No One Has Figured Out Succesful, Sustainable Microcredentialing
“Robert with his degree” by Bob n Renee is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Since the introduction of degrees, education faces an ongoing battle against its own evidence. For reasons exceeding my understanding and our scope, everyone settled on academic credentials, which by definition attest to what a person did to learn, not the actual outcomes of the learning. As a result, a credential is only valuable as the surrounding social and institutional infrastructure can deem it to be. Only exceptional fields and circumstances value skills over diplomas, with the consequences we’ve all learned to shoulder.

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The advent of less formal learning approaches only escalates the issue. There are enough problems as it is making sure a degree earned over the course of years is valid. Now we must figure out how to vouch for learning that took place in a matter of hours. On the flipside, the current “credential class proliferation” may finally make everyone turn towards the North Star it should have in the first place: evidence-based learning.

There is no microlearning, only microcredentials

The inspiration EdTech enraptured many of us quickly faded, as interfaces, settings and activities were translated verbatim to the once boundless cyberspace. Credentials were no exception, and neither are its vices. Reputation predating evidence. Ebbs and flows of flashy technological fads, often rendering a credential’s value null. Endless discussions over an equally endless number of standards. Still, in the several scenarios where credentials is unquestioned part of the trade, solutions for the microcredential validation problem are sorely missed.

The return of ROI on Learning (it’s never been here before)

But if there is a clear opportunity in the sprawling cavalcade of tech-aided business models for learning, is the potential for truly ROIs to come back, this time front and center. The problem is, nobody knows how to truly accomplish this in a way that is technically robust and makes a sensible business case. Perhaps, if the key driver towards a “culture of ROI,” as Udemy’s Cara Brennan argues, are HR departments everywhere, noble organizations would sacrifice and assume the heavy toll of promoting evidence-based approach to learning procurement. Brennan offers some educated guesses as to what HR teams could do:

  • Run long-term econometric efforts that can discriminate bottom-line effects from specific learning initiatives, to an acceptable level of certainty. Perhaps the most obvious choice, it is one riddled with technical considerations, results will take a long time to reveal, and would make it almost impossible to pinpoint at pedagogical successes and failures.
  • Consult with people who’ve been right before. Either reach out to experts, or survey a bunch to gather “wisdom of the crowds” numbers.
  • Build a learning-to-revenue simulator where you can play with learning activities, approaches to virtual versions of the employees and watch them influence theoretical profits. It could even be a Sims Mod!
  • Collect data, build benchmarks, quantify the sequence of outcomes, control for network effects, iterate and refine. While you are at it, add some Machine Learning, it could come in handy.


“Analysis of 450 MOOC-Based Microcredentials Reveals Many Options But Little Consistency” at

“How to make the business case for learning” at■

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