Key Takeaways From the ICE Microcredentialing Pulse Survey

By the ICE Microcredentialing Task Force*

*Members of the Microcredentialing Task Force subgroup who developed this article on the Microcredentialing Pulse Survey include Cynthia Allen, MA, SeaCrest; Carla Caro, MA, ACT; Elisa Khan, PhD, PMP, American Management Association; Shelly McDowell-Porter, PhD, Global Skills Exchange; Michelle Nolin, CPTD, Learn Ethos; and James Stobinski, PhD, Competency and Credentialing Institute.

Microcredentialing continues to be a topic of interest, and debate, among those in the credentialing community. To methodically explore this, the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) launched the Microcredentialing Task Force in July 2019 to determine the needs of members, and the larger credentialing community, on the topic of microcredentials. Task force members represent a diverse group of volunteers selected from the ICE membership with interest in, and expertise on, the topic of microcredentials. Priorities for the task force include establishing a definition of microcredentials and relevant terms, evaluating the educational needs of members and assessing the need for standards or guidelines for microcredentialing.

As part of this work, the task force administered the ICE Microcredentialing Pulse Survey in early 2020. The purpose of the survey was to gather initial feedback on the task force’s proposed definitions and gather information from a diverse group of stakeholders related to current and future plans related to microcredentialing. The results of the survey, which had 213 responses, were compiled beginning in April 2020. This document summarizes key findings from the survey. These results should not be construed as a policy statement or statement of intent of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence.

Key Takeaways

A primary purpose of the survey was to gather feedback from credentialing professionals and ICE members on a proposed definition for the term “microcredentialing,” as developed by the task force. Approximately 88% of the respondents agreed with the proposed definition and 12% did not; their feedback included noting the proposed definition was too restrictive, was only applicable in context and in contrast to certification programs that were larger in scope, and did not adequately distinguish between microcredentials and other types of credentials.

The definition has been revised to reflect committee consideration of comments as follows:

  1. n: in credentialing, the recognition awarded to an individual who has demonstrated attainment of a narrow scope of knowledge, skills or abilities. The scope of the microcredential can be as granular as a single skill or competency
  2. v: to recognize an individual who has demonstrated attainment of a narrow scope of knowledge, skills or abilities, or a single skill or competency

Respondents indicated what they perceived to be types of microcredentials based on the definition provided:

  • The largest percentages of respondents (81%) selected a stackable program (e.g., multiple microcredentials that stack to form a credential)
  • About three-fourths selected recognition of the attainment of a single skill or competency (77%)
  • An assessment-based certificate program (education/training plus an assessment) was the next most frequently selected option (63%)
  • Education/training or a certificate program without an assessment ranked lowest with 28% indicating the valuable association of assessment with microcredentialing

To meet the demands of stakeholders, the organizations represented in the survey reported that they are offering, or planning to offer, a range of types of microcredentials.

Another goal of the survey was to identify the numbers of organizations that are currently offering microcredentials as well as those having plans to develop them in the future. Approximately 28% of the organizations that responded to the survey either currently offer or are building one or more microcredentialing programs.

When asked whether their organization had interest in developing one or more microcredentials 64% of respondents indicated interest while 36% responded that they had no interest in doing so. Thus, there is interest in developing microcredentials beyond the approximately 28% of organizations that currently offer or are building microcredentials.

The timeline for the development of microcredential(s) varies. Of the organizations that are considering developing microcredentials, 59% have a target of when to accomplish this while 41% have no clear timeline. Of those indicating a timeline, few are planning to develop a microcredential in the near future, with less than 20% of respondents indicating they plan on doing so within the current or upcoming year; just over a third of respondents indicated they would do so in the next two to three years; and just under 5% had a timeline of four or more years from the time they responded.

Respondents who indicated they are in the development phase of building a microcredential(s) provided helpful insight into the project's motivating factors. Meeting the needs of stakeholders is a crucial factor for motivating organizations to pursue microcredentials. Survey feedback indicated the growing demand to offer products that allow the audience to demonstrate the attainment of specialized skills in a convenient platform.

Respondents listed a variety of reasons why they were considering developing microcredentials. A listing of general themes and most frequent responses are noted below. In general, these reasons relate to the desire to meet the changing needs of stakeholders and to attract new credential holders.

  • Changing marketplace demands, needs and learners; there may be generational expectations in how learning and recognition are delivered
  • Need for agility and flexibility in areas of increased rapid change
  • Needs of the end-users and employers; workforce development and upskilling may drive demand
  • Roles and professions becoming more specialized; microcredentials recognize discrete knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs)
  • Organizational and business case development; appeal to more or different candidates
    • Some sentiment that they will be less expensive to develop
    • Desire to expand portfolio of product offerings
  • Strong interest in the concept of stackable, smaller offerings/credentials that build to certification
  • Not all professions or areas lend themselves to full certification program
  • May be attractive to candidates who don’t meet eligibility requirements for full certification
  • May be used to meet continuing education (CE) and/or recertification requirements
  • May offer more value for certificants

Building a microcredential, or multiple microcredentials, has its challenges. Generalized feedback provides more insight into supporting factors for microcredentials, including addressing an industry need specifically for new learners, as well as obstacles such as concerns related to cannibalizing existing programs or endangering accreditation status. A valuable outcome of the survey was reinforcing the need for resources to support organizations interested in expanding a portfolio of products to include microcredentials.

Respondents were asked about the value of microcredentials to their stakeholders. A word cloud was generated from the free text responses representing the most frequently mentioned topics. Certification in general and the recognition of specific knowledge, skills, ability, expertise, learning and attainment were among the most frequently mentioned, with value to stakeholders and employers also noted.

Finally, respondents were asked how ICE could best support them or the industry at-large with respect to microcredentialing issues, and what resources could be provided to members to support microcredentials; 177 responses were received. More than one answer was allowed to this query. A best practice publication was most in demand (73%) followed closely by ICE guidelines or recommendations (67%). An accreditation pathway was the least favored response (30%) among the choices. In the free text comments to this question there was a request to publish case studies from those programs with current microcredentials.

ICE’s Microcredentialing Task Force continues to use the survey data, and other resources, to inform the development of case studies and other potential resources, including guidance documents and best practices, to support members. Stay tuned for further developments and ICE publications.

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