Open Educational Practices and Micro-Credentialing: A pilot project

(Disclaimer: Opinions are mine.)

At the University of Wisconsin-Extension CEOEL, I work on a competency-based micro-credentialing program called the University Learning Store (ULS). It was conceived of as an online store for learning, where students can purchase mini-courses both to acquire and to be assessed on discreet competencies. I suspect there will be more programs like the ULS popping up as micro-credentialing and competency-based education continue to gain recognition and acceptance.

As an open education believer / dreamer working on such a program, I asked myself “Is there a place for open pedagogy in this CBE and micro-credentialing world?”

That question led to a pilot project: a mini-course, fully open and editable, that welcomes learner-generated instructional content from anyone who wishes to contribute. Associated with this course is an assessment and an opportunity for learners to earn a university-branded micro-credential (i.e., a digital badge). The subject of the course is Human Resource Management: Creating a Training Plan Using the ADDIE Design Model. An unfinished draft of the course is available for editing now on Wikiversity (a sibling of Wikipedia). Check it out!

Why Combine OEPs and CBE Micro-Credentialing?

The majority of open pedagogy projects I’ve seen take place in the context of traditional courses offered by traditional institutions –and that’s wonderful and as it should be. A benefit of these courses is that they typically come equipped with visionary and inspiring teachers.

The CBE micro-credentialing courses I’ve worked on tend to lack teacher:learner interaction. The SME’s with whom I’ve collaborated to develop these mini-courses have done great design work; it’s just that teacher:learner interaction isn’t a big part of the CBE micro-credentialing model, generally speaking.

I wondered: to what extent do open pedagogy projects require the presence of visionary faculty to give them life and drive them forward? Could a CBE micro-credential course support open educational practices even without a strong faculty presence? Jim Gee, in his 2005 paper “Semiotic Social Spaces and Affinity Spaces,” gave us the term “affinity spaces” to refer to places (real or virtual) where learners self-organize to create their own teaching and learning around shared interests and endeavors. From what I understand of them, affinity spaces seem to have a good deal in common with open educational practices. According to Gee, an affinity space tends to have the following characteristics:

  1. Common endeavour, not race, class, gender or disability, is
  2. Newbies and masters and everyone else share common space
  3. Some portals are strong generators
  4. Internal grammar is transformed by external grammar
  5. Encourages intensive and extensive knowledge
  6. Encourages individual and distributed knowledge
  7. Encourages dispersed knowledge
  8. Uses and honors tacit knowledge
  9. Many different forms and routes to participation
  10. Lots of different routes to status
  11. Leadership is porous and leaders are resources

It seemed to me that, if a CBE micro-credential course were going to support open educational practices, it would likely fit Gee’s description of an affinity space. The next question was, what technological platforms are best for supporting affinity spaces?

Wikis appear to be one kind of technology that can support affinity spaces.  Wikipedia is the most well known example, but it has a less well-known sibling called Wikiversity, which was meant to enable users of the web to create free, openly-licensed, online courses in the same way Wikipedia enabled users to create the world’s largest encyclopedia. Wikiversity is a platform that appears well-suited, perhaps even purpose built, for open pedagogy. And it was based on a platform (Wikipedia) that blazed a wildly successful trail in just a slightly different context. I decided to try to build the pilot using Wikiversity.

Unfortunately, interest in Wikiversity appears to have peaked prior to 2010 and languished since then (Wikimedia Statistics, n.d.). Why is that?

Allow me to suggest one possible factor for the waining interest in Wikiversity, and explain how the approach taken by this pilot may fill a learner need (with the caveat that this possible factor is not backed up by any systematic research and I really don’t know the answer). Early in Wikiversity’s history, users decided the platform should not attempt to issue credentials (Wikiversity, n.d.). Hence, users can learn on Wikiversity, but there is no obvious feature of the Wikiversity platform that enables users’ learning to be recognized by anyone but themselves. Absent recognition, Wikiversity users may not have seen enough value from the platform to continue using it.

This pilot from UW-Extension asks the question “What happens when we attach recognition in the form of a university-branded credential to instruction created by learners in an affinity space?”

The answer is… I have no idea what will happen! I can only tell you what I’d like to see happen.

  1. I would like people to contribute! This whole experiment really hinges on contributors. All other hopes are contingent on this.
  2. I hope the Wikiversity course could serve as an affinity space for those interested in training and development or human resources management. Users could ask questions and debate about the instructional content using the wiki’s talk pages. Novices could contribute content alongside experts. An aspect of social learning might be infused into a mini-course that would otherwise be a static competency-based resource intended for consumption by individuals.
  3. If the resource were tied to an active group of users, I’d love to see instructional content that is up-to-date, validated, and improved by user testing.
  4. I’ve heard for years that employers and industry don’t have a good way to communicate their needs to higher ed. I hope that training and HR professionals would be able to use this mini-course to voice their needs.
  5. I hope the Wikiversity pages would be used as an open educational resource.
  6. I’d be glad if this pilot could contribute in some small way to the larger conversation about the sustainability of open educational resources and practices. At least in the case of UW-Extension, the approach taken by this pilot may provide a financial incentive toward good OER stewardship. The incentive derives from the potential for learner- and user-generated instructional content to reduce costs on course development and maintenance. To my simple way of thinking, if an organization sees OERs as appealing not only to its mission and ideals, but also to its bottom line, then perhaps it will be more likely to act as a good OER steward (Petrides, Levin, and Watson, 2018).

If you’d like to learn more about the University Learning Store, have a look at the website. The assessment that accompanies the mini-course HRM: Create a Training Plan Using the ADDIE Design Model isn’t available yet, but it should be published within the next week or two. I will update this post with a hyperlink to the assessment as soon as it is published.

Finally, here’s a comic I did about the pilot project. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment.



Gee, J. P. (2005). Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces: From The Age of Mythology to today’s schools. In D. Barton & K. Tusting (Eds.), Beyond communities of practice: Language, power and social context (pp. 214-232). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

*Keen, A. (2007). The Cult of the Amateur: How today’s Internet is killing our culture and assaulting our economy. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Petrides, L., Levin, D., Watson, E.C. (2018, March 4). Toward a Sustainable OER Ecosystem: The Case for OER Stewardship. Retrieved from

Wikimedia Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved April 5, 2018 from the Wikimedia Statistics wiki:

Wikiversity: Approved Wikiversity Project Proposal. (n.d.). Retrieved April 5, 2018 from the Wikiversity: Approved Wikiversity Project Proposal wiki:
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