Recently, new and unique ways of learning skills are becoming apparent and engaging many learners. The alternative credentials like industry-recognized certificates, micro-credentials and digital badges have been considered to fill the gap between the higher education programmes and the skills that the employers search for.
Although the volume of alternative credentials is increasing, nothing is certain. Definitions and taxonomies for structuring the new credentials are not agreed. The evidence of these new credentials is also not sufficient.
A working paper developed by the Higher Education Policy team of OECD aims to help policymakers of all the OECD countries in this regard by checking the research evidence, developments in the field of practice and government policies. The authors examined what are alternative credentials and their characteristics, who are the learners and why they pursue these credentials, how do employers evaluate and reward them and how governments responded to new credentials.
The working paper defines alternative credentials as “credentials that are not recognized as standalone formal educational qualifications by relevant national education authorities”. The focus of this paper is on three different types of alternative credentials. They are digital badges, micro-credentials and certificates.
To help relevant stakeholders and policymakers understand the effects of alternative credentials, this paper focuses on six main characteristics of importance. They are characteristics of providers, duration, delivery modes, assessment process, integration options and areas of focus.
The higher education programmes are provided by recognized educational private bodies or public organizations but alternative credentials are provided in collaboration with businesses, NGOs and HEIs. There are many specialized learning platforms that focus on specific occupations and professions. Many large companies are also providing in-house alternative credentials programmes to their employees. Technology firms are providing training programmes for a lot of people for many years. Big companies such as Cisco, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, IBM and others are offering alternative credential programmes that are focused on IT and emerging technologies such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.
Because of increasing demand for re-skilling and up-skilling and reduction in costs of training and education due to digitalization, the alternative credentials have expanded rapidly. Companies and other organizations are providing alternative credentials, which help learners learn new skills and update their old skills. Various factors like lack of standardization, companies’ unfamiliarity with the credentials and absence of validation process limit the job market impact of the alternative credentials. Governments might consider establishing frameworks for these alternative credentials programmes to provide sufficient quality assurance and to protect consumers. But the advantage of these programmes lies in pace and flexibility with which they can adapt to the growing demands of learners and employers.