Untangling the Micro: Is Small Beautiful?

In this talk I ask, is small beautiful? Is the micro-credential the next big thing? Will the micro-credential unlock the promise of a learner-centred curriculum for student success and deliver the demand for more work-ready graduates? Is the micro-credential poised to fundamentally transform higher education by opening up new career and life-long learning pathways? In exploring these questions, the discussion will establish whether or not the micro-credential is just another act of learning innovation theatre in a long history of failed educational fads. At a deeper level, we untangle some of the competing micro-credential drivers set against the backdrop of Industry 4.0 and the global unbundling of higher education. However, before grappling with these questions, there is a more basic issue to address: what is a micro-credential? Several efforts around the globe to define micro-credentials will be compared and contrasted, including a unique insider’s view on a European-wide approach launched in a highly anticipated report in December 2020. In discussing different business models, we look at several pioneering examples of how institutions, organisations, and governments are responding to the micro-credentialing movement. Overall the intention is to illustrate that micro-credentials must be understood in the context of entangled tensions between the new learning economy, the forces of digital transformation and the mission of 21st Century universities. For this reason, whether or not the traditional university degree has had its day, and small is beautiful, is likely to be a question requiring further debate as we explore new models for higher education over the next decade.


Professor Mark Brown is Ireland’s first Chair of Digital Learning and Director of the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL), located at Dublin City University (DCU). Mark returned 7-years ago to live in Ireland after his Great Grandparents set sail for New Zealand in 1876. He’s proud of his Irish heritage, and conference participants will no doubt learn more about the 11% factor during his talk. More formally, Mark is Treasurer of the European Distance and E-learning Network (EDEN) and serves on the Supervisory Board of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU). He is also an EDEN Fellow. In November 2019, Mark was Chair of the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning hosted in Dublin, and last year served on the European Commission’s high-level consultation group on developing a policy response to micro-credentials. Mark continues to maintain strong “down under” connections and is an Executive Committee member of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia (ODLAA). More information…