4 wise ways to use microcredentials to grow your RTO business
Confused about microcredentials? Learning Vault Head of Education Toby Jones tells ReadyTech how RTOs can use microcredentials within their existing business models.
Three or so years ago Toby Jones found he was hearing a lot about microcredentials.
As Head of Education at Learning Vault, which creates AQF-aligned learning content (in business, hospitality, cookery, retail and other areas), he also noticed the rigour around describing what microcredentials actually were was still underdeveloped.
“We decided to go away then and develop our own thinking on microcredentials,” he says.
Learning Vault then was like a lot of RTOs are now. Despite lots of discussion around microcreds, there is still some confusion about what they are and how they fit into a regulated environment. There’s also uncertainty about how to use them well in an RTO business.
Toby is now a microcredentials thought leader, and Learning Vault has a growing library of over 600 microcreds to its name. What can Toby tell us about how RTOs can use them wisely?
What are micro-credentials?
First, a definition. What are microcredentials?
There’s been a lot of work put into trying to understand and define what a microcredential is. The most recent definition comes in the March 2022 National Microcredentials Framework, part of the Australian Government’s effort to create a new Australian Microcredentials Marketplace.
It defines microcredentials as: “A certification of assessed learning or competency, with a minimum volume of learning of one hour and less than an AQF award qualification, that is additional, alternate, complementary to or a component part of an AQF award qualification.”
The framework says they should also share four unifying principles. They should be ‘outcome-based’, ‘responsive to industry need’, ‘tailored to support lifelong learning’ and ‘transparent and accessible’.
Toby says Learning Vault decided the best structure for microcredentials was to package up the knowledge components in AQF competencies and qualifications. This way they are backed by the authority of AQF regulated learning and can stack back into regulated courses via RPL.
This approach also allows educators to progress straight to delivering skills in the classroom.
Toby says Learning Vault would also argue microcredentials should be short. “Some people talk about microcredentials as a short course program that takes three weekends or so, or others as skill sets – but skill sets are three units of competency, so that’s at least a six week program.”
We are talking about anything between 30 minutes to eight or nine hours – that’s our longest microcredential. These are highly useful pieces of knowledge that you can learn in an afternoon or over a couple of days - not something that you are going to take weeks doing,” he says.
4 ways to build microcredentials into your course offering
There are four ways Learning Vault typically sees microcredentials being utilised well right now.
1. Filling emerging gaps in existing training packages
Training packages can take a long time to be updated or released. The cycle can take 5 years or so. By the time a training package in any area (like social services, mental health or education, for example) is released, a lot can change for people working at the coalface.
“Micro-credentials can be used to gap fill where training packages haven’t yet caught up with all of the knowledge or skills around a subject that could be required by students or employers," Toby says.
He gives examples like behaviours required in the workplace to safeguard LGBTQI employees, or updates to technologies in different industries. Without gap filling, he says things like supply chain units could seem outdated in 12 months due to advances in machine learning and AI.
2. Opening the door with introductory learning
RTOs can use microcredentials as a way to introduce students to new pathways of learning.
“Students who are thinking about studying - or who are not quite sure - can be offered a low cost, low time investment entry point. They can jump in, see if they like it, and then if they do, go on and enrol themselves in a full-blown 12 month or so course if they want to,” he says.
This can support RTOs trying to recruit students into longer courses. This approach could have advantages in the international market, where students offshore can be offered meaningful areas of study, which they can then pick up as a longer qualification onshore.
When microcredentials are backed by the AQF, it can make this scenario easier; students can gain instant RPL for their microcreds if they do choose to take up a longer course of study.
3. Adding some extras after course completion
Microcredentials can be added to the end of formal qualifications to address the additional relevant knowledge or skills needs that graduates have when they enter the workforce.
Toby gives the example of students completing a Cert III in Hairdressing, who often want to start a freelance business. While not wanting a full Business Diploma, they do want to know how to manage the books, run a marketing campaign or deal with customers.
Someone who has done a Diploma of Business that wants to open a coffee shop is similar - they might not want hospitality training, just some coffee, customer and hygiene units.
“You can tack those onto the end to provide an extension to learning for your students. If you’re in a situation where someone has already trusted you as a provider and graduated after a 12-month program, it makes sense to continue to look after them after they leave."
4. Working with industry to build tailored learning
In some cases, RTOs will build microcredentials to create a more meaningful, tailored program for the industry within which they operate, or even a particular employer within that industry.
Toby says this might take the form of an approach from a local employer that has a skills gap they wish to fill in a cohort of their employees. “They might ask an RTO to build a solution for them. Microcredentials can make this learning more agile and flexible for industry,” he says.
Student-centricity and the growth of microcredentials
The driving force behind the growth of microcredentials, Toby argues, has been student-centricity.
“It’s about understanding where students want to go next. We were seeing increasing evidence suggesting students wanted to be trained in something today and start tomorrow. As much as traditional education is still a very strong pathway, there is a desire as part of lifelong learning to access just in time training without enrolling in a 12, 18 month or 2-year program,” he says.
That applies to employers who are looking for faster, better ways of skilling their workforces.
“Historically when identifying a skills gap, employers might go to a local training provider and find a solution in the form of units of competency or full qualifications. But really, they are wanting to upskill employees in specific things. Now, provides like TAFE for example are able to build customer needs focused microcredential packages for local industry, which can be more time and cost efficient than tying them into unit of competency kind of structures,” he says.
If mapped back to regulated pathways, Toby says students can more easily take advantage of RPL if they decide to pursue longer forms of learning. “It’s easy to do when you are aligning it to the requirements of an AQF unit of competency. If you create a random course, it’s open to perception where that fits in, and if you have really done the knowledge part of that.”
The future of microcredentials, education and work
Toby sees a future where learning and employment will be looked at in much more granular way.
"People will be able to look at employment opportunities and rather than thinking they need ‘10 years’ experience and an MBA’, they’ll be able to look at the granular skills needed to be successful in that job and pick the microcreds and institutions that can provide those skills.
“People will be able to build up the skill set they want for the job they want to go after. That is more meaningful for me than doing a generic course that could potentially be really broad and may not actually be giving a student all the aspects that they need to be employed,” he says.
This will involve change in the way skills are communicated. Like digital badges, for instance.
But it won’t mean the end of traditional education channels. ““Education is not going away and education providers aren’t going away either. There will still be traditional forms of study, but the role they play might undergo some change due to changes in student demand,” he says.
The changes wrought by Covid are a good example. “There’s been a move away from classrooms to Zoom during Covid. For future students, it’s going to be much easier to roll out of bed to get to class than get on a bus - and providers will need to adapt.”
Is microcredentials success just a matter of time?
The biggest challenge education providers have with deploying microcredentials is time.
“With RTOs stretched, it’s a time versus revenue question. From their perspective, if they spend a week developing a series of microcredentials and no student buys them, has that been worth it?”
Learning Vault can support RTOs. “RTOs can implement microcredentials and then if no one buys them then, no one buys them. If they do, they can see how it works for them.”
Toby recommends RTOs wanting to start now focus on the ‘two ends of the student journey’ .
“They should think about if a student is doing part of a course, would it increase their confidence in enrolling in a full course to study a microcredential first, and how important to them is that?
“They should also ask if there’s a better way to support students at the point of exit? What further skills might they need, and what might it look like for their business if they add microcredentials?
Find out more about Learning Vault’s microcredentials offering for VET by clicking here.