The world of work increasingly demands a quick response from the education system to provide people with the desired qualifications. In response, MOOCs have tried to make their content as digestible and flexible as possible. Degrees are broken into modules; modules into courses; courses into short segments. The MOOCs test for optimal length to ensure people complete the course; six minutes are thought to be the sweet spot for online video and four weeks for a course.

Universities are responding to this trend by becoming more modular, too. EdX has a micromaster in supply-chain management, that can either be taken on its own or count towards a full masters at MIT. Coursera now offers everything from full-degrees to single courses – with content offered for free and learners paying for assessment and accreditation at the end of the course.

Thus, credentialing in the form of digital badges, nano-degrees, and micro-credentialing is a new concept in HE advocated for use in the acknowledgement of coursework taken online; badges provide a method of accrediting content knowledge rather than course credit for specific knowledge (Rath, 2013; Reid, 2011). Digital badges are now being examined and accepted for wider applications in HE. However, the precise form of these badges is still very much up for debate, with one approach proposing fully-open credentials which are transparent, and issuable by anyone, while another model proposes verified credentials which are issued by trusted institutions.

Digital technologies offer myriad access to learning; entry to education is still a necessity for economic success, with access increasingly promoted to those wishing access to furthering their skills. As new technologies and traditional education paradigms have collided, credentialing paradigms have also needed review. Traditionally, academic credentials and professional certifications were awarded as students emerged from education and vocational/technical programs. By 2015, global higher education institutions were considering validation of knowledge from online learning coursework in one single common, broad-based credentialing platform, and signed the Groningen Declaration to help forward this agenda.

Accreditation for online learning or Massive Open Online Coursework provides challenges for universities to accept and acknowledge learning as credited coursework; awarding credit for different types of educational coursework disrupts higher education’s traditional, formal educational processes for financial and educational accountability. The challenge for post-secondary institutions is to look at online learning opportunities through a lens of reform and innovation and equally, as an opportunity to increase higher education participation. (Lemoine and Richardson, 2015, ‘Micro-Credentials, Nano Degrees, and Digital Badges’)

However, while traditional students could depend on recognition of widely understood signals of experience and expertise such as university degrees, the same cannot be said for the creatures of MOOCs such as ‘nanodegrees’ and ‘specialisations’.

The Malta EU Presidency Conference on “The State of Digital Education – Engaging with Connected, Blended and Open Learning” concluded that “Unbundling is Unstoppable”, but competition is fierce to lead the micro-credentials revolution. Digital Education is increasingly breaking traditional programmes, into smaller, shorter online courses. This trend is set to continue and expand dramatically. The discussion in the next few years will centre around whether universities will adapt to offer large-scale micro-credentials, whether VET institutions will take up the mantle, or whether it will increasingly become the domain of start-ups and corporations.

The private sector is proposing a host of solutions to recognise learning in smaller segments, from the aforementioned nanodegrees, to centralised skill-banks verified by standardised testing to online systems of recommendation similar to those to peer-reviewed literature. (The Economist, Lifelong Learning Supplement, 2017).

The concept of the project was recently presented at the EURASHE Annual Conference in Tallinn, Estonia, with the following slidedeck: