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Micro-credentials and the shifting healthcare ecosystem

By Kathryn Jackson, RHIA; Manager of Research and Education, Interprofessional Healthcare Workforce Institute; Rebecca Holton, CFRE; Director, Interprofessional Healthcare Workforce Institute; Susan Hart-Hester, PhD, RHIA; Director of Research, Interprofessional Healthcare Workforce Institute; and William J. Rudman, PhD, RHIA; Executive Director, Interprofessional Healthcare Workforce Institute

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As professional roles within the healthcare ecosystem continue to shift, and their associated competencies and skills evolve, new training modalities and validation processes must be identified. Changes to the roles and functions of the members of the interprofessional care team have left employers seeking ways to efficiently train and redeploy workers to provide high-quality patient care. Team members will be required to take on new responsibilities, including leading interprofessional teams, as well as coding and associated systems, and value-based care and reimbursement. This article explores the development, validation, and implementation of micro-credentials as a means for new and incumbent workers to demonstrate mastery of knowledge obtained through training, including online micro-learning modules.

Within the healthcare ecosystem, as jobs become “hybridized and require multiple skill sets”1 it is increasingly important for workers to possess varied skillsets. Previously individuals could find success in the workplace as “specialists,” possessing deep knowledge on only a narrow scope of topics, or “generalists,” with a more shallow understanding of a wide variety of topics. The workplace of the future demands individuals become “versatilists,” possessing deep knowledge of a wide breadth of topics.2 Micro-credentials allow individuals to demonstrate competence in a variety of areas, and to update existing or obtain new skills or knowledge. They are in essence “mini-degrees” in a specific, targeted topic area. They offer a means for individuals to demonstrate mastery of knowledge key to their profession or needed for advancement, and may serve as a validation for precision skills training received. Micro-credential topics may be broad or very specific, they may encompass smaller stackable badges an individual obtains or be self-contained, and may build toward a nano-degree or larger certificate (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Process by which Badges may build to Micro-credentials, and Micro-credentials on to Nano-degrees/Certificates

The attainment of stackable micro-credentials and badges allows individuals to demonstrate the attainment of specific, necessary skills and competencies. For those joining the workforce and incumbent workers, micro-credentials and badges offer the opportunity to develop in-demand, industry sector-portable, and highly-targeted skills and competencies without requiring the time and economic commitment of a traditional academic program.3 Differing from traditional educational degrees, micro-credentials - also known by such terms as digital badges and micro-credentials - indicate that an individual is proficient in industry-specific skills.4

Recent initiatives from the American Medical Association and American Nursing Association highlight the need for greater levels of “versatility”, and updated training programs with an increased focus on management and business skills. To lead and participate on reimagined interprofessional care teams, direct care providers will need to acquire additional skills and competencies in areas such as: statistics and data analytics; progressive leadership; globalization of healthcare; regulatory, compliance, data privacy, insurance structure; financial management; and the use of technology and ability to adapt to new technologies as they are introduced.

With the global implementation of the 11th revision of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), healthcare will see an evolution of the occupational roles within the sector and the needed competencies for these, and will be forced into a paradigm shift of how individuals receive training and how attainment of skills and competencies are validated. ICD-11 is a global standard for the systematic collection and analysis of medical and health record data that places an increased emphasis on systems literacy and business management within healthcare. The importance of ICD-11 is not the codes themselves, but the ecosystem and technology behind how data are collected, input, and analyzed. The implementation of ICD-11 will require countries to provide education and training at a national level for new and incumbent workers as roles and job functions shift and evolve.

Due to the fast pace of change within the healthcare ecosystem, the delivery of training and identification of methods to validate new skills and competencies is critical. To deliver customized learning for specific job-related tasks, many employers have opted for micro-learning modules, which offer “bite-sized” or smaller bits of content. The digital delivery of micro-learning modules allows complex information to be segmented into more manageable and shorter modules that can be more readily processed and retained by the learner.5 By providing learning content in small chunks, offering micro-learning lessons allows for updates to information based on new advancements, and opportunities to offer content on technical skills as well as encourage the development of interpersonal skills (e.g., critical thinking, communication).6

While they are available through a variety of online platforms (e.g., edX, Coursera), micro-learning modules are not typically evaluated or accredited by third-party organizations making it difficult for users to select the most appropriate option to suit their needs or ensure the validity of the content.7 For successful implementation of micro-learning based training, the knowledge and skills obtained must be validated through a rigorous, standardized, and competency-based review and certificate-granting process. Integration of eLearning modalities, including micro-learning modules, coupled with micro-credentials offers employers an opportunity to upskill their current workforce and ensure they are demonstrating needed job competencies.8

The evolution of occupational roles within the healthcare ecosystem creates the opportunity for upskilling through micro-credentials. Education and training curricula of the future will need to integrate clinical and health sciences competencies with training focused on the “business” of healthcare through systems literacy. The use of workforce training modules and associated micro-credentials will enable individuals to successfully gain needed competencies and skills, and to meaningfully demonstrate they possess these. How these new learning modalities are blended into training curricula and workforce is critical to the growth and retention of the workforce in the new healthcare ecosystem.


  1. Agarwal, A. How Is The Skills Transformation Impacting Modern Work? Forbes. August 29, 2018. 
  2. Gartner. Webinar: What the Digital Workforce Will Look Like in 2028. January 29, 2019. 
  3. Turmbore, A. Micro-credentials give college students more bang for their buck. The Hill. August 24, 2018.
  4. Blazevic, O. What Are Micro-credentials and How Can They Benefit You?
  5. Kumar, A. and Maskara, S. (2015) Coping up with the Information Overload in the Medical Profession. Journal of Biosciences and Medicines, 3, 124-127. doi: 10.4236/jbm.2015.311016.
  6. De Gagne, J.C.; Woodward, A.; Park, H.K.; Sun, H.; and Yamane, S.S. (2018). Microlearning in health professions education. JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep 2018; 16(0):1–8. 
  7. Pickard, L. Analysis of 450 MOOC-Based Micro-credentials Reveals Many Options But Little Consistency. MOOC Report by Class Central. July 18, 2018.
  8. Education Week. Webinar: Momentum in Micro-Credentialing: The New Era of Educator Growth and Advancement (content provided by Bloom Board). January 29, 2019.

Suggested Citation: Jackson, K.; Holton, R.; Hart-Hester, S.; and Rudman, W. Micro-credentials and the shifting healthcare ecosystem. Journal of Interprofessional Workforce Research and Development. Volume 2:Issue 1, 2019.