See you later?

By itself a degree or a diploma is no guarantee of appropriate workplace performance. Some may argue that the Texas student who recently posed for graduation snaps in the water, with an alligator another snap away, should have her degree replaced forthwith with a Darwin Award.

“Tertiary qualifications not required”

Last year more than 100 New Zealand organisations signed an open letter saying that tertiary qualifications are not required for a range of skilled roles in their workplaces. Instead, they were themselves willing to assess the skills, attitudes, motivation and adaptability of candidates in order to cope with a shortage of skilled workers in a rapidly changing employment environment.

Likewise reports The Wall Street Journal U.S. employers are dropping both work history and degree requirements in order to attract a larger pool of job candidates. This seemed to work for one newish high office incumbent .

Micro-credentials: Some new tricks!

At the points of entry and promotion, fast filters developed by independent experts are obviously useful for both employers and job seekers.

Enter micro-credentials: specific mini-qualifications which recognise smaller, more discrete sets of skills and knowledge than a degree or diploma.

At ELF18 Phil Ker said that micro-credentials are enjoying an international resurgence, both in response to time and money costly traditional qualifications and to meet employer demand for training that meets specific work needs at a time of rapid technological and social change.

The “old dog” turns out to be a very lively greyhound, especially when compared to existing Clydesdale qualifications. It can take 10 years to complete a part-time degree and two years plus to do a part-time certificate.

Traditional qualifications are also slow and costly to develop and cannot respond quickly to new skills needed by industry. Micro-credentials can be custom-made in short development time-frames.

Showing you’ve got what it takes

“Edubits validate sets of skills and knowledge developed through experience or through new learning. They are flexible, online, anywhere, anytime and cost effective.” Phil Ker, CE Otago Polytechnic

There is a growing demand for just-in-time learning to meet these changing skill needs. Micro-credentials enable people to show what they know and can do through digital certification, validating new learning as well as skills and knowledge already acquired.

Otago Polytechnic’s micro-credential service EduBits works closely with the business sector and helps employers frustrated with deciphering omnibus qualifications focus on their particular requirements. It also makes visible employees, present and potential, who have got key skills or knowledge not indicated by conventional qualifications.

The key components of the service, on-line and/or face-to-face, are the assessment of required competencies and either the identification of prior experiential learning or the delivery of developmental training.

Present EDUbits include Health & Safety, Team Management, Microsoft Skills, Project Management.

EduBits can quickly be tailor-made to satisfy organisation-specific requirements. Dr Lance O’Sullivan is using EduBits to validate the skills of the digital health assessors involved in iMOKO, the innovative digital health service for children which has just gone national with the support of the Wright Family Foundation.

Once awarded, an EduBit digital badge can be added to online profiles like LinkedIn, personal websites, email signatures and CVs. The badge encapsulates the assessment metadata attesting to particular workplace knowledge and skills that are not necessarily linked to academic qualifications, though some EduBits can be NZQA endorsed.

Potted History: Mismatch and Mishmash

Changes in workplace practices are forever outrunning the attempts of education and training providers to keep up. Innovation and disruption creates an on-going mismatch between the mishmash of qualifications and those who use them as employment currency.

During the First Industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries a modicum of education was encouraged by some new industrialists for factory workers, presumably so the latter could read the on/off buttons on new machinery, thus avoiding being jammed in it and slowing production.

The Second Industrial Revolution in the final third of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th brought with it a new level of technological change, standardisation and the Henry Ford assembly line still beloved by some education policy makers.

By performing simple repetitive tasks manufacturing workers became extensions of their machines. They were encouraged to leave their brains at the factory gates.

World Wars I and II encouraged close ties between manufacturing and warfare. The nature of management itself underwent a military metamorphosis, becoming more hierarchical and incorporating terms like the span of control.

Post-World War II American W.Edward Deming, for a long time a prophet without honour his own country, was instrumental in the post-war Japanese economic miracle by encouraging higher standards of statistical education and practice on the factory frontline. This was based on the joy of learning and its application. It embedded quality into the whole manufacturing process rather than it being a postscript at the end of the assembly line.

Today’s Agile World

Today, in a more Agile world, hierarchies have flattened further. As the outcome of organizational intelligence the agile enterprise uses key principles of complex adaptive systems to rapidly respond to change in a business environment and meet customer’s needs by taking advantage of available brainpower to continuously innovate or disrupt without compromising quality.

But many academic and trade qualifications remain analogue in a digital world.

A less testing school environment

“With the removal of National Standards and the flexibilities of NCEA and growing focus on internal assessments our teachers are going beyond the test and exploring new and interesting ways to capture and evidence learning…”   Claire Amos

As the emphasis shifts at the primary and secondary levels from the summative to the formative, hopefully reducing assessment form-filling by teachers, there will be more opportunities for informal real-time feedback to encourage learners.

This means that what happens now in the tertiary qualifications space is especially relevant.

Stronger links with employers

Employers, among others, must be listened to and encouraged to accept the credibility and utility of new ways of providing evidence of learning and doing. The strength of the currency of evolving qualifications needs to be lifted and maintained to avoid triggering Gresham’s Law.

As Phil Ker points out, as the supply of micro-credentials grows a significant challenge will be the extent to which the market is regulated and the credentials are quality assured, as is the case with traditional qualifications.

In a recent Education Central article on micro-credentials and life-long learning Roger Smyth marks the development of a framework for the creation of micro-credentials, announced by the Minister of Education on 1 August, as a first step in this respect.

No doubt hybrids will eventually emerge, with some micro-credentials becoming later components of diplomas or degrees, while having already served their purpose incrementally.

Lyall Lukey: Convener of annual Education Leaders Forums since 2007.

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