Modularity and micro-credentials – new overview of current concepts assists in the creation of a continuous learning tray

The objective of the Digivisio 2030 project is to make learning paths more flexible at different stages of life. One way of achieving this is by increasing the modularity of studies and providing learners with the opportunity to earn micro-credentials.

In 2022, a partial implementation work was set up to assess and review modularity as a basis for continuous learning. The review on modularity and curricular collaboration was written by specialists Eeva Liikanen (TAMK), Hanna Nurmi (TAU), Anna-Greta Nyström (ÅA), Petri Sjöblom (UTU), Terhi Skaniakos (JYU), Sirpa Tuomi (Jamk), and Anneli Ylitalo (Turku UAS). The group also examined how micro-credentials are understood in Finland.

The Council of the European Union has issued a recommendation to EU Member States on making micro-credentials available to learners. In Finland, micro-credentials are linked to the national strategy for continuous learning. The Ministry of Education and Culture is examining its definition and implementation together with higher education institutions and stakeholders.

What do modularity and micro-credentials mean?

Based on the literature review, there is no clear definition for modularity. In the context of Finnish higher education institutions, it refers to a degree that consists of credit-based study modules, which in turn are composed of study units.

Modularity as a study structure is suitable for rapidly changing fields, and it is utilised especially in technology and business. Students can benefit from modularity in many ways: it makes learning efficient and flexible and provides more choices. Many teachers also praise the method’s effectiveness.

Micro-credentials may refer to, for example, MOOCs or short courses produced by higher education institutions. The aim is to use the EU’s recommendation to create a selection of high-quality micro-credentials in Finland and form a path for learners who wish to accumulate their knowledge and expertise. The micro-credentials would be based on quality assurance and result in a certificate. They would be between 1 and 59 study credits in scope. Micro-credentials should be separated from micro-learning, which includes studies worth less than one study credit.

The preliminary study presented recommendations on how micro-credentials should be translated into Finnish (osaamiskokonaisuus or piensuoritus, in accordance with the OKSA glossary). It also recommended referring to participants as ‘learners’, since many of those completing micro-credentials are not necessarily enrolled at any educational institutions.

Micro-credentials have been available for longer in other countries

In international contexts, micro-credentials have been provided for a long while now, and by private actors in particular. They can also be found in the educational selections provided by higher education institutions. For example, the University of Birmingham has tailored its micro-credentials to meet the needs of businesses, and the University of Glasgow offers micro-credentials online. Learners can accumulate micro-credentials in three ways: vertically, by focusing on a specific topic; horizontally, by studying several topics; or by combining both of these styles.

Common concepts are important for higher education institutions’ curricular collaboration

The specialists who conducted the review recommend that higher education institutions jointly define the concepts and terminology they use in their curricular collaboration. In addition, higher education institutions should focus on ensuring that their plans remain comprehensible to other higher education institutions. Curricular collaboration should be based on agreements that specify e.g. the necessary objectives and measures. In addition, higher education institutions should reserve sufficient time and personnel for their collaborative activities.

Modularity is put into practice in the Digivisio programme

Modularity and micro-credentials are strongly visible in the Digivisio work. The quality criteria for e-learning state that the educational offerings brought to the continuous and flexible learning tray must be planned in accordance with the principle of modularity, to allow learners to deepen or expand their competence. In addition, part of the tray’s offering should focus on micro-credentials or micro-learning.

The principle of modularity is central to developing the continuous and flexible learning tray. Modularity and micro-learning offer opportunities for learning, especially when the learner is not aiming for a degree. One target group is those who have already completed a higher education degree and wish to attain additional competence to, for example, meet their employer’s latest competence requirements. Another target group is persons who do not have a higher education degree and who are also seeking to increase their competence in their work. At the same time, a person’s interest in developing their own competence through smaller credentials may later inspire them to seek more degree-oriented learning opportunities.

Currently, the programme is working on implementing modularity with the continuous and flexible learning tray. Its objective is to design the tray’s educational offerings in a way that they can offer meaningful and versatile learning paths for learners. 

Read the report of the preliminary study: download the material (pdf)
See the literature review (in Finnish): download the material (pdf)

More info

Programme Manager Tuula Heide