Credentialing the future
Dr Peter Thomas (then writing as founding director of HaileyburyX) with Jacqui Gough, Head of Curious Minds, on how Haileybury is building a credentialing framework for the future.
Unless you have been spending an inordinate amount of time under your doona (an understandable reaction right now) you won’t have failed to notice that the whole issue of microcredentials is in the news.
Microcredentials are small pieces of learning accompanied by a digital badge that show skills, competencies or achievements.
Microcredentials are everywhere, it seems.
The recent announcement from Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan that the Morrison Government will provide $4.3 million to build a one-stop-shop for microcredentials said:
“Microcredentials address the most common barriers cited by adult workers who are not intending to undertake further formal training or study: time and cost.”
And writing in the AFR, Mr Tehan said
“We want microcredentials to be a permanent fixture of the Australian higher education system giving universities the opportunity to become global leaders in the development and delivery of a new mode of education that will open new markets and revenue streams.”
In Australia, governments and educational institutions have recognised that employers and learners are demanding more than the terminal credential represented by the ATAR or the degree.
Like many other things (including the popularity of online-everything—from Friday drinks to singing in a choir) the pandemic has accelerated the move to microcredentials.
Before 2020, we knew that more than half of students entering primary school did not know the roles they would have when they enter the workforce and that some of the jobs they might have do not yet exist. Now, some of the jobs that did exist may not exist any more as COVID wreaks havoc on the economy and the workforce.
And the half-life of skills, already plummeting before the pandemic, has taken a sharp downturn. It’s hard to tell what skills are going to be needed in the coming years—one prediction is that there will be so few jobs that competition will be even more fierce, another that most jobs will require much higher levels of tech skills — but one thing we do know is that getting those skills needs to take less time, the learning needs be delivered online, and it needs to be easily sharable so that for whatever you do next you can demonstrate relevant skills and competencies.
Worldwide the number of microcredentials is growing, rapidly.
And it's not just the kind of microcredentials that Mr Tehan describes, which are for Australians looking to learn new skills or upgrade existing skills to enhance their employability, but also those that evidence the skills and competencies that sit alongside the school curriculum in schools like Haileybury.
The future for Australian students may or may not be the ATAR — or the ATAR as it is now. We think there is a future in which students graduate with an ATAR plus microcredentials representing a range of knowledge, skills and competencies, all of which will be necessary to allow students to flourish in the world as it will be.
Importantly, microcredentials paint a picture of students’ interests and passions — a more holistic view of who they are, as well as what they can do.
The concern about which skills will get students the best job or allow them pursue the most rewarding careers when they leave school is one that haunts many educators. The reality is that high school students are often bound by academic or vocational pathways or directed towards a career that their parents want for them. This makes microcredentials all the more valuable in giving our students an expanded range of choices.
And microcredentials, and the digital badges that are the visible signal of students’ accomplishments, can serve as powerful extrinsic motivation—students are digital roamers who collect badges as they roam. The fun, fluid design of digital badges prompts an innate desire to earn more, and more quickly, a collection of badges in their backpack that they can truly relate to — and want to earn.
Microcredentials at Haileybury
Fortunately, at Haileybury, we have been tracking and planning for microcredentials for some time.
More than a year ago, as part of our Curious Minds co-curricular programme, we started issuing digital badges using the credentialling platform Badgr Australia.
And at the end of 2019, having understood the opportunities — as well as the complexities and practical challenges — we embarked on a whole-school design research exercise to turn that experience into a more streamlined transparent process that aims to build microcredentialling for the future.
From ways of formulating succinct competencies, through a process for aligning them as part of a badge taxonomy, to designing suites of digital badges, our credentialling project, HYCreds, is starting to roll out from our Curious Minds programme — with its initial suite of 70+ microcredentials in anything from drone piloting to UN-style debating skills — out into professional development in our Agile Learning Design microcredential, for our HaileyburyX online platform, and beyond.
We’ve taken on the challenge of not just issuing badges, but looking at global best practice in microcredentialling and building a programme that exceeds our needs so we can anticipate whatever the future looks like.
For example, we have taken a deep dive into the details of digital badges and ensured that we encode our badges with the kind of meaningful, rich metadata that shows not just what badge a student has but links back to assessment rubrics, competency frameworks and evidence data. Our goal is to make sure that for our students, their badges are of the most possible value for them now and in the future.
We’ve also taken the design elements of our microcredentialling seriously. Digital badges are primarily visual — at least on the surface — so we’ve been working hard to build a rich visual design language that can communicate competencies and how they relate to the programmes they are embedded in. The visual language — which can be extended and modified indefinitely as ours, and our students’ needs change — allows anyone to see where any specific badge falls within the overall taxonomy. For those badges that are formed in partnership with exponential industries and organisations, our visual system allows us to visibly showcase our collaboration as part of the badge.
Life is about ecosystems, and like all ecosystems, they evolve. Our badge ecosystem aims to be able to do what all good ecosystems do: bring together multiple players in order to create, scale, and serve emerging needs. We see HYCreds as increasing our collective ability to learn, adapt, and innovate for the longer-term success not just of Haileybury, but for our students.
And what’s next?
On our roadmap for this project is to make the process of microcredentialling seamless and transparent: from a rich database of competencies that we can use to achieve consistency across the thousands of badges we will issue across hundreds of activities, through automated visual badge creation, to using complex pathways in Badgr — and eventually using blockchain to hold badges — we think that credentialling the future is an exciting place to be.