The International Case for Micro-Credentials for Life-Wide And Life-Long Learning: A Systematic Literature Review

Nkosikhona T Msweli, Hossana Twinomurinzi, Mymoena Ismail (was Sharif)
Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge, and Management  •  Volume 17  •  2022  •  pp. 151-190

Systematic literature reviews seek to locate all studies that contain material of relevance to a research question and to synthesize the relevant outcomes of those studies. The primary aim of this paper was to synthesize both research and practice reports on micro-credentials (MCRs).

There has been an increase in reports and research on the plausibility of MCRs to support dynamic human skills development for an increasingly impatient and rapidly changing digital world. The integration of fast-paced emerging technologies and digitalization necessitate alternative learning paradigms. MCRs offer time, financial, and space flexibility and can be stacked into a larger qualification, thereby allowing for a broader range of transdisciplinary competencies within a qualification. However, MCRs often lack the academic rigor required for accreditation within existing disciplines.

The study followed the PRISMA framework (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta Analyses), which offers a rigorous method to enhance reporting quality. The study used both academic research and practice reports.

The paper makes a theoretical contribution to the discourse about the need for innovation within existing educational paradigms for continued relevance in a changing world. It also contributes to the debate on the role of MCRs in bridging the gap between practice and academia despite the growing difference between their interests, and the role that MCRs play in the social-economic plans of countries.

The key findings are that investments in MCRs are mainly in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Education sectors, and have taken place mainly in high-income countries and regions – contexts that particularly value practice-accredited MCRs. Low-income countries, by contrast, remain traditional and insist on MCRs that are formally accredited by a recognized academic institution. This contributes to a widening skills gap between low- and high-income countries or regions, which results in greater global disparities. There is also a growing divide between academia and practice concerning their interest in MCRs (a reflection of the rigor versus relevance debate), which partially explains why many global and larger organizations have gone on to create their own learning institutions.

We recommend that educational mechanisms consider the critical importance of MCRs as part of innovative efforts for life-wide (different sectors) and life-long (same sector) learning, especially in low-income countries. MCRs provide dynamic mechanisms to fill skills gaps in an increasing ruthless international battle for talent.

We recommend focused research into skills and career pathways using MCRs while at the same time remaining responsive to transdisciplinary efforts and sensitive to global and local changes within any sector.

Work and society have transformed over time, and more so in the new digital age, yet academia has been slow in adapting to the changes, forcing organizations to create their own learning institutions or to use MCRs to fill the skills gap. The purpose of education goes beyond preparing individuals for work, extending further to creating an environment where individuals and governments seek their own social and economic outcomes. MCRs provide a flexible means for co-creation between individuals, education, organizations, and government that could stem global rising unemployment, social exclusion, and redundancy.

Future research should focus on the co-creation of MCRs between practitioners and academia.

micro-credentials, digital badges, online learning, credentials, education 4.0, COVID-19
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