Research News

NSF grant to support research in micro-credentials

Concept of micro-credentials: two hands hols a tablet with an award displayed on the screen.


Published October 29, 2019

headshot of Sam Abramovich.
“This award will propel UB as a leader in micro-credentialing. ”
Sam Abramovich, professor of learning and instruction, and director
Open Education Research Lab

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator award will position UB as a national leader in micro-credentialing, a digital system of recognizing skill and knowledge, suitable for universities, businesses and other organizations hoping to prepare people for a national talent ecosystem.

The $417,000 grant will allow UB educators, partnering with educators at the University of Montana Western, to identify processes where stakeholders can design ways to use digital badges to recognize individual talents, measure abilities, and provide formative feedback to learners.

“At the most basic level, micro-credentials verify, validate and attest that specific skills and/or competencies have been achieved, along with providing feedback for learning that is traditionally not assessed,” says Sam Abramovich, director of the UB Open Education Research Lab and associate professor in the Department of Learning and Instruction in UB’s Graduate School of Education.

Abramovich, the primary investigator on the grant, says micro-credentials and digital badges differ from traditional degrees and certificates in that they are for learning that occurs in short or flexible time-spans, and tend to be more specific than the learning represented by degree-like credentials.

Micro-credentials are built on assessments that reliably show an individual has a particular skill or experience,” says Abramovich, “and they are especially useful for showcasing’s abilities and knowledge that are not obvious from looking at a job applicant’s formal qualifications on their resumé.”

The research program, “A Universal Framework of Micro-Credentials for Nation-Wide Employment,” is under the direction of Abramovich, Anne E. Reed, director of UB’s Office of Micro-Credentials, and Justin A. Mason, director of eLearning and Academic Technology at the University of Montana Western.

Instrumental in obtaining the grant was UB’s Business and Entrepreneurial Partnerships (BEP), builds bridges between academia and industry, helps commercialize new technology and provides students with opportunities for experiential learning and employment.

BEP helped reach out to and negotiate with local Buffalo companies to obtain their support for the funding application. It also advocated and encouraged interest among these companies to participate in the research project overall.

Research in the grant will focus on the processes, procedures and resources necessary to implement micro-credentials, according to Abramovich. Educators will also study the best ways the “multi-stakeholder” design teams operate.

Educators will use this research to develop theory and operational findings on how micro-credentials can be designed to “ensure quality, sustainability and stakeholder acceptance.”

‘Micro-credentials are sometimes portrayed as a disrupting force for formalized education, but that disruption could be an amazing opportunity for colleges and universities,” according to Abramovich. “Higher education has incredible expertise in identifying and assessing learning, and we think that colleges and universities can play a central role in making micro-credentials widely useful.

“This award will propel UB as a leader in micro-credentialing.” says Abramovich.