Key Initiative

Lessons Learned from Launching a Micro-Credential Program, Kennesaw State University

Kennesaw State University (KSU) launched a micro-credential program (described in an interview published 11/20/2022 in The Evolllution) as an institution-wide initiative, rather than something that lived in either a continuing education unit or within individual faculty areas. Key lessons were learned, that developing an entirely new form of programming, like micro-credentials, requires collaboration between departments, faculty, senior leadership and the surrounding community. The work that goes into making these programs accessible and differentiating them from the rest of the university through badges or certificates can help more students return to work with new skills quickly.

KSU had started offering micro-credentials for quite some time, but it was decentralized. The executive education group was leading in this space, but KSU had multiple tools in use across campus, and the institution was paying for a variety of micro-credentialing solutions. The university IT services group wanted to support a single micro-credentialing tool for efficiency’s sake.  With growing interest in moving to an institution-wide approach, the provost gathered an ad hoc micro-credentialing committee that included representatives from across campus who were already awarding micro-credentials. The provost charged the group with developing an initiative that not only identified one tool but was also inclusive of everyone who wanted to participate, including academics. The group wanted to ensure rigor and trust but also make the brand recognizable, such that employers would trust them.

This work was fueled by growing interest in preparing KSU students to market their degrees to future employers, capturing employee-centered skills development that already exists in their degree programs and being able to showcase it during the search for a job or internship. There was also growing interest in demonstrating the workforce relevancy of the university’s degrees  — to teach relevant skills and having students successfully enter the workforce.  The effort enabled the academic side of the house, especially liberal arts faculty, to fully embrace micro-credentialing the key skills students develop through artifacts and experiences in degree programs—including both formal and informal learning experiences. Micro-credentials should communicate skill sets more effectively than course numbers and course titles on a traditional transcript.

KSU did have separate units on campus already using micro-credentials, but the university wanted micro-credentialing resources to be centrally allocated. These credentials do have the institutional name on them now, not just a unit’s name. So, there was a need to ensure they’re all at the same level of rigor; and that the university would have a taxonomy of credentials. Without that taxonomy, KSU could not necessarily include everyone already participating in micro-credentials. The variation among the micro-credentials already being awarded across campus was evident. KSU needed to ensure consistent communication with employers about what level of rigor and mastery a micro-credential represents. The taxonomy enables clear communication about the different values of the souvenir micro-credential (souvenirs for participation level – for attending a webinar or a lecture series), digital certificates, or Level II badges. A Badge Level I and a Badge Level II showcase the differentiating levels of involvement with the skills that learners earn in these digital micro-credentialing processes. Level I badge focuses on the introduction to a skill and understanding the basic principles, whereas Badge Level II builds on that and shows comfort with going out into the workplace and demonstrating that mastery. The final level, a digital certificate, is for mastery of different skills through various stacked Level II badges or mastery of multiple skills all in one digital certificate.

Lessons learned reported include:

  • Having the resources available for the entire campus community and various units involved in this process. Since launching in August 2021, KSU has developed more resources as questions have arisen, whether that’s  an all-encompassing guidebook or excerpts that pinpoint some of the questions coming up again and again such as the difference between Level I badges and Level II badges.
  • The expectation was KSU was going to rapidly adopt micro-credentials, but getting the entire campus excited is taking a bit more time than anticipated.
  • Taking the time to communicate is vital, such as initial campus speaking tour, talking to individual colleges, letting them know what micro-credentials are, what the process is and how it mimics the regular curriculum processes.
  • A campus-wide survey on micro-credentials is underway, to understand what current users are finding helpful or could use to improve the process.
  • The work must be a learning process and a formative process.  The campus will learn from the survey, from granting awards, from hearing from those submitting micro-credentials and from committee feedback.

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