Bite-sized learning is coming to you. Micro credentials are mini qualifications intended to enable go-gain small employment-related knowledge and certification quickly and cost efficiently.
Following a NZQA evaluation last year of an earlier pilot the new bite-sized qualifications are being rolled out through polytechnics, the Industry Training Organisation and in the future possibly through employers.
Every industry will have areas where workers need to upskill, especially in rapidly changing industries.
A farm worker may, for example, need proof that he/she can assist with rearing dairy calves. Or in other fields workers could benefit from learning to manage budget variances in business, or demonstrate knowledge of the different roles in project management. All of these are micro credentials already available online through Otago Polytechnic.
Yes, you can do XYZ, but the micro credential provides something to add to your CV that proves it, at the same time future-proofing employability. Or your industry has moved on and you need new skills fast to adapt. Workers are encouraged to engage in lifelong learning and employers become more nimble.
The pilot project offered micro credentials through Otago Polytechnic, the Young Enterprise Scheme and US-based online learning provider Udacity.
"Feedback through the period of the pilot, including through consultation and from sector working groups, showed that there is a demand for an education product that responds to knowledge and skills gaps in a cost-effective and time-efficient way," says the NZQA Chief Executive, Karen Poutasi.
During the pilot a number of professional associations representing engineers, teachers and nurses in particular indicated strong interest in micro credentials to help their members maintain competency.
Micro-credential qualifications will be launched in industries where no or little formal training is available and/or it's an emergent field. An example is the six electric vehicle EduBits available from Otago Polytech. The demand for electric vehicle mechanics is growing more rapidly than education providers can churn out traditional graduates.
There are certain rules around micro credentials. They must provide NZQA approved credits, for example, to demonstrate that it's tangible learning.
They also can't, for example, replicate current approved learning as that might confuse employers. There must be strong evidence of need from employers, industry and/or community.
Director employability at Otago Polytechnic Andy Kilsby says that although they are bite-sized pieces of education they have to meet rigour.
Kilsby points out that we've always had short courses and many provide a certificate of participation at the end.
The difference with micro credentials, which Otago Polytechnic has branded EduBits, is that your learning is assessed and a meaningful qualification awarded to show that you have attained a certain level of proficiency.
Otago Polytechnic's assessors verify that the person has the skill they say they have.
The teaching, learning and assessment of Otago Polytech's EduBits are all delivered online.
This, combined with being bite-sized, micro credentials will appeal to and suit time-poor people, adds Kilsby.
So far, many of the EduBits available from Otago Polytech involve recognition of prior learning (RPL), a concept that has been gaining acceptance across tertiary education. The idea is that RPL assesses your experience and knowledge against specific criteria, such as unit standards. Learners have to demonstrate their ability to meet the criteria.
The micro credentials available from Otago Polytech are currently somewhat eclectic. That includes everything from headset refurbishing, to Plan and Deliver an Oral Presentation.
Many of the EduBits available are "show that you know it" learning and assessment, says Kilsby. For example the Communicating in a Culturally Diverse Workplace EduBit's assessment process requires examples of real work situations where the skills have been used. The applicant's line manager attests their evidence, and it is then assessed by Otago Polytech staff before the EduBit is awarded.
In some instances learners are directed to online courses, which they must complete to qualify for the EduBit. For example, the Digital Literacies for Online Learning EduBit, requires learners complete a course through the OER Foundation, a provider of free online courses for students worldwide.
Otago Polytech's staff members have been encouraged to get involved and gain EduBits in order to walk the talk. Kilsby said part of the reason for this was to build capability and expand the number of EduBits available.
ITOs such as the Building and Construction IO BCITO, MITO for the motor vehicle industry and Primary ITO have also begun to offer micro credentials.
It's a godsend for the building sector, for example, which has a huge skills shortfall, says Warwick Quinn, chief executive of BCITO, the largest provider of construction trade apprenticeships in New Zealand.
Construction-related companies can't all offer the full scope of work needed for an apprenticeship. At the same time the industry is becoming increasingly specialised. Bite-sized qualifications will enable workers in smaller specialised companies building kitchens or installing windows for example to gain recognised qualifications. .
Otago Polytech's EduBits start in price from $99 for a five-credit qualification, and range up to $349 for 15 credits.
Late in 2018 NZQA launched a service to evaluate expanding the provision of micro credentials to organisations beyond tertiary institutions and ITOs. This includes employers, government agencies, iwi, community and professional groups and overseas education organisations.