Micro-credentials and data analytics make universities as we know them obsolete

Are university study programs, where students take ‘time out from life’ to study towards a future career, becoming an outdated way of gaining qualifications? Enter technology-supported customised learning, where learners acquire the knowledge and skills they need at the time they need them, and receive and use micro-credentials when needed.

Let’s consider the mature-age worker employed as a software developer. She attended university but left when deciding that the course was not keeping up-to-date with technological changes. She has worked in a number of businesses, demonstrating advanced levels of knowledge and skill in her profession by learning on-the-job. Now in the middle of her career, a project management position has become available for which she believes she is highly qualified, yet does not have the degrees which will attract a new employer’s notice. How can she compete in the employment market?

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is one strategy that she might use. Most universities or TAFE colleges will offer some form of RPL. However, as one university states, RPL will not be recognised until an offer of enrolment is accepted. The Australian Qualifications Framework requires any RPL process to be of the same standard of assessment as would be required at any accredited institution and performed by an academic or teaching staff with the expertise in the subject. These put restrictions on the timeliness of both learning and accreditation.

What a tedious process RPL has become, with the expectations that verified supporting documentation attests to what is known, understood or has been performed. Few of us look to the future and compile work samples or copious documentation of what we do from day to day, either in a professional or personal capacity. Yet, these are the experiences which accumulate to build our expertise in many areas. Learning is a never-ending process, and acknowledgement of what we know and how we use it can provide many new opportunities for employees.

What if we all had the opportunity to keep track of our learning journeys easily by using the capabilities of technology and the interoperability of learning systems? What if technology helped to collect the data associated with our chunks of learning, compiling these into usable summaries linked to professional competencies? A secure linking between private and public cloud services might play an integral role in supporting changes between the tertiary education sector and personal learning spaces.

The benefits of big data and data analytics using modern technologies such as Learning Record Stores (LRS) and xAPI tracking make it possible to think about a completely different approach involving micro-credentials. This approach encompasses how university students acquire their knowledge and skills and how these results are tracked, recorded and credentialed.