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Micro-learning varies from online courses to study packages


June 3, 2020

Micro-learning varies from online courses to study packages


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There is a growing demand from learners and employers for smaller “just in time”, “just enough”, stackable units of learning. So-called micro-learning helps people to better prepare for their future jobs and for living in the digital society with complex challenges. ECIU University explores ways of unbundling traditional study programs and courses to smaller modules and micro-learning experiences. The first ECIU University micro-modules will be launched this autumn semester.

Henri Pirkkalainen, Associate Professor at Information and Knowledge Management Unit, Tampere University, and Mark Brown, Director at National Institute for Digital Learning, Dublin City University, talk about micro-credentials and flexible learning modules.

Marc Brown (left) and Henri Pirkkalainen (right)

What are ECIU learning modules and micro-credentials?

Pirkkalainen: ‘The modules are of two types. The first type includes modules that will engage learners in challenges that range from regional to international societal issues. They work together with other learners, researchers, industry leaders and people working in the community to overcome these critical issues. The second type includes modules that are more theoretical in nature. They enable students to learn more about these regional and international societal issues, such as issues on circular economy.’

Brown: ‘Students have flexibility to select relevant micro-modules based on their own needs. For example, during the challenge a group of learners may find out that they lack certain knowledge or skills to solve the challenge. They will be given an opportunity to participate in micro-modules related to the challenge they are working on. Micro-learning offerings will range from online courses to study packages, to summer schools, to courses from industry. In the start, most of the micro-modules are offered by partner universities from the ECIU network.’

Brown: ‘ECIU University intends to establish mechanisms for the recognition of these unique micro-learning experiences. For this purpose, the ECIU University plans to introduce mechanisms how learners can manage the micro-credentials they have earned by partaking in micro-learning. The micro-credentials include proofs of learning that emphasize competences and transversal skills, for example, soft skills for the 21st Century that students acquire when working on these challenges. Through this initiative, coupled with our contribution to work by the European Commission on developing a common micro-credential framework, the ECIU University will play a leading role in shaping the future of university qualifications across Europe, and beyond.’


What is the link to challenge-based education?

Pirkkalainen: ‘The learning modules will be designed with a thematic focus on the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals, with a specific emphasis on Sustainable Cities and Communities. Achieving this requires a highly interdisciplinary approach drawing on contemporary pedagogies. For this reason, the ECIU University will offer its students modules from various areas ranging from engineering and ICT to management. Challenge-based learning will be a “signature pedagogy” underpinning the learning experience of many ECIU University modules.’

Brown: ‘In adopting this CBL approach many of the modules will flip traditional teaching methods by actively engaging learners in solving real problems. In some cases, ECIU University learners will join other students from different parts of Europe to work together on a challenge that seeks to develop solutions for both public and private sector. We anticipate that over the next 12 months some of these challenges will directly address problems arising from the Covid-19 crisis.’


What are the main strengths of micro-credentials?

Pirkkalainen: ‘Students will have improved access and control over their own learning outcomes and they will have more flexibility to develop personalized learning pathways.’

Brown: ‘As already mentioned above, the ECIU University will play an important role in contributing to wider discussions across Europe to help further develop and standardise the rapidly emerging micro-credential movement. In this respect the micro-credentials that we develop to recognize specific competences and skills will lay the foundation for new innovative ways of teaching, learning and assessment beyond the ECIU University.’


What is the role of open and flexible learning in the ECIU University?

Pirkkalainen: ‘A more flexible model of learning is at the heart of the ECIU University. Accordingly, partner universities will redesign and, where appropriate, reimagine existing learning offerings to harness the potential of new digital learning models, such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). The ECIU University will challenge conventional teaching approaches by unbundling education through more open and flexible learning pathways.’

ECIU Alliance has proposed the guiding principles to proceed towards a European Micro-Credentials Initiative. Learn about the proposal here:

The first ECIU University micro-modules will be launched this autumn semester, more information about this will be published at eciu.org. 

The ECIU University is an EU-funded collaboration between 13 universities in the ECIU network. It aims to pilot an innovative, challenge-based university model. The short version of this interview previously appeared in ECIU University Magazine, March 2020.


ECIU is the leading international consortium of research intensive universities, with collective emphasis on innovation, creativity and societal impact, driving the development of a knowledge-based economy.