The Global Micro-credential Landscape: Charting a New Credential Ecology for Lifelong Learning


  • Mark Brown
  • Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl
  • Elaine Beirne
  • Conchúr Mac Lochlainn



Credentials, Micro-credentials, Digital Badges, Employability, Transversal Skills


This article offers a global overview of the burgeoning field of micro-credentials and their relationship to lifelong learning, employability and new models of digital education. Although there is no globally accepted definition of micro-credentials, the term indicates smaller units of study, which are usually shorter than traditional forms of accredited learning and courses leading to conventional qualifications such as degrees. The paper aims to provide educators with a helicopter view of the rapidly evolving global micro-credential landscape, with particular relevance to higher education leaders, industry stakeholders and government policy-makers. It addresses five questions: (i) what are micro-credentials? (ii) why micro-credentials? (iii) who are the key stakeholders? (iv) what is happening globally? and (v) what are some of the key takeaways? Drawing on a European-wide perspective and recent developments in The Republic of Ireland, the paper concludes that micro-credentials are likely to become a more established and mature feature of the 21st Century credential ecology over the next five years. While the global micro-credential landscape is currently disconnected across national boundaries, more clarity and coherence will emerge as governments around the world increasingly align new credentialing developments with existing national qualification frameworks. The micro-credentialing movement also provides opportunities for governments and higher education institutions in partnership with industry to harness new digital learning models beyond the pandemic.

Author Biographies

Mark Brown

Professor Mark Brown Mark is Ireland’s first Professor of Digital Learning and Director of the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) at Dublin City University (DCU). He serves on the Executive Committee of the European Distance and E-learning Network (EDEN) and is a member of the Supervisory Board of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU). Mark is also Vice-President of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia (ODLAA). In 2017, the Commonwealth of Learning recognised Mark as a world leader in Open and Distance Learning. In 2020, Professor Brown served on the European Commission’s high-level consultation group on developing a policy response to the growth of micro-credentials. <>

Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl

Professor Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl is responsible for academic leadership in the area of micro-credentials at Dublin City University (DCU). She also plays lead roles in the national MC2 micro-credentialing initiative along with the ECIU University. Mairead is Head of the NIDL Ideas Lab and before then was the Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences with academic responsibility for forty-five academic programmes. In 2016 she was a Fulbright Tech Impact Scholar working with the University of Notre Dame in researching the design and development of a Massive Open Line Course. Since thisn experience she has gone on the lead the development of DCU’s MOOCs on the FutureLearn platform. <>


Elaine Beirne

Dr Elaine Beirne is a Research Officer in The Ideas Lab in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) at Dublin City University. She has particular interests in the area of micro-credentials as well as the role emotion plays in online learning environments. Elaine also played a leading role in the design and development of A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner, a free online course offered through the FutureLearn platform. <>

Conchúr Mac Lochlainn

Conchúr Mac Lochlainn is a Research Officer and PhD student in The Ideas Lab in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) at Dublin City University. He is playing a major role at DCU in the European funded ECIU University initiative which involves the development of micro-modules and micro-credentials following a Challenge-based Learning (CBL) approach. In 2021, Conchúr played a key role in the design and delivery of Higher Education 4.0: Certifying Your Future, a free online course exploring the growth of micro-credentials. <>



How to Cite

Brown, M., Nic Giolla Mhichíl , M. ., Beirne, E., & Mac Lochlainn , C. (2021). The Global Micro-credential Landscape: Charting a New Credential Ecology for Lifelong Learning. Journal of Learning for Development, 8(2), 228–254.



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