulates flexibility and gives recognisable value to the lifelong development offer by institutions. You can read exactly what the pilot entails here and watch the video for a short explanation.
A digital certificate for an independently completed educational unit in the range of 3 – 30 EC with an accreditation worthy level, quality mark and recognised value for the target group professionals.
A microcredential is a reliable certificate that allows professionals to demonstrate what they know, can do and understand after successfully completing an educational unit. In other words, the microcredential gives an independent value to a smaller educational unit (in the pilot, it is between 3 and 30 EC). The microcredential stands for education worthy of accreditation and adds a quality mark: the (paying) participant/employer can be sure that the course has been set up in such a way that learning outcomes will be achieved. The achievement of these learning outcomes is traceable and verifiable. However, a microcredential is not only about the end result. The entire process, including the learning activities and associated assessment of learning outcomes, gives value to a microcredential, which is recognised within and outside educational institutions. In addition, there will be national registration of who has obtained which microcredential. The question ‘What are microcredentials?’ is briefly answered in the video below.
What are microcredentials?
In this video, the pilot team briefly answers this question.
The registration date for the first round of the pilot has passed. The second moment of application starts on 7 November and ends on 18 December. For more information, please contact Bart Lamboo (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (VH) and the Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) will again draw the attention of their members to the possibility of taking part in the pilot project prior to the second start-up moment.
22 Universities of Applied Sciences
Aeres Hogeschool, Avans Hogeschool Breda University of Applied Sciences, Fontys Hogeschool, Haagse Hogeschool, HAN University of Applied Sciences, Hanzehogeschool Groningen, HAS-hogeschool, Hogeschool Inholland, Hogeschool iPabo, Hogeschool Leiden, Hogeschool Rotterdam, Hogeschool Saxion, Hogeschool Utrecht, Hogeschool van Amsterdam, Hogeschool van Hall Larenstein, Hogeschool Windesheim, Hotelschool The Hague, Marnix Academie, NHL Stenden, Thomas More Hogeschool, Zuyd Hogeschool.
Maastricht University, Open Universiteit, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Technische Universiteit Delft, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, Tilburg University, Universiteit Twente, Universiteit Utrecht, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Wageningen University & Research.
No, the offer for the CPD market can of course be much broader and include several other forms. There may be quite different reasons for offering various forms and contents; a short seminar on group dynamics may be sufficient for someone who doesn’t have an in-depth learning need. But only courses that meet the quality requirements of a microcredential will result in an accredited certificate with recognised value.
Many stakeholders involved in the preliminary process agree that national agreements are needed on the content and form of microcredentials. However, opinions differ on the scope, especially on the minimum number of EC (study load for 1 EC is 28 hours). One option is to issue microcredentials for very small educational units (minimum 0.5 – 1 EC). This would ensure that much of the current contract-based education aimed at professionals would fall within the required scope. But it would also entail the risk of not establishing a clear profile for the microcredentials, of not providing the desired ‘independent value’ and of making it difficult to incorporate microcredentials into subsequent education, let alone ‘stacking’ to constitute a complete programme. It could also create a huge administrative burden, including for examination boards. What we can use to demonstrate the knowledge and skills acquired in small units of 0.5 – 1 EC, however, are the so-called edubadges, which are not considered microcredentials.
To give Dutch institutions the freedom to incorporate microcredentials in their educational offer, it is in any case important not to limit the scope too much. A microcredential with a minimum scope of 3 EC provides a substantial learning outcome and can, in terms of study load, still be combined with work. At the other end of the range, 30 EC is a good maximum, as it would otherwise almost amount to a one-year course. For a large number of institutions, this is the scope of a minor, which makes it difficult to qualify anything larger than this as ‘micro’.
During the course of the pilot, we will closely monitor, in consultation with the participating institutions, whether these frameworks are feasible and will lead to the desired results. Should it become apparent during the pilot that the minimum and maximum EC numbers do not work, it may be decided, in consultation with the steering committee of the Acceleration Plan and the umbrella organisations, to adjust them.
The concept of microcredentials is gaining more and more interest, but it has not yet been included in the WHW (Higher Education and Research Act) and therefore does not yet have a legally recognised status. In our current system, we only have legally recognised diplomas on the basis of the WHW. The microcredentials that we will issue during the course of the pilot therefore do not yet have any legal status. However, we are working on this together with lawyers from the institutions.
Because all higher education institutions in the Netherlands have committed themself to the pilot and the current quality framework through the organisations VH and UNL, microcredentials issued within the pilot have national recognition and acknowledgement. In the design of the (digital) certification, we will therefore explicitly mention this national framework.
A follow-up question is whether a microcredential offers opportunities for intake or exemption. This is a subject that falls within the mandate of the examination board of the institution where inflow or exemption is requested.
The aim of the pilot is for institution-wide collaboration to create a system in which microcredentials have recognised value. By acting together and using a shared language and a common quality framework, the institutions can assign independent value to the microcredentials.
Learning outcomes describe what a learner may expect to know, to understand and to be able to apply. It is important to note that learning outcomes are about ‘the outcomes of the learning process, independent of educational content and curriculum, study load, duration of the study, organisation of the education, manner of instruction and where and how the education is given” (Van Delft, 2020, p. 2). In other words, a learning outcome describes what someone knows and can do after successfully completing a learning path.
This also means that learning outcomes achieved in a microcredential programme in one institution are recognised as such in the same institution or by another institution. With a microcredential a participant can, for instance, demonstrate to have the required prior knowledge when starting a programme or another microcredential. Furthermore, learning outcomes that overlap with an accredited programme may lead to exemption when enrolling in the programme. Exemptions are not granted automatically but must be requested from a designated institutional body, such as an examination board.
Learning outcomes describe what a learner is expected to know, understand and be able to apply on completion of a learning period (see NVAO and Tuning). As part of the pilot, we will examine how we can give substance to the description of learning outcomes in the simplest way possible, in line with NVAO principles.
The microcredentials pilot is an initiative of VH and Universiteiten van Nederland. We will incorporate the lessons and insights learned in the Learning Outcomes Experiment into our pilot and build on them where possible. The pilot also seeks to connect to European and national developments (e.g. legal embedding of the Learning Outcomes Experiment) in terms of working with learning outcomes.
The Acceleration Team envisages a national register for microcredentials that will firmly establish flexible education for professionals. The obvious solution is to set up this register alongside the existing diploma register at DUO. An exploratory survey previously carried out by DUO to this end has given rise to a number of follow-up steps. As it is unlikely that DUO will have such a register available at the start of the Acceleration Plan pilot, we will start to provide microcredentials with the edubadges infrastructure already available at SURF.
SURF Edubadges is the only sector-wide platform for digital certificates available in the Dutch education system. Edubadges are issued digitally on this platform in a secure and reliable environment. The platform makes it possible for edubadges to be comparable, exchangeable and stackable. An edubadge provides information on the content, scope and level of learning outcomes achieved. With the edubadges backpack, learners can manage their edubadges and can share an edubadge with employers or other educational institutions. Edubadges are linked to a cross-institutional identity, the eduID, which remains available even after graduation and is valid for life. Both the student and the viewer of the edubadge can verify who the issuing party is. Each issued edubadge can be checked for authenticity at the press of a button.
Not all edubadges are microcredentials, which means that the metadata of the microcredential issued as part of the pilot may have a different format from that currently used for edubadges. SURF is aware of this and is prepared, in consultation and where possible, to make changes to how microcredentials are issued and managed if the implementation of the pilot so requires.
A number of preliminary steps have to be taken before an institution can start using edubadges. The institution must be connected to the Edubadges platform. Institutions that have been actively involved in SURF’s pilot in the past three years are already connected.
Broadly speaking, the connection process comprises the following four steps.
SURF already has a roadmap in place for institutions that would like to start issuing edubadges to students. In cooperation with the Acceleration Plan, this roadmap is being updated and detailed for the benefit of the participants in the microcredentials pilot. This updated roadmap will also be used for the ‘Starting with Edubadges’ course, in which pilot participants will be coached during implementation. SURF does not charge participants an additional fee for this service, as the edubadges infrastructure is already part of the basic fee.
SURF will continue to work on improving the platform, for example the technical integration with learning management systems and student information systems and the addition of bulk upload tools. The platform’s publishing process will also be simplified where possible, for example by allowing students to give one-off consent to receive edubadges issued by the institution. At the same time, the Acceleration Plan will cooperate with SURF, OCW and DUO on the steps needed to establish a formal national register.
Just like bachelors, masters and minors, microcredentials will have an accredited and recognised value in the education system. The microcredentials achieved will be stored in a Dutch national register – initially in Edubadges, later possibly in RIO. The data to be included in the certificate will be determined during the course of the pilot project. These include:
The preparatory phase of the pilot starts after September 2021. In the first months, the emphasis is on knowledge sharing and preparation; in this phase, the institutions get ready for the pilot. The pilot itself starts in January 2022. By then, educational institutions should be able to offer the first microcredentials. A second registration opportunity for institutions follows in December 2022. By mid-2023, it should be clear whether and how microcredentials can be added to the system permanently. The pilot ends in December 2023.
Pioneering is always exciting. That is why an extensive support structure has been set up for participating institutions. Institutions can count on support from the direction team, have a designated contact, have access to a change budget and are invited to exchange knowledge and experience at national meetings.
Guidance structure in a nutshell:
Bart Lamboo has been appointed as project leader. Together with the management team, he provides substantive guidance to the pilot. He also facilitates the process, organises the meetings for the participants, the Q&A desk, etc.
The management team consists of representatives of the Flexible education zone, VH, VSNU, SURF, OCW, and an official from a participating university of applied sciences and an official from a participating university. The steering team will focus on the issues that arise along the way. In addition, the DSM acts as a linking pin between the pilot and the umbrella organisations’ administrative tables. The control team’s substantive guidance focuses on issues that arise during the implementation of the pilot and that emerge from the monitoring and evaluation. You can read more about the members of the direction team on the page ‘who are involved in the pilot’.
Institutions that participate in the pilot from the start can apply for a budget for change. Institutions must use this budget for change (the stimulation regulation) to make the transition to working with microcredentials possible, and in such a way that the concept developed can be applied broadly.
Only institutions that participate in the pilot from the start are eligible for the stimulation scheme. This is because the pioneering phase of the pilot probably requires the greatest effort in terms of mutual coordination and internal organisation. The amount of the incentive regulation is a maximum of €45,000 per year for the duration of the pilot. There is no obligation of accountability for institutions. However, there is an obligation to perform to the best of one’s ability. Institutions are expected to exchange knowledge and experience with each other regarding the use of the resources.
To prevent the emergence of a multitude of different projects within the participating institutions, each with its own interpretation, regular national meetings are organised for the project coordinators and other people involved from the institutions. The meetings take place at least four times a year and can be organised around specific themes, based on the needs of the participating institutions.
Online environment with Q&A desk
Work takes place within a Team environment that includes answers to frequently asked questions. Frequently asked questions will also be answered on this website. Those involved in the pilot project at participating institutions can contact Bart Lamboo to gain access to this environment.
Monitoring and evaluation of the pilot
In a pilot project, it is important to agree on clear objectives beforehand and to evaluate them at the end and in the interim. For this reason, an external and independent agency will be involved to monitor progress and evaluate the results. The evaluation of the pilot focuses on four main themes: the elaboration of the quality framework; the legal embedding of the microcredential; the interfaces with initial education; the use of the microcredential by the professional. Between October 2021 and December 2022 (the preparatory phase), the evaluation will be determined together with the participating institution.
There are two registration windows for the pilot – at the start of the pilot and one year after the start. Institutions can register for the first round of the pilot until 1 October 2021. Registration is by means of a signed letter from the Executive Board to the project leader of the pilot. Participants in the first round will also be able to provide input on the precise details of the pilot project and the quality framework. The second window for registration, which is also by means of a signed letter from the Executive Board, is in December 2022. At this point, it is no longer possible to make use of the change budget.
VH and UNL will inform their members of the pilot and of the opportunities for participation through their regular channels. They will also remind their members of the possibility of participating in the pilot project before the second registration window. Within the Acceleration Plan, additional information meetings will be organised before the summer holidays and in the month of September.
Yes, as a sounding board. This is because the step towards microcredentials ties in with a broader movement to make higher education more flexible and personalised. Changes to the current system are therefore likely to take place in the coming years. Examples are legal embedding of the ‘Learning Outcomes Experiment’ and developments relating to institutional accreditation. The pilot is a way for us to respond to these developments, which is why we will collaborate closely with OCW and NVAO in developing the quality framework and the pilot.
Microcredentials are also being developed at the European level. Further elaboration of microcredentials can, for example, contribute to mutual recognition of educational credentials within the network of European universities. Several Dutch universities are already partnering with other European universities to this end. Current developments in Europe, such as the MICROBOL project, will be included in the Dutch pilot project to ensure that the two developments are mutually aligned.
RIO (Registratie Instellingen en Opleidingen; Registration of Institutions and Programmes), is a national register in which educational institutions record their educational offer, organisational forms and educational accreditations and licences. The aim of RIO is to bring all educational information together in one place. RIO is not yet available for higher education, but is expected to be so from January 2022. RIO’s information model has already been primed for the introduction of microcredentials. During the pilot, we will seek to capitalise on the opportunities RIO offers in this respect.
The STAP budget is a personal development budget for everyone. With the STAP budget (a budget aimed at boosting employment opportunities), the government wants to encourage everybody to continue learning during their career. If the conditions are met, the STAP budget can be used to obtain microcredentials. It is not, however, a prerequisite. Participation in the STAP scheme is in not linked to participation in the microcredentials pilot.
The specific evaluation method will depend, among other things, on the definitive details of the quality framework and the pilot project. It is important, however, that the objectives of the pilot (and what do you monitor and evaluate?) are clear to all stakeholders. The evaluation framework will be established before the start in September 2021. Evaluation of the pilot will be performed by an external agency and will focus on four main themes:
If you have any questions about the Microcredentials pilot, please contact:
Bart Lamboo email@example.com
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