Microcredentials Pilot

A Dutch national Microcredentials pilot

Since October, 32 higher education institutions – 10 universities and 22 universities of applied sciences – have been taking part in the national Microcredentials pilot under the direction of the Making education more flexible zone, the Universities of The Netherlands, and The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences. Microcredentialing – breaking down education into smaller units certified separately – stimulates flexibility and gives recognisable value to the lifelong development offer of institutions. You can read exactly what the pilot entails here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Changes in the labour market call for continuing education and training, including in the higher segments. This puts pressure on institutions of higher education to make knowledge available in shorter, non-diploma-oriented modules. A microcredential gives independent value to a smaller educational unit. The purpose of the pilot is to launch microcredentials in Dutch higher education for broad target groups, such as professionals and job seekers. People who want to pursue education for their own interests can also obtain microcredentials. Modules or other small educational units are often better suited to the flexibility working people need. These smaller units can also be developed more quickly and are better suited to a rapidly changing work context and the learning needs of professionals. In this way, we can contribute to the CPD offer. The recognition and acceptance of microcredentials makes them attractive to both the labour market and the institutions themselves.

Professionals often need specific additional training, upskilling or reskilling – not necessarily to a full degree course but to the recognised value of quality, up-to-date knowledge in the portfolio of an institution offered in a smaller unit.

 

Microcredentials add quality assurance, namely that the participant or employer can be sure that the course is designed to achieve the desired learning outcomes.

 

If someone has successfully achieved the learning outcomes of the microcredential, third parties (labour market, institutions, and so on) can rely on the fact that this person has actually mastered the knowledge or skills covered by the microcredential. Furthermore, the achievement of these learning outcomes is traceable and verifiable. In addition, there will be a national registration of who has obtained which microcredential.

The recognised value of microcredentials gives professionals more flexibility and control over their own development. They can design their own development paths over time, at different training facilities and institutions. They are assured that their learning outcomes will be recognised elsewhere, opening up opportunities to build on previously acquired knowledge, skills and approaches.

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.

 

  • Actively taking part in developing the microcredential model
  • Offering microcredentials (from existing or newly developed education) based on the quality framework
  • Establishing quality assurance for microcredentials in accordance with the quality framework and being prepared to practice and evaluate this
  • Organising the administrative and technical process surrounding the issuing of microcredentials
  • Officially offering and issuing microcredentials
  • Evaluating and sharing knowledge about microcredentials with other institutions affiliated with the pilot
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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 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 starting point of the pilot is to minimise the costs for institutions. Nevertheless, costs will be incurred for some of the above activities, such as organising internal quality assurance for microcredentials and designing an administrative process.

 

Project costs will also be incurred for participation in knowledge sharing and evaluation of the pilot. The Acceleration Plan therefore provides for an incentive scheme – a change budget that covers a substantial part of the anticipated costs. Institutions participating in the pilot from the start can make use of an annual change budget of €45,000.

This amount is intended as an incentive for participants and to help push them ‘past the tipping point’ so that microcredentials can gain a foothold in higher education. It will allow institutions to pay for a project manager or quality officer to organise internal quality assurance for the microcredentials or to design the administrative process, to name a few examples. These costs are expected to be incurred mostly in the first year of the pilot.

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.

  • Management (by SURF institution contact person (ICP) or SURF authorised person of the institution (API) on the SURFdashboard):
    • Apply for the edubadges serviceAssign and register the edubadges institution administration in the system
  • Legal aspects:
    • Create and publish GDPR-compliant foundations
  • Access management:
    • Activate SURFconext for logging in
  • Functional management:
    • Create edubadges institution admin role in the Edubadges platform and assign rights.
    • Create microcredentials and add metadata.

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:

  • Name of the participant
  • Name of the institution
  • Name of the educational unit
  • Indication of level based on NLQF (Dutch Qualifications Framework)
  • Indication of scope based on ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System)
  • Learning outcomes achieved
  • Endpoint achieved

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.

That depends on the number of applications for the pilot. We would like to start with as large a group as possible so that the institutions involved can get support from the pilot team from the start and exchange information with each other. This will also increase the level of support for the process and approach. As mentioned previously, it is not necessary for participating institutions to offer microcredentials at the start. However, all participants must be able to present and evaluate their microcredentials during the course of the pilot (i.e. before December 2023).

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 Universiteiten van Nederland 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.

To avoid having a large number of projects, each with its own interpretation, it is important for participants to collaborate closely in the pilot. Based on central management of the pilot, regular national meetings will be organised (at least four times a year). At these meetings, pilot participants can exchange knowledge with peers in a focus group, help each other and learn from their experiences. A central Q&A desk for participating institutions will also be set up at SURF. A pilot coordinator from the Acceleration Plan will be appointed for maintaining oversight and for mutual coordination. This person is also the liaison to the umbrella organisations.

In addition, there is a change budget available for institutions through the incentive scheme. Payment from this incentive budget will be arranged through annual invoicing to SURF, as lead organisation of the Acceleration Plan. The underlying agreement will serve as official registration of participation in the pilot. No additional proposal is required.

The pilot will come under the central management of the Making education more flexible zone (Acceleration Plan). A project leader will be appointed to provide substantive guidance alongside the current pilot team. This project leader will also facilitate the process, organise meetings for the participants, set up a helpdesk, and so on – possibly with support if required. The pilot team’s substantive guidance will focus on issues that emerge as the pilot progresses, such as quality assurance and lessons learned from monitoring and evaluation during the pilot phase.

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:

  • elaboration of the quality framework;
  • legal embedding of the microcredential;
  • commonalities with initial education; and
  • use of the microcredential by the professional.

If you have any questions about the pilot Microcredentials, please contact:

Bart Lamboo  bart.lamboo@surf.nl

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Project
Microcredentials Pilot

A Dutch national Microcredentials pilot Since October, 32 higher education institutions – 10 universities and 22 universities of applied sciences

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