Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Distance Education

For a Special Issue on

Micro-credentials–the Next Generation in Open, Flexible and Distance Education: Affordances for Assessment, Accreditation and Learner Agency

Abstract deadline
15 December 2023

Manuscript deadline
05 April 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Mark Brown, Dublin City University
[email protected]

Mitchell Peters, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
[email protected]

Elaine Beirne, Independent Researcher
[email protected]

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Micro-credentials–the Next Generation in Open, Flexible and Distance Education: Affordances for Assessment, Accreditation and Learner Agency

What are the implications of the emergence of micro-credentials for the future of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning (OFDL)? This is the key focus of this special-themed issue of Distance Education. It responds to the heightened attention given worldwide by politicians, policy-makers and educational leaders to more flexible and responsive bite-size forms of micro-learning and its role in promoting openness, flexibility and learner agency in education. To what extent does the emergence of micro-credentials and the torrent of recent policy initiatives, burgeoning growth of published literature, and the development of new national action plans and online portals, suggest we are on the brink of a new generation of distance education, evidenced by new approaches to assessment, accreditation and learner agency?

Micro-credentials are not new, as short volumes of learning have been a feature of the broader tertiary education landscape for many years. However, universities have not traditionally occupied this terrain, as they tend to focus on degree-level macro-credentials. Is the compelling opportunity for universities to reach new ‘markets’ through open and flexible learning partly responsible for the drive to develop micro-credentials with an employability focus? Several critics claim that Neo-liberal discourse imbues the micro-credentialing movement, which erodes the traditional purpose of universities by focusing on employability skills from a human capital theory framing. Indeed, some argue that the micro-credential craze promotes education as a commodity or service marketed and sold like any other market-driven endeavour. This criticism raises the question, to what extent do the principles of access, inclusion and lifelong learning anchored in the traditions of Open, Flexible and Distance Education and its well-developed body of research and scholarship inform the micro-credential movement?

Many national and transnational micro-credential initiatives are helping to map the terrain to promote wider access to lifelong learning while responding to the need to upskill people for the changing needs of the Knowledge Economy. In this regard, facilitating understanding, funding institutional initiatives, and developing policy and recognition frameworks are critical elements for governments and transnational agencies. However, practice-based insights rooted in the OFDL literature beyond small pilot initiatives are largely missing. There are still considerable research gaps, as illustrated by several major literature reviews and a lack of critical insights on practice-based experiences offering ‘real-world’ micro-credential experiences and their impacts on assessment, accreditation and learner agency in education more generally, but especially in OFDL.

While the micro-credential literature is growing exponentially, to what extent is the current rhetoric largely based on hype and hope? Scholarship on micro-credentials drawing on lessons from the OFDL literature is especially critical in a period of accelerated funding schemes, policy implementation and strategic institutional development. Several recent handbooks, guidelines, tool-kits and resources for the design and development of micro-credentials have been published, but their value and level of adoption by institutional leaders in supporting evidence-based practice remains unclear. In responding to this implementation gap, the overarching goal of this special theme is to critically reflect on the terrain, positioning and implications of micro-credentials. If the idea of micro-credentials are more than just another passing educational fad, how will it influence the next generation of OFDL, including future design, development and our understanding of its impact on the broader field?

There is also a question of what impact will the micro-credential movement have on approaches and institutional models of OFDL. How are these institutions strategically responding to the micro-credential movement’s rapidly evolving and uncharted terrain? To what extent are micro-credentials helping to mainstream OFDL within all education providers? Against these questions, institutional leaders need to ask whether micro-credentials wrapped in well-designed forms of OFDL are right for their organisation. The COVID-19 crisis taught us that effective online distance education cannot be traditional face-to-face instruction merely grafted onto a new digital delivery model. It requires a significant re-imagination and institutional investment. What evidence is there that early adopter institutions in developing micro-credentials are investing in this space? After all, the currency of online micro-credentials in the broader credential ecology will depend on their quality.

In this special-themed issue, we invite researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to contribute novel insights, critical scholarship and innovative practices to advance knowledge during a crucial development period of this theme. The aim is to examine the evidence, efficacy, and future impact of micro-credentials on OFDL. We encourage a focus on the spaces, synergies and symbiosis between the micro-credential movement and the well-established OFDL field, with submissions addressing one or more of the following themes:

  • Theoretical foundations and underlying drivers
  • Strategic leadership and institutional transformations
  • Design, development and implementation
  • Alliances, Partnerships and Transnational Cooperation
  • Impact and outcomes
  • Future directions

Submission Instructions

Interested authors should send a proposed title and 300-word abstract to <[email protected]> and <[email protected]> by 15th December 2023. Please clearly indicate in the subject line that you are interested in contributing to this special-themed issue of Distance Education.

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article