Selecting a word or phrase that encapsulates emerging trends in any industry is a popular thing to do, and if you asked for my lexeme for higher education and edtech, I would select stackable credentials. These focused, subject-specific microcredentials are fantastic for the flexibility and adaptability that they provide individuals at any stage of their professional journey to build on or create a new skill set. Within a business school context, stackable credentials promote personalised business education to professionals with or without an MBA or MA, enrolled students in an executive education or degree programme, or a future learner.
Stackable credentials can be accumulated and certified in a variety of ways. They provide pathways for learners to progressively gain knowledge within a particular area of expertise or to augment their existing degree through new specialisations within their field. This allows for individual development aligned with advancements within an established discipline or for investigation into new sub-fields or specialities. Irrespective of the type of course material learners would select, leveraging stackable credentials allows for demonstration of a deepened existing knowledge, strengthening current employability, or provides the platform to pivot into a new field or career.
Since stackable credentials are inherently both flexible and connected to workplace or job trends, learners can tailor course selection to short or long term needs. This framework for stackability concurrently incentivizes individuals to amalgamate each earned credential into a full degree and nurtures and promotes lifelong learning without a fixed terminus. In a rapidly advancing world, where research areas and employment for fields and technologies that didn’t exist a few years ago, this focus on lifelong, continuous learning from high quality institutions with strong reputations is critical.
The adaptable nature of stackable credentials, along with the lower time commitment entailed, makes them popular with individuals who are looking to invest in their career and employability but who also require flexibility. Sought-after microcredentials are targeted to in-demand skills and topics and thus lend themselves to upskilling or career pivots. Another incentive is that learners do not need to commit to a set time period for a degree at the outset; there is the freedom to enrol in courses that meet a personal need or requirement and decide at a later date to stack those credits towards a degree. This flexibility and fluidity can open opportunities not only for full-time employed learners at various career stages but also people from traditionally underrepresented groups. For underrepresented groups, stackable credentials can act as a gateway for individuals who have been absent from higher education. This is because they are less intimidating, presented as manageable segments, and do not carry the same punative financial penalty of exiting an entire programme. Allowing learners to choose the time, frequency, pace, and modules studied can change the postgraduate and further qualifications narrative through increased accessibility for a wider range of people in addition to benefiting upskilling and professional development.
For business schools in particular, stackable credentials broaden a school’s reach and enhance engagement with new or alumni students. Significantly, by incorporating stackable credentials into their long term digital strategy, business schools support and normalise the benefits of lifelong learning and academic grounding within public and private business sectors. This changes and extends the relationship between business schools and learners in exciting directions, while building on a school’s reputation and academic rigour. It creates opportunities for individuals with an MBA or MA to build on or extend their skillset, provides the pathway for working professionals to stack an executive education experience, and allows for a modular approach to programmes such as online MBAs.
Online and blended delivery with a strong, learner focused pedagogy is ideally suited to the learning journey presented by stackable credentials. Online provision makes high quality, expertly led content delivered by prestigious and competitively ranked institutions more accessible. Digital delivery breaks down the barrier of a fixed place as the location of knowledge and instead tethers growth of the mind to ideas and personal progress. Stackable credentials are the ideal complement for business schools seeking to build online educational offerings that embed flexibility, connect learners’ short and long term skill set development and employability, and broaden accessibility to upskilling or career pivot demand skills. As digital strategies at business schools are scaffolded for the years ahead, the inclusion of stackable credentials will come to the fore, extending the pathway to lifelong learning.
1. UNESCO draft preliminary report. (2021, September). “A conversation starter: towards a common definition of micro-credentials,” https://www.edubrief.com.au/uploads/4/5/0/5/45053363/draft_unesco_report_microcredentials_13_sept_21.pdf; HolonIQ. (2021, February 18). “Micro & Alternative Credentials,” https://www.holoniq.com/notes/micro-and-alternative-credentials.-size-shape-and-scenarios-part-1/
2. Gautnier, T. (2020). The value of microcredentials: the employer’s perspective. The Journal of Competency-Based Education, 5 (2). https://doi.org/10.1002/cbe2.1209; Wheelahan & Moodie (2021). Analysing micro-credentials in higher education: a Bernsteinian analysis. Journal of Curriculum Studies 53 (2), 212–228. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220272.2021.1887358
3. Levine, A & Van Pelt, S. (2021, October 4). Higher education should prepare for five new realities (opinion). Inside Higher Ed https://www.insidehighered.com/print/views/2021/10/04/higher-education-should-prepare-five-new-realities-opinion
4. De Novellis, M. (2021, May 3). Microcredentials: Staying Competitive Among Rising Business Education Disruptors. AACSB. https://www.aacsb.edu/insights/articles/2021/05/microcredentials-staying-competitive-among-rising-business-education-disruptors; Miller, et al. (2020). The potential of digital credentials to engage students with capabilities of importance to scholars and citizens. Active Learning in Higher Education 21 (1), 11–22. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787417742021
First published in Education Investor on 21 January 2022.