ACQF supports debate and information-sharing on Micro-credentials: concepts, policies, experiences

ACQF is an overarching qualifications framework of the community of countries of the African Union. One of its three essential principles is Innovation (future-proof framework, open to new demands and developments of skills and qualifications). From this perspective ACQF is ready to support debate and initiatives enabling the clarification of novel concepts and practices related with the transformation of learning and certification. View the ACQF Thematic Brief 13 on Micro-Credentials.

View the ACQF Thematic Brief 13: Micro-Credentials - towards a common understanding in different parts of the world

1. Micro-credentials: what defines them?

The number and diversity of micro-credential offerings have expanded substantially in recent years, accelerated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. A large part of all employees will need reskilling by 2025 and the urgency of getting people back to work gives new momentum to “micro-credentials”. Micro-credentials hold promises and challenges, and the common understanding on the role and potentialities of micro-credentials in the era of digital learning and economy is central to the debate.

1.1          Common traits in international definitions

Existing definitions (from OECD, European Commission, UNESCO, Australian Government) point to key common characteristics of micro-credentials:

  • Referring to learning over a limited time period and/or in a specific area
  • May form part of or adding to formal qualifications
  • Potentially ‘stackable’ over time, adding to individual learning careers
  • Given their limited size and focus, more flexible than traditional qualifications
  • Based on assessed learning
  • Frequently delivered in a digital form

1.2          A country perspective: Australia

The Australian Government (2021) adopted the National Micro-Credentials Framework, which uses the following definition:

A microcredential is a certification of assessed learning or competency, with a minimum volume of learning of one hour and less than an Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) award qualification, that is additional, alternate, complementary to or a component part of an AQF award qualification”.

What can constitute a microcredential?

  • Vocational education and training (VET) skill sets or units of competency.
  • Modularised, assessed components of existing higher education curriculum or subjects.
  • Industry learning that is assessed (such as vendor certifications, professional learning).
  • Other forms of assessed learning or competencies (e.g. Vocational Education/ Higher Education /Industry courses not currently accredited by a regulatory authority, and those by other providers).

What does not constitute a microcredential?

  • Unassessed learning or courses, including work-integrated learning without an assessment.
  • Badges which are obtained through participation only (i.e. without an assessment).
  • Formal qualifications within the AQF and macro-credentials, including diplomas, certificates and masters degrees.

2. Changing world of work and learning

The future of work arrived ahead of schedule. At least four mega drivers of change are boosting the dynamics of this transformation and adaptation: digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence; greening of the economy and society; Covid-19; and societal movements. In this context of transformation of work, reskilling and upskilling become urgent, as more workers transition to jobs that are based on a changing mix of tasks and skills.

People need to continuously update their knowledge, skills and competences to be adaptable to new roles and tasks in the rapidly changing world of work. A strong skill set opens up opportunities to individuals, provides a safety net in uncertain times, promotes inclusion and social advancement and provides the economy with the skilled labour force needed to grow and innovate.

New types of qualifications and of modalities of assessment and recognition of learning emerge and the concepts of micro-credentials and digital certificates are becoming part of policies and practices of education and qualifications systems.

3. Acknowledge and talk about micro-credentials is important

Acknowledge and talk about micro-credentials in the eco-system of learning, certification, and work is an important step to gradually build common language and understanding and harness the full potential of good micro-credentials for lifelong learning.

Micro-credentials came about as a result of the digital age and the rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs). The term ‘micro credentials’ has since become more and more widely known. But what are microcredentials and why are they so important? Microcredentials are a way to give visibility and value to shorter learning courses and experiences. They are evidence of practical, flexible, on-demand, and brief learning experiences. Many see them as a way to recognise learning outcomes acquired outside education institutions, for example at work, others see them as an integrated way to recognise smaller modules or units of formal education and training. (Cedefop, 2021).

While qualifications and degrees from initial education and training play a key role in Europe, alternative credentials (including digital badges, microcredentials, nano-credentials, minor awards, etc.), are increasingly seen as a way to add to, and/or reform, existing qualifications systems.

Micro-credentials are frequently portrayed and promoted as a new way for individuals to build their own skills-profile (portfolio) by collecting and ‘stacking’ learning in a flexible way, at their own pace and according to their own priorities.

However, while many qualifications authorities and stakeholders acknowledge that micro-credentials (already) play a role in supporting lifelong learning, and in re- and upskilling of individuals, there are different interpretations, views and debated questions on the place micro-credentials ought to have in education and qualifications frameworks and systems.

3.1 Research and debate on micro-credentials is growing

The rising appeal of micro-credentials is visible in the large range of research activities and publications, and policy initiatives addressing micro-credentials from various angles.

The Research Observatory on Micro-credentials (ROM) is an initiative of the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL, Ireland) in partnership with the European Consortium of European Universities (ECIU University). The aim of ROM is to provide a curated and regularly updated collection of major reports, policy initiatives, events and conferences, and research-related publications on the growth of micro-credentials in higher education and lifelong learning more generally. 

Interested stakeholders, students, and researchers can access a large number of sources, articles, reports, policy documents, and videos at Research Observatory on Micro-credentials, published since 2016 on the subject.

The NIDL is playing a leading role in helping to shape the rapidly evolving micro-credentialing movement, such as:

In his fundamental presentation to ACQF Training Week (18-22 April 2022), Mark Brown (ROM) highlighted the growing place of micro-credentials in the literature and research, emphasizing that 2021-2022 are potentially the years of micro-credentials. In his communication, M. Brown analysed the drivers and attractors for micro-credentials according to the literature (Figure 2).

Top ranking drivers and attractors for micro-credentials according to the literature are:

  • Increase employability
  • Support continuous professional development and workplace training
  • Increase flexibility for learning
  • Close skills gaps in response to changing nature of work
  • Promote lifelong learning
  • Develop 21st Century transversal skills


In 2019-2021 UNESCO promoted a global debate towards a common definition of micro-credentials, based on extensive expert consultation, analysis of definitions from 15 countries and literature review. The key proposals and underpinning reflection were discussed in September at an international conference (UNESCO, 2021). The author of the report (Oliver, 2021) concludes “When it comes to micro-credentials, micro is the distinguishing feature, but to be accepted and trusted, micro-credentials must be seen to bear the quality hallmarks of credentials”.

The related concepts mentioned in (Oliver, 2021):

  • Credentials verify, validate, confirm, or corroborate a person’s learning achievements, knowledge and preparedness for performing tasks. Credentials are diverse with regard to their scope, status and purpose.
  • A large subset of credentials can be referred to as macro-credentials: generally, these include degrees, diplomas, certificates and licences, often awarded by accredited, recognised or regulated educational and other institutions or organisations. They indicate learning achievement of a broad body of knowledge, transferable skills or technical proficiency and may take a number of years to complete. While some are pursued for personal or general educational advancement, others are associated with qualifying to practice a particular profession or to follow a particular career path.
  • Another large subset of credentials can be referred to as micro-credentials: these are typically focused on a specific set of learning outcomes in a narrow field of learning and achieved over a shorter period of time. Micro-credentials are offered by commercial entities, private providers and professional bodies, traditional education and training providers, community organisations and other types of organisations. While many micro-credentials represent the outcomes of more traditional learning experiences, others verify demonstration of achievements acquired elsewhere, such as in the workplace, through volunteering, or through personal interest learning. Micro-credentials are often promoted as an efficient way to upskill workers across the lifespan.

The proposed definition (Oliver, 2021) states that a micro-credential:

  1. Is a record of focused learning achievement verifying what the learner knows, understands or can do;
  2. Includes assessment based on clearly defined standards and is awarded by a trusted provider;
  3. Has stand-alone value and may also contribute to or complement other micro-credentials or macro-credentials, including through recognition of prior learning; and
  4. Meets the standards required by relevant quality assurance.

4. Micro-credentials in Africa

Specific research and data on the features, role, and trends of micro-credentials in Africa is still scarce as this brief is being updated. Information and data on part qualifications, and short-term courses for employment and lifelong learning can be found in analyses and specific web resources such as registers of qualifications. Although proxies of micro-credentials are well established in the context of labour market-oriented training and in digital and innovative skills development eco-systems, most countries are only undertaking the initial steps to better define and manage their variations of micro-credentials. A common approach to micro-credentials in the context of regional economic communities and at the wider level of the African Union is yet to be initiated. The ACQF implementation process in the period from 2023 is well placed to initiate and support reflection on micro-credentials and their role in national qualifications frameworks and systems.

A survey among members of the ACQF Advisory Group carried out by the ACQF project in March 2021, included a section on micro-credentials. The scope of the survey was limited, as it aimed to collect information of qualitative nature, and had no ambition to reach a representative sample of responses.

The results of this survey show that (responding) countries are aware of developments related with micro-credentials in their education and training systems and markets, and most respondents provided definitions used / accepted in the respective countries.

ACQF survey on NQFs in Africa: What is the definition of micro-credentials in your NQF and other relevant policies and regulations?


  • Part qualifications
  • Short weighted up CDP that cumulatively should be recognized as a qualification
  • A digital record of focused learning achievement verifying what the learner knows, understands and or can do.
  • They are evaluated as credits towards an NQF Level
  • There are two concepts used: part qualifications and credit bearing short courses
  • No policy yet
  • This is the sanction obtained at the end of a short training course
  • Not yet established
  • Not applicable at the moment
  • Micro-credentials are understood as modules of a qualification; or stand-alone modules not mandatory in any qualification, and registered in the National Catalogue of Professional Qualifications, having at least 2 credits (20 notional hours).

Summing-up the results of this limited survey:

  • It is worth noting that there is a growing trend in the diversity and provision of micro-credentials, especially by institutions of the sector of vocational education and training and professional associations. Higher education appears as less involved in the provision of short training courses providing micro-credentials.
  • However more than half of respondents acknowledge that the existing legislation has no clear provisions concerning the inclusion of micro-credentials in the NQF register / database.
  • The range of definitions of “micro-credentials” is not highly dispersed, as they gravitate around the concepts: a) part qualifications; b) short courses credit bearing; c) digital record of focused learning achievement; d) modules of a qualification and stand-alone modules of a transversal nature and with a minimum size of 2 credits. One of the responses differentiates between two different concepts: part qualifications versus credit bearing short courses. The common traits of these different definitions are essentially three: small size qualification (a module or a part qualification); short training; assessed learning achievements. None of the responses mentioned stackability of existing proxies / micro-credentials, although the notion of “credit bearing short courses” could be provide possibilities for individual pathways and progression towards larger qualifications.
  • A small number of respondents acknowledged that there is no definition and policy on micro-credentials yet.

5. Improving lifelong learning and employability in the European Union: a common approach to Micro-credentials  

The European Union is working to enhance lifelong learning. In this context the European Union adopted in June 2021 two Council Recommendations: a) on micro-credentials; on b) on individual learning accounts. These proposals were announced in the Skills Agenda and in the European Education Area Communication of 2020. They will help tackle challenges related with upskilling and reskilling of the population, by opening up more opportunities for people to find learning offers, and employment opportunities. European Union Member States set a target of 60% of adults taking part in training by 2030.

For more information and access to the policy proposals (Council Recommendations) visit the website, view the infographic, and read the Brochure.


Definition of Micro-credentials in the Council Recommendation on A European Approach to Micro-credentials for Lifelong Learning and Employability, June 2022:

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