As a follow-up to my earlier post on the difficulties of defining micro-credentials, this post outlines two key challenges of micro-credentials to the purposes of education.
The claimed benefits of micro-credentials include
- enabling a closer linkage between education provision and labour market needs and workforce development. Such linkages both improve the employability of students while also providing opportunities for new forms of university and industry collaborations such as eCampusOntario and
- providing alternative and personalised pathways into and through higher education for students, especially for non-traditional students.
But these benefits also generate two key risks for education (a) in reinforcing ideas of education for personal advantage rather than as a broader ‘common good’, and (b) cementing the existing privileges in education systems that micro-credentials are supposed to challenge.
Underpinning much of the discourse on micro-credentials is an educational individualism that celebrates the self-directing and self-regulating learner. These idealised individuals are described as ‘roaming autodidacts … a self-motivated, able learner that is simultaneously embedded in technocratic futures and disembedded from place, culture, history and markets. The roaming autodidact is almost always conceived as western, white, educated and male’ (Cottom 2015, p.9). In this video, an example is presented of an individual seeking to stack a series of micro-credentials to position themselves for a career change into the self-created occupation as an energy investor.
The promotion of micro-credentials in tertiary education would further promote the idea of this “roaming autodidact” engaging in education as a transaction to enhance their personal competitive advantage in the labour market. While micro-credentials could enhance aspects of learner agency, the risks around developing and maintaining a status of being employable rests with the individual employee (Herbert and Rothwell, 2016).
Micro-credentials do not provide a broad general education – they are designed to be specific and targeted – and are unlikely to enculturate learners into particular disciplinary and professional norms (Ositelu, McCann & Laiten 2021). So the value of these credentials to enable to target professions may well be undermined for the employer markets they are designed for. If this is the case, is the main value proposition of micro-credentials located in differentiation between graduates of traditional degrees? If so, rather than meeting broader social objectives, micro-credentials will be more likely to reinforce existing privileges and reinforced class, ethnic and gender disadvantages in the labour market.