As you welcome the new year, you’re probably finalizing your plans for engaging your association’s members in 2022. Whether those plans include events, networking socials, keynote presentations, or new eLearning courses, your engaging calendar is likely built to increase both membership and non-dues revenue.
While you’re crafting your plans for the new year, we’d encourage you to consider incorporating micro-credentials into the lineup.
In both Skyepack’s guide to instructional design trends and Web Courseworks’ eLearning Hype Curve, we can see the continued importance of “micro” learning experiences. More and more, association members are seeking eLearning opportunities that are not only quick to complete, but skill-specific. Micro-credentials, the newest innovation in “micro” learning experiences, meet both requirements.
In this guide, we’re going to explore the role that micro-credentials can play in your association’s continuing education offerings through the following points:
- What are micro-credentials?
- What are the benefits of micro-credentials in continuing education?
- How can you incorporate micro-credentials into your association’s offerings?
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s first cover a basic definition of what micro-credentials actually are.
What are micro-credentials?
According to Skyepack’s guide, they are “defined as short, stackable courses that learners—whether students, employees, or organization members—take to develop specific skills in their field.”
So essentially, learners complete a short course (or a series of short courses) in an online format. These are often asynchronous, meaning learners can complete them on their own timelines. After finishing the course, the learner takes an accompanying assessment to test the knowledge they’ve gained. If their assessment results display adequate understanding of the topic at hand, the learner receives some sort of credential—whether it’s a digital badge, a certificate, or something else.
Micro-credentials are tied to a tangible, conveyable increase in a learner’s skills. This is why you often see micro-credentials that focus on high-demand skillsets, such as IT support, data analytics, project management, UX design, and cybersecurity.
What are the benefits of micro-credentials in continuing education?
As we briefly mentioned earlier, small or bite-sized learning experiences have been on trend for a few years now. Not only are learners busier than ever before, but they’re also seeking convenient learning experiences. Arguing for multi-day training events can be challenging when members are used to listening to high-quality podcasts while typing away or fitting in microlearning games between meetings.
So, why are we seeing a rise in micro-credentials, specifically?
The main differentiator between micro-credentials and other smaller learning experiences is that micro-credentials are specifically tied to a reportable skill, badge, or even certificate that learners can add to their resumes after completing the course.
This comes with a number of benefits for both your members and your association. First, your members gain:
- The ability to build new skills needed to stand out in the competitive workforce. Millions of individuals lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic as a number of professional industries were rocked by closures. Now, nearly two years later, those professionals are attempting to reenter the workforce with skill sets that are outdated. By completing a micro-credential focused on the new skills they need to attain, your members can reaffirm their competitive advantage in the workforce.
- Quick, motivational wins. Of course, micro-credentials aren’t the only way to attain new skills. Members could always return to higher education institutions to earn a new degree. However, that option is time-intensive and unfeasible for some learners. Micro-credentials offer the opportunity to build new skills on a quicker timeline and these quick wins can drive learners forward in their ongoing professional development efforts.
For your association, the benefits include:
- Member retention. We’ve seen companies getting creative with employee retention, offering workplace philanthropy programs and work from home programs to keep top talent. The same holds true for your professional association—the truth is, there are more opportunities than ever before, waiting to entice your members away. The previous points show that members are seeking the opportunities offered by micro-credentials. Adding them to your offerings ensures you’re meeting this need, giving you a leg up with member retention in the long run.
- Increased non-dues revenue. One way to increase your association’s revenue is to get creative with your eLearning pricing model. Micro-credentials offer an additional, innovative revenue source that you can add to your lineup to bring in new funding for your association.
Given the benefits for your members and association overall, you may consider working these credentials into your eLearning offerings. Let’s walk through what that would look like in practice.
How can you incorporate micro-credentials into your association’s offerings?
There are three main elements that you need to keep in mind when it comes to incorporating micro-credentials into your association’s continuing education offerings:
- Teaching capacity
- Instructional design capacity
- Distribution capacity
Let’s examine each individually.
Your association already has subject matter experts (SMEs) on hand, whom you consult with to create the eLearning courses you’ve provided in the past. So, as far as topical knowledge is concerned, you’re covered.
However, micro-credentials are a fairly new (and rapidly developing) realm of eLearning and your SMEs may not be familiar with how to structure this type of course, which, generally, shouldn’t function as an introductory lesson but rather an in-depth look at a specific topic or skill. It may be worthwhile to partner with an eLearning consultant or instructional design firm that can teach your SMEs the basics of micro-credentials, how to structure such courses, and so on.
Training SMEs will benefit your association in the long run as your experts can continue creating these types of credentials well into the future.
Instructional Design Capacity
If your association already has the capacity (and authoring software) needed to build new eLearning courses quickly, then you can begin creating micro-credentials for your members.
However, if your team is already balancing a heavy workload and unable to add additional tasks to your plates, this is another area where it may be valuable to partner with an instructional design partner.
Today, there are instructional design partners that specialize in creating new content quickly and efficiently using the Agile Instructional Design method, so you won’t have to worry about delaying projects until your team’s calendars have more availability.
Once you’ve authored and designed the courses, it’s time to distribute them to your members. Ideally, you’ll want to do this using a learning platform that’s fully branded to your association to provide a seamless member experience.
This platform should also be integrated with your association management software (AMS) for easy data transfers, allowing you to learn how your members are responding to your new micro-credentials offerings.
Micro-credentials offer clear benefits for both your association’s members and the organization as a whole. It’s worthwhile to take a close look at the in-demand skills in your industry and begin creating micro-credential courses targeting those skills.
If you focus on developing the teaching, instructional design, and distribution capacity of your association as you incorporate these credentials into your offerings, it can be a sustainable, long-term source of revenue. Good luck!