Key Initiative

Dictionary: Definitions, Use of Key Terms & Concepts in Incremental Credentialing

Many concepts and terms in the learn-and-work ecosystem are confusing. Some terms and concepts are new to the field and have no established definitions; others are evolving and not well understood. Still others are used in varying ways, depending on stakeholder perspectives and contexts. For example, do we mean the same thing when we say competencies, skills, or learning outcomes? Is there a shared understanding of  microcredentials, micro-pathways, or stackable credentials? And why does this matter? 

This document includes 43 key definitions and use of terms and concepts in incremental credentialing. The document was designed to inform Credential As You Go and other groups seeking greater clarity about the terms used, such as:

  • Learners
  • Higher education institutions (credential providers)
  • Employers and industry associations
  • Workforce boards
  • Policymakers
  • Researchers and think tanks
  • Journalists
  • Accountability entities such as accreditors and standards bodies. 

This document portrays the breadth, depth, and nuances of the language of incremental credentialing. This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are likely missing terms, missing definitions among the terms listed, and questions about various entries. The document will be continually updated to improve this resource. 

All definitions, uses of terms, and concepts come from Internet searches—from websites, blogs, reports, and research documents. This method was used based on the rationale that the language of incremental credentialing is and should be available in the open communications ecosystem. 

Those who chose entries for this document used the following criteria in making their selections:: 

  • Source material must include diverse and nuanced voices (e.g., from employers, research reports from think tanks, media articles, dictionaries and glossaries, college and university websites).
  • Entries must reflect the main definitions in use, especially those longer standing in the vernacular (such as those at Wikipedia).
  • Entries must conform with the ways in which terms are used in reports, at websites, and in blogs and articles that speak to both niche and public audiences.
  • International definitions are included to allow comparisons with U.S. definitions and uses of terms.

Links to Resources: CAYG-Dictionary.pdf (

Associated Building Blocks
Credentials & Providers
Stakeholder Group(s)
Journalists Researchers

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