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Micro-credentials: An interview with George Ubachs

By Dilek Şenocak, Şeyda Kır / February 2022

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Higher education institutions and online learning providers must develop alternative course offerings, provisions, and educational offerings considering the challenge of current learning needs for more flexible, accessible, and open learning environments that will help learners acquire new skills and competencies. Micro-credentials, which are considered a transformative and innovative approach for higher education institutions, have the potential to meet these needs.

In this interview, George Ubachs, Managing Director of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU), discusses what micro-credentials are, possible challenges in implementation and recognition processes, and different perspectives about their benefits. 

Who is George Ubachs? Can you briefly introduce yourself?

George Ubachs EADTU is Managing Director of EADTU. George Ubachs is responsible for the development and support of the EADTU network, policies, and execution of its goals in online, open, and flexible higher education. He is coordinator of international academic cooperation networks on the digitalization of higher education, micro-credentials, international curricula and virtual mobility, and on business models for lifelong learning. EADTU has also developed the E-xcellence instrument and manual for quality assurance in online, open, and flexible education. George Ubachs is also coordinator of the European MOOC Consortium (EMC), which has developed a standard for micro-credentials through the Common Microcredential Framework (CMF). [For more, see The European MOOC Consortium's "The Common Microcredential Framework".]

How do you define “micro-credentials”? What makes them different from traditional courses, certificates, or degrees?

Currently, there are two main definitions of micro-credentials.

One is from the European Commission, focusing on micro-credential awards:

“Micro-credential’ means the record of the learning outcomes that a learner has acquired following a small volume of learning. These learning outcomes have been assessed against transparent and clearly defined standards. Courses leading to micro-credentials are designed to provide the learner with specific knowledge, skills, and competencies that respond to societal, personal, cultural, or labor market needs. Micro-credentials are owned by the learner, can be shared and are portable. They may be standalone or combined into larger credentials. They are underpinned by quality assurance following agreed standards in the relevant sector or area of activity.” [1]

The other is defined by ministries and networks in the MICROBOL project, focusing on a micro-credential as a course or program in higher education and on the application of Bologna tools to facilitate the integration in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA):

“A micro-credential is a small volume of learning certified by a credential. In the EHEA context, it can be offered by HEIs or recognized by them using recognition procedures in line with the Lisbon Recognition Convention or recognition of prior learning, where applicable. A micro-credential is designed to provide the learner with specific knowledge, skills or competencies that respond to societal, personal, cultural, or labor market needs. Micro-credentials have explicitly defined learning outcomes at a QF-EHEA/NQF level, an indication of associated workload in ECTS credits, assessment methods and criteria, and are subject to QA in line with the ESG” [2].

Within the European MOOC Consortium (EMC), we had already promoted the uptake of the Bologna tools key features of our Common Microcredential Framework (CMF). CMF uses the European Qualification Framework (EQF) and the related National Qualification Frameworks for Higher Education (NQF) to provide high-quality courses that award academic credits (ECTS). The EQF is the common European reference framework that aims to make qualifications more readable and understandable across different countries and systems. In addition, CMF awarded programs represent a total workload (or study time) of 100–150 hours (4–6 ECTS), including the completion of the summative assessment. They achieve a level 5–8 in the European Qualification Framework or the equivalent levels in the university’s national qualification framework. The summative assessment awards academic credit, either immediately upon successful completion of the micro-credential or through recognition of prior learning upon enrollment as a student on a university degree.

CMF awarded programs use a reliable method of ID verification at the point of assessment that complies with recognized university policies and/or is widely adopted across the platforms authorized to use the CMF and provide a transcript that sets out the learning outcomes for a micro-credential, total study hours required, EQF level, and number of credit points earned.

Could you explain what considerable benefits micro-credentials provide for learners, employers, and providers?

CMF micro-credentials offer short, flexible, and scalable online education for working learners who need upskilling and reskilling. That is why they combine an academic and a professional profile, aimed at a set of competencies that are relevant for the labor market. CMF micro-credentials provide transparency on the level, the workload, and the quality of micro-credentials. In addition, by the application of the Bologna tools, they offer possibilities for stacking these micro-credentials into larger micro-degrees, bachelor’s, or master’s programs.

Unlike most certificates and badges, micro-credentials are a true qualification that provides transparency through evidence of learning outcomes achieved, indicating the workload in terms of ECTS and the academic and professional level of competencies achieved in accordance with EQF/NQF. As these are short and flexible programs that respond to the needs of the market, they are an essential asset in continuing education.

According to the 2021 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report [3], the investment in micro-credentials is expected to increase in the coming years and they will play a pivotal role in the evolution of higher education and the workforce. Some, on the other hand, claim that they are just another trend. Could smaller be worthier?

Our society requires learning during our entire lifespan (LLL) with the aim of “improving our knowledge, skills and competences, within personal, civic, social or employment-related perspectives.” Current higher education systems offer two options for following higher education: an accredited full-time or part-time program or a non-accredited module or course. Modules or other small educational units often fit bachelor’s or master’s degrees and continuing education courses or programs that do not provide a recognized qualification. However, these short courses and programs, often also micro-learning units, often fit better with the flexibility that workers need. The size and demonstrated level of micro-credentials make it attractive for learners to specialize, upskill, or reskill in higher education.

What challenges might be encountered in implementing micro-credentials?

There are several issues related to the integration of micro-credentials into the higher education system like a common understanding of what a micro-credential is, common standards and formats, internal and external quality assurance, the recognition of micro-credential qualifications by academia and by the labor market, the stackability of micro-credentials into larger programs, and in general, positioning micro-credentials in a national or European qualification framework for continuing education, linked to the EQF/NQF in terms of volume of learning and competence level.

Next, there are challenges in how to make micro-credentials relevant to the learner, how to match students’ learning ambitions and learning paths/careers, and how to deliver micro-credentials that respond to market needs. These offers have to be delivered within a short period of time to respond to the urgent needs, which is a challenge for the development of micro-credentials. Where an accreditation is required, and institutional or ex-post accreditation would be appropriate, ex-ante accreditation hinders a rapid response to the labor market needs. So, there are still many areas to be explored further.

What can be the fundamental criteria to identify an institutional perspective for micro-credentials?

The ambition of the institutional leadership to offer flexible and scalable online continuing education with the institutional support of the staff to make it possible. This is part of a new mindset and new strategies of the university that also needs a solid business model.

What are your predictions about the future of education in a post COVID world? Do you think micro-credentials will shape the future of education? If so, in what ways?

Yes, the need for upskilling and reskilling is so high in a fast-changing world and considering the ongoing digitalization of the economy, that continuing education is becoming crucial for all. A fit qualification, like a micro-credential, is needed to support these developments through continuous upskilling and reskilling. 

One of the goals of online education is to humanize education—in other words, to support and strengthen equity and inclusion in education. How can micro-credentials best serve this purpose?

Micro-credentials with a recognized qualification would serve a wider audience of learners, not all of whom have the ability or ambition to complete a full degree at a later stage in their lives. It would certainly create more opportunities for a greater diversity of working learners if higher education institutions also pay attention to this diversity. For example, universities may also develop learning paths for learners who do not meet all the requirements of an academic course or program. Online education in itself promotes already the accessibility and therefore the feasibility of obtaining a highly relevant qualification within a shorter period of time. The stackability of micro-credentials would further trigger students to continue education in a larger program and eventually to obtain a bachelor's or master’s degree.


[1] European Commission.  Proposal for a council recommendation on a European approach to micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability. COM/2021/770 final. European Commission, Brussels, November 2021.

[2] MICROBOL. Micro-credentials linked to the Bologna Key Commitments. European Commission, Brussels, July 2021.

[3] Pelletier, K. et al.  2021 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report, Teaching and Learning Edition. EDUCAUSE, Boulder, CO, 2021.

About the Authors

Dilek Şenocak is an instructor at Anadolu University, School of Foreign Languages. She holds an M.A. in distance education from Anadolu University. She is a Ph.D. candidate whose recent focus has been on artificial intelligence in education. She is also interested in micro-credentials, gamification, and adaptive learning in open and distance learning.

Şeyda Kır is an instructor at Yozgat Bozok University and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Distance Education at Anadolu University. She graduated from Anadolu University’s Distance Education Department Master’s Program in 2019. Her research interests are MOOCs, OERs, open pedagogy, lifelong learning, adult education, and open and distance learning. 

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