The future of education is flexible: upskilling with short courses and micro-credentials

The ever-changing world of labour has seen a number of big changes since the pandemic. The move to remote and hybrid working; successful trials of 4-day work weeks; the phenomena of #QuietQuitting and the #GreatReshuffle, all highlight a new balance in the way we work. Likewise, trends have emerged in human resources. Rather than focusing on hiring from a handful of elite universities and companies, employers are trending towards skills-based recruitment and upskilling for professional development. Forbes has even referred to the trend as the Reskilling Revolution.

Skills-based hiring and promoting put the focus on a person’s skills rather than their degree subject, grade, or where they studied. A skills-based approach has the benefit of opening up a larger and more diverse pool of applicants for a role and giving equitable access to people who have earned their skills through work experience or different forms of education. Theoretically, it better matches people to job specifications too.

This skills-based approach by no means invalidates traditional university education. It instead recognises that there are other ways to achieve skills than through degrees. This provides recruitment opportunities and professional development to a much wider population, to whom flexible learning pathways such as micro-credentials and short courses are more accessible than full-length college degrees.

Why the move to skills development?

From an employer perspective, it pays to develop your team’s skills: according to the World Economic Forum, on average, 66% of employers surveyed for the Future of Jobs report expect to get a return on investment within a year of upskilling and reskilling employees.

There may have been a realisation that X number of years’ experience or that a degree from a pedigree university isn’t a guarantee that someone will be good at their job. Perhaps this evolution stems from increasing distrust in traditional university ranking systems - triggered by scandals of celebrities bribing top US colleges in exchange for their children’s education and of institutions falsifying data, amongst other factors - a trend which is also reflected in the growth of grassroots ranking initiatives like University Ranking.

This isn’t just a trend in the corporate HR world. For some institutions, like, advocating for and offering flexible learning opportunities is key to our work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4: ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. That this global trend has a real chance of transforming education for the better is highlighted by UNESCO’s recent paper on Short courses, micro-credentials, and flexible learning pathways, which explores ways for public policy-makers to "organise micro-credentials as a means for offering up-to-date, quality learning to much larger segments of the population".

Flexible education opportunities make quality lifelong learning accessible to those without the financial means or time to study, and can also include people with different learning abilities who may find it difficult to follow a full-length course. What’s more, as short courses and micro-credentials are often offered online, they can also be more accessible to those with physical disabilities or illnesses that prevent them from travelling.

Full-length degree courses are inaccessible to many people and this situation shows no signs of improving. In the UK, for example, new minimum entry requirements for universities mean those who do not pass their maths or English GCSE (age 16) exams will not be entitled to student loans. This disproportionately affects aspiring students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who would certainly need the student loan to go to university and who would not have the means to pay for additional tutoring to help them pass their exams if they needed it.

In Nigeria, where the higher education system needs wide-ranging reform, flexible learning pathways like short courses and micro-credentials could go some way to providing solutions to two of the sector’s key challenges: alignment of courses to the country’s specific industrial and societal needs, and support with graduate employability.

Regardless of the reasons behind the growing skills-based culture, A Jobs for the Future survey shows that 80% of employers believe in prioritising skills over degrees. While university degrees may still be the default, including for Generation Z, over 40% of hirers on LinkedIn are explicitly using skills data to fill roles.

What skills development short courses are available?

Micro-credentials - also called micro degrees or micro masters - are qualifications focused on a specific skill, professional or career discipline. Short courses don’t necessarily result in a qualification but also provide accelerated educational experiences. These flexible learning solutions serve both hard skills, for example, maths, data analysis, writing, or software knowledge, and soft skills, like leadership and teamwork.

Many of the soft skills and strategies developed in the top most popular LinkedIn Learning courses for 2022 - among them critical thinking, communication, unconscious bias, etc. - can also be found across's course programmes.

As an accredited online learning provider, offers courses on contextual ethics that can be applied to roles on every level across diverse professional spheres. Our short courses include Responsible Leadership, Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development, Cyber Ethics, Interreligious Cooperation for Peace, and Ethics in Higher Education. Through interactive, flexible learning programmes and weekly live sessions with expert instructors and fellow students, participants develop soft skills such as ethical leadership, communication, teamwork, intercultural cooperation, and critical thinking, while gaining knowledge on their specific chosen topics too.

The future of education

The global trend towards skills development suggests the future of education-to-career pathways lies in flexible learning solutions like short courses and micro-credentials. Offering specific, short-format qualifications that can be applied to different professional areas opens up quality, independent, lifelong learning opportunities to large sections of the population and contributes to achieving UN SDG4.

With this in mind, is diversifying its educational offerings and exploring the introduction of micro-credentials to provide our participants with a new type of qualification. Discover our current course catalogue and register for our newsletter to be the first to know when new course developments are launched!

For employers investing in future-proofing their teams’ skills, get in touch to learn about discounts on cohort entries to courses.

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