Laying the Foundation for a Micro-Credential Strategy: Lessons Learned

Laying the Foundation for a Micro-Credential Strategy: Lessons Learned

Michelle Alvarez (Southern New Hampshire University, USA), Tracey F. W. Osborne (Southern New Hampshire University, USA), Karen Mayeu (Southern New Hampshire University, USA), Katie Cullen (Southern New Hampshire University, USA), Emily Masterson (Southern New Hampshire University, USA) and MaryEllen Stevenson (Southern New Hampshire University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3820-3.ch002
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Abstract

In 2019, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU or University) convened a Digital Credentials Lab (DCL) team to research, design, and pilot micro-credentials. The goal was to determine if there was a demand for this type of “alternative” learning experience in the market to see if it could be sustainable within the current higher education framework at the University. Through rigorous research, including both internal and external interviews, multiple pilots, and testing, the DCL sought to answer these questions and determine if micro-credentials could add more diversity to the SNHU catalog. In this chapter, the authors offer insight and experience, including findings from various pilots and learner feedback, to help inform other institutions that may be considering offering micro-credentials.
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Background

Southern New Hampshire University (2018) made a commitment in their 2018-2023 strategic plan to “deliver a broad portfolio of high-demand credentials leading to meaningful work and purposeful lives” (p. 28). University leadership believed that the exploration of micro-credentials and digital badges was an important step toward that commitment. Following earlier proof of concept work, a small team comprised of an external hire and internal experts from across the university were put together to form the DCL team. The team represented skills in academic programs and curriculum, accreditation, learning engineering, educational technology, workforce development, student support, market research, and user experience design. The internal team members were identified by senior leaders, transitioned out of their previous positions, and began working on the DCL team in March 2019. This transition was different for each person, as some employees were able to immediately leave their previous positions without any overlap in work, while others experienced a longer transition time and challenges in balancing the needs of their previous positions with their new position on the DCL team. Team members were provided a letter that assured they would have a position at SNHU if they voluntarily wanted to leave the DCL team at any time, or if the DCL team no longer existed once their work was complete.

The DCL was intentionally placed within SNHU’s Innovation Center so that members could work independently from core operations and systems, allowing them to focus on clarifying, testing, and validating micro-credentials. Led by the executive leader of the Innovation Center and sponsored by the Chief Operating Officer, the organizational structure of DCL was flat, with team members working cross-functionally based on the needs of the work. Taking a project lifecycle approach (Innovation Center, 2018), the team applied and adapted several innovation methodologies to the exploration of micro-credentials, including the lean startup model (Ries, 2011) for the insight and concept development phases, IDEO’s adaptation of design thinking (IDEO U, n.d.) to help with concept development, and jobs to be done (Christensen Institute, 2021) to understand the learner’s voice. The goal of the team was to develop an evidence-based report that included recommendations and preliminary requirements for launching a micro-credentials portfolio in the future. The work of the DCL team began with defining the problem to be solved.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Badge: An emblem awarded for a particular accomplishment.

Digital Badge: An online representation of a credential earned (adapted from Colorado Community College System, 2014 ).

Learning Engineering: Learning engineers work to champion evidence-informed best practices for learning design and create replicable experiences and systems across programs to improve learning efficacy.

Institutional Research Board (IRB): A governance group designated to protect the rights of human subjects in the review of proposed research.

Playlist: A list of learning activities that are components of a micro-credential, fashioned after playlists of digitally recorded songs and pieces of music used in the music industry.

Digital Credential: A method of packaging information that is the data-rich recognition, communication, and tracking of student/learner achievement. Some examples are digital certificates, digital transcripts, digital badges, etc.

Ethnographic Research: The study of people in their own environment using various methods such as observation and interviewing.

Macro-Credential: Units of learning that include degrees and credit-bearing certificates.

User Experience Design: Overarching process that provides meaningful and relevant experiences to a designated group. It involves the entire process of designing the product/program with aspects of branding, accessibility, usability, and function.

Learning Experience Platform (LXP): Software application used to deliver courses, training, and learning experiences that focuses on a personalized learner experience beyond that of a traditional experience of a learning management system.

Learning Management System (LMS): Software applications used to administer, document, track, report, automate and deliver educational courses, training programs, or learning experiences.

Scrum: A lightweight framework focusing on project management that can help a team or organization facilitate work through innovative solutions for complex problems. This is often associated with Agile methodologies.

Open Badge: A method for packaging information about accomplishments, embedding it into portable image files as digital badges following the Open Badges Specification 2.0, and establishing resources for its validation. Open Badges contain detailed metadata about achievements, such as who earned a badge, who issued it, and what it means (adapted from IMS Global Learning Consortium, 2018 ).

Interoperability: The transferability of one mode of learning to another in a manner that is student centric and maintains its value in credits awarded (e.g., competency-based degree to traditional degree to micro-credential).

Micro-Credential: Units of learning, short of a degree, that attest to learners’ knowledge, skills, and abilities. Also referred to as a micro(s).

Workforce Relevant: Student-facing workforce-focused skills and language are factored into all facets of the design and development of the programs.

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