Credentials: the key to upskilling, reskilling and lifelong learning


Last month Amara Ahmed, our EMEA Product Manager joined us at the EUNIS conference in Vigo, Spain, organised by the European University Information Systems organisation. The theme was artificial intelligence (AI), the role of credentialing in education, and student mobility. In this blog post, Amara reflects on the discussion and insights surrounding the use of credentialing in education and student mobility. 

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The narrative around lifelong learning and education opportunities needing to be more accessible to differing learner needs is one I often hear in my role as EMEA Product Manager. 


What is a credential? 

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a credential is the qualities, training, or experience that make you suitable to do something. A credential is a document that details a qualification, competence, or skill demonstrated issued to an individual by a third party with a relevant or de facto authority or assumed competence to do so. So, for instance, your exam results from secondary school, college or even your degree certificate are all credentials. Similarly, when I was a child in a book club, there were stages I needed to reach, which opened up more reading opportunities and levels of books I could access in school. This is the simplest example of credentialling as it reflected on my reading proficiency as I moved up the stages. 


A great example of a globally-recognised credential would be an ESL/ES OR TEFL course. The prominent discourses of ‘flexibility’ and ‘mobility’ make individuals worldwide willing to learn English for geographical and social mobility purposes. The usefulness of language skills in achieving utilitarian goals such as economic development and social mobility is amplified as the world of work and education evolves and the speed of evolution.


The use of recognition and the many benefits is nothing new; however, given the world, we now live in, where we share and consume information digitally, credentials have far more application and utility than ever before. 


Most recent examples of credentials are global initiatives that focus on supporting adults in industries with skills shortages. For example, ‘Code First Girls’, ‘Google Skillsshop’ and Invest EU, focus on upskilling and reskilling to support global industry demands and bring a modern take to classic credentialling. 


Lifelong Learning, Upskilling and Reskilling

The traditional definition of lifelong learning is focused on self-initiated education and personal development, generally referring to learning outside a formal institute such as school, university or corporate training. 


In response to the rapidly changing demands of the job market and industry-specific requirements, there are evident use cases for embracing MOOCs, short courses, and skills-based learning. This underscores the importance of upskilling and reskilling to keep pace with evolving demands. Crucially, credentialing plays a vital role in enabling lifelong learning by allowing individuals to gain short-term skills and competencies alongside traditional learning pathways.


A practical approach involves offering short modules that align with specific skills pathways, empowering students to choose the skills they desire while still achieving the overall learning outcomes of their chosen course. This flexibility allows learners to adapt their educational journey to suit their evolving interests and align with market demands.


However, the rising popularity of micro-credentials and skills-based learning has led to some confusion about their role in relation to traditional degrees. Some question whether short courses and skill-based certifications will eventually replace conventional degrees. It is essential to remember that credentials have long been used in traditional education to signify the skills acquired through degrees and similar formal qualifications.


While micro-credentials and skills-based learning are gaining prominence, traditional degrees still hold value, and newer forms of credentials can complement them by showcasing specific skills and broader expertise.


Making Lifelong Learning and Mobility a Reality

In an era where continuous learning is paramount, providing individuals with opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills is crucial. When implemented effectively, credentials can enable this by recognising and validating the learning outcomes achieved through and outside traditional academic settings.


By also acknowledging the skills and competencies gained through non-traditional avenues such as work experience, online courses, or community involvement, credentialing can foster a culture of lifelong learning. It encourages individuals to engage in diverse learning experiences and facilitates mobility across educational institutions and industries, enhancing their professional growth and adaptability.


We are already seeing this shifting towards autonomous learning and faster feedback loops. Some examples are:


  • Credentialing, providing a framework to assess and validate competency-based learning. 
  • Student autonomy and engagement by recognising and rewarding students for the specific skills and competencies they acquire. 
  • Tailored learning experiences to meet individual needs and interests, empowering students to take ownership of their education. 
  • Faster feedback loops allowing students to track their progress and make timely adjustments to their learning strategies.

Some countries have recognised the benefits of improved mobility and are implementing programmes to help. For example, Ireland has become the first European country to establish a coherent National Framework for quality-assured and accredited micro-credentials with their Micro Creds project which brings together seven IUA universities: University College Dublin, University College Cork, University of Limerick, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University, University of Galway and Maynooth University. ‘The IUA project partner universities are collaborating to develop, pilot and evaluate the building blocks required to transform lifelong and life-wide learning through micro-credentials. Micro-credentials developed at partner universities will set the standard for flexible and agile learning excellence’.


As digital transformation continues to shape the landscape of higher education, the discussions around lifelong learning, competency development, and student mobility have become increasingly relevant. Credentialing addresses these challenges and opportunities, enabling individuals to acquire visibility of their progress if following a traditional degree program or opting for short-term skills, promoting lifelong learning, and fostering student autonomy. By embracing effective credentialing practices, educational institutions can enhance their offerings and better prepare learners for future demands.


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