Guidelines for Open and Online Learning Assessment and Recognition with Reference to the National and European Qualification Framework Micro-Credentials as a Proposal for
These Guidelines are one of the results of the four-year research project “Open Online Learning for Digital and Networked Society” (2017–2021). The project objective was to enable university teachers to design open and online learning through open and online learning curriculum and environment applying learning analytics as a metacognitive tool and creating open and online learning assessment and recognition practices, responding to the needs of digital and networked society. The research of the project resulted in 10 scientific publications and 2 studies prepared by Vytautas Magnus university Institute of Innovative Studies research team in collaboration with their international research partners from Germany, Spain and Portugal.
The final stage of the research attempted creating open and online learning assessment and recognition practices, responding to the learner needs in contemporary digital and networked society. The need for open learning recognition has been increasing during the recent decade while the developments of open learning related to the Covid-19 pandemic have dramatically increased the need for systematic and high-quality assessment and recognition of learning acquired online. The given time also relates to the increased need to offer micro-credentials to learners, as well as a rising need for universities to prepare for micro-credentialisation and issue new digital credentials to learners who are regular students, as well as adult learners joining for single courses.
The increased need of all labour-market participants for frequent and fast renewal of competences requires a well working and easy to use system of open learning assessment and recognition. For learners, it is critical that the micro-credentials are well linked to national and European qualification frameworks, as well as European digital credential infrastructures (e.g. Europass and similar). For employers, it is important to receive requested quality information that is encrypted in the metadata of the credential. While for universities, there is the need to properly prepare institutional digital infrastructure, organisational procedures, descriptions of open learning opportunities and virtual learning environments to share, import and export the meta-data easily and seamlessly through European Digital Hub service infrastructures, as well as ensure that academic and administrative staff has digital competencies to design, issue and recognise open learning through digital and micro-credentials.
The first chapter of the Guidelines provides a background view of the European Qualification Framework and National Qualification frameworks for the further system of gaining, stacking and modelling further qualifications through open online learning.
The second chapter suggests the review of current European policy papers and consultations on the establishment of micro-credentials in European higher education. The findings of the report of the micro-credentials higher education consultation group “European Approach to Micro-credentials” is briefly introduced, as well as important policy discussions taking place. Responding to the Rome Bologna Communiqué 2020, where the ministers responsible for higher education agreed to support lifelong learning through issuing micro-credentials, a joint endeavour of DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion and DG Research and Innovation resulted in one of the most important political documents highlighting the potential of micro-credentials towards economic, social and education innovations. The consultation group of experts from the Member States defined the approach to micro-credentials to facilitate their validation, recognition and portability, as well as to foster a larger uptake to support individual learning in any subject area and at any stage of life or career. The Consultation Group also suggested further urgent topics to be discussed, including the storage, data exchange, portability, and data standards of micro-credentials and proposed EU Standard of constitutive elements of micro-credentials.
The third chapter is devoted to the institutional readiness to issue and to recognise digital and micro-credentials. Universities need strategic decisions and procedures ready to be enacted for assessment of open learning and issuing micro-credentials. The administrative and academic staff needs to be aware and confident to follow these procedures while keeping the quality assurance procedures in place, as well. The process needs to include increasing teacher awareness in the processes of open learning assessment and the role of microcredentials for the competitiveness of lifelong learners in general. When the strategic documents and procedures to assess open learning are in place and the staff are ready and well aware of the processes, the description of the courses and the virtual learning environment needs to be prepared to provide the necessary metadata for the assessment of open learning and issuing of micro-credentials. Different innovation-driven projects offer solutions: OEPass developed a pilot Learning Passport, based on European Diploma Supplement, MicroHE developed a portal Credentify for displaying, verifying and sharing micro-credential data. The Credentify platform uses Blockchain technology and is developed to comply with European Qualifications Framework. Institutions willing to join Credentify platform should make strategic discussions to apply micro-credential metadata standards. The ECCOE project building on outcomes of OEPass and MicroHE offers an all-encompassing set of quality descriptors for credentials and the descriptions of learning opportunities in higher education. The third chapter also describes the requirements for university structures to interact with the Europass digital credentials infrastructure. In 2020, European Commission launched a new Europass platform with Digital Credential Infrastructure in place. Higher education institutions issuing micro-credentials linked to Europass digital credentials infrastructure may offer added value for the learners and can increase reliability and fraud-resistant information for the employers. However, before using Europass Digital Credentials, universities should fulfil the necessary preconditions that include obtaining a qualified electronic seal, installing additional software and preparing the necessary data templates. Moreover, the virtual learning environment needs to be prepared to export learning outcomes to a digital credential, maintaining and securing learner authentication. Open learning opportunity descriptions also need to be adjusted to transfer and match information for the credential meta-data. A case analysis of a digital badge metadata preparation is presented to offer a higher value of digital badges for the learners.
The Fourth chapter illustrates how digital badges as a type of micro-credentials in open online learning assessment may be used in higher education to create added value for the learners and employers. An adequately provided metadata allows using digital badges as a valuable tool for recognition in all learning settings, including formal, non-formal and informal.
The full text of the publication is available here.