DE Journal Call for papers for special themed issue

The journal Distance Education is calling for papers a special themed issue: Micro-credentials – the Next Generation in Open, Flexible and Distance Education: Affordances for Assessment, Accreditation and Learner Agency.

Names and Affiliations of Guest Editors
Professor Mark Brown – Dublin City University (LinkedIn)

Mark is the Director of the National Observatory for Digital Education (NODE) at Dublin City University (DCU). He has a strong background in research, scholarship and leadership in online distance education and, more recently, the growth of interest in micro-credentials.

Email: [email protected]     ORCID:

Dr Mitchell Peters –  Universität Oberta de Catalunya (LinkedIn)

Mitchell is currently playing a leading role in designing and implementing the institutional strategy for micro-credentials, part of a broader strategy for organisational transformation toward agile continuous education (ACE), at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC).

Email: [email protected]     ORCID:

Dr Elaine Beirne – Independent Educational Researcher

Elaine is an independent educational researcher based in London. She has previously worked as a Micro-credential Research and Implementation Officer at Dublin City University (DCU). In 2020, Elaine played a leading role in designing, analysing and publishing the results of a national Irish survey on micro-credentials

Email: [email protected]     ORCID:

Theme Statement

What are the implications of the emergence of micro-credentials for the future of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning (OFDL)? This is the key focus of this special-themed issue of Distance Education. It responds to the heightened attention given worldwide by politicians, policy-makers and educational leaders to more flexible and responsive bite-size forms of micro-learning and its role in promoting openness, flexibility and learner agency in education. To what extent does the emergence of micro-credentials and the torrent of recent policy initiatives, burgeoning growth of published literature, and the development of new national action plans and online portals, suggest we are on the brink of a new generation of distance education, evidenced by new approaches to assessment, accreditation and learner agency?

Micro-credentials are not new, as short volumes of learning have been a feature of the broader tertiary education landscape for many years. However, universities have not traditionally occupied this terrain, as they tend to focus on degree-level macro-credentials. Is the compelling opportunity for universities to reach new ‘markets’ through open and flexible learning partly responsible for the drive to develop micro-credentials with an employability focus? Several critics claim that Neo-liberal discourse imbues the micro-credentialing movement, which erodes the traditional purpose of universities by focusing on employability skills from a human capital theory framing (Ralston, 2021; Reynoldson, 2022; Wheelahan, 2021). Indeed, Ralston (2021, p. 2) argues that the micro-credential craze promotes education as “…a commodity, a product, or service marketed and sold like any other commodity”. This criticism raises the question, to what extent do the principles of access, inclusion and lifelong learning anchored in the traditions of Open, Flexible and Distance Education and its well-developed body of research and scholarship inform the micro-credential movement?

Many national and transnational micro-credential initiatives are helping to map the terrain to promote wider access to lifelong learning while responding to the need to upskill people for the changing needs of the Knowledge Economy. In this regard, facilitating understanding, funding institutional initiatives, and developing policy and recognition frameworks are critical elements for governments and transnational agencies. However, practice-based insights rooted in the OFDL literature beyond small pilot initiatives are largely missing (Pirkkalainen et al., 2023). There are still considerable research gaps, as illustrated by several major literature reviews (Brown & Nic Giolla Mhichil, 2022; Ha et al., 2023; Tamoliune et al., 2023; Varadarajan et al., 2023), and a lack of critical insights on practice-based experiences offering ‘real-world’ micro-credential experiences and their impacts on assessment, accreditation and learner agency in education more generally, but especially in OFDL.

While the micro-credential literature is growing exponentially, to what extent is the current rhetoric largely based on hype and hope? Scholarship on micro-credentials drawing on lessons from the OFDL literature is especially critical in a period of accelerated funding schemes, policy implementation and strategic institutional development. Several handbooks, guidelines, tool-kits and resources for the design and development of micro-credentials have been published (Bigelow et al., 2022; ETF, 2023; Henderikx et al., 2022; Prud’homme-Généreux, 2023), but their value and level of adoption by institutional leaders in supporting evidence-based practice remains unclear. In responding to this implementation gap, the overarching goal of this special theme is to critically reflect on the terrain, positioning and implications of micro-credentials. If the idea of micro-credentials are more than just another passing educational fad, how will it influence the next generation of OFDL, including future design, development and our understanding of its impact on the broader field?

There is also a question of what impact will the micro-credential movement have on approaches and institutional models of OFDL. How are these institutions strategically responding to the micro-credential movement’s rapidly evolving and uncharted terrain? To what extent are micro-credentials helping to mainstream OFDL within all education providers? Against these questions, institutional leaders need to ask whether micro-credentials wrapped in well-designed forms of OFDL are right for their organisation (McGreal & Olcott, 2022; Brown et al., 2023). The COVID-19 crisis taught us that effective online distance education cannot be traditional face-to-face instruction merely grafted onto a new digital delivery model. It requires a significant re-imagination and institutional investment. What evidence is there that early adopter institutions in developing micro-credentials are investing in this space? After all, the currency of online micro-credentials in the broader credential ecology will depend on their quality.

In this special-themed issue, we invite researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to contribute novel insights, critical scholarship and innovative practices to advance knowledge during a crucial development period of this theme. The aim is to examine the evidence, efficacy, and future impact of micro-credentials on OFDL. We encourage a focus on the spaces, synergies and symbiosis between the micro-credential movement and the well-established OFDL field, with submissions addressing one or more of the following themes:

  • Theoretical foundations and underlying drivers
  • Strategic leadership and institutional transformations
  • Design, development and implementation
  • Alliances, Partnerships and Transnational Cooperation
  • Impact and outcomes
  • Future directions.

Interested authors should send a proposed title and 300-word abstract to [email protected] and [email protected] by 28th November 2023. Please clearly indicate in the subject line that you are interested in contributing to this special-themed issue of Distance Education.

Types of submissions sought

For this special themed issue, we are seeking a range of submissions, including:

  • empirical research on micro-credentials (case studies, action research, mixed methods approach, etc.).
  • theoretical or conceptual pieces which build on the Open, Flexible and Distance Learning literature.
  • systematic literature reviews specifically focusing on the online and distance aspects of micro-credential design, development and implementation.
  • reports of national and transnational initiatives and related policy developments which align with the principles of access, inclusion and lifelong learning.
  • substantial program or project reports which strengthen the linkages and synergies between micro-credentials and Open, Flexible and Distance Learning.
  • critical reflections and commentaries offering insights into the terrain of micro-credentials.
Key dates
  • Call for Papers – 2nd October 2023
  • Abstracts Due – 15th December 2023
  • Invitations to Contributing Authors – 8th January 2024
  • Manuscripts Due – 5th April 2024
  • Peer Review Process – 8th April to 31st May 2024
  • Revised Manuscripts Due – 5th August 2024
  • Full Issue Submission – 9th September 2024
  • Final Proof-editing and Production – October/November 2024
  • Estimated Publication – January 2025.

Bigelow, A., Booth, C., Brockerhoff-Macdonald, B., Cormier, D., Dinsmore, C., Grey, S., … & Zahedi, E. (2022). eCampusOntario’s Micro-credential Toolkit.

Brown, M, McGreal, R., & Peters, M. (2023). A strategic institutional response to micro-credentials: Key questions for educational leaders. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2023(1): 7, pp. 1–17. DOI:

Brown, M., & Duart, J. (2023). Quality assurance of micro-credentials: An international review of current practice. Paper at EDEN Digital Learning Europe Annual Conference, Dublin, 19th June.

Brown, M., & Nic Giolla Mhichil, M. (2022). Unboxing micro-credentials: An inside, upside and downside view. (Descifrando las microcredenciales: en qué consisten, ventajas e inconveniences). Culture and Education,

Brown, M., Nic Giolla Mhichíl, M., Beirne, E., & Mac Lochlainn, C. (2021). The global micro-credential landscape: Charting a new credential ecology for lifelong learning. Journal for Learning Development, 8 (2), 228-254.

European Training Foundation. (2023). Guide to design, issue and recognise micro-Credentials. Guidelines Final Delivery.pdf

Ha, N.T.N., Spittle, M., Watt, A., & Van Dyke, N. (2023). A systematic literature review of micro-credentials in higher education: a non-zero-sum game, Higher Education Research & Development, 42(6), 1527-1548, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2022.2146061

Henderikx, P., Ubachs, G., & Antonaci, A. (2022). Models and guidelines for the design and development of a joint micro-credential programme in higher education. Global Academic Press. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.6477131

McGreal, R., & Olcott Jr, D. (2022). A strategic reset: micro-credentials for higher education leaders. Smart Learning Environments, 9(1), 9.

Pirkkalainen, H., Sood, I., Padron Napoles, C., Kukkonen, A., & Camilleri, A. (2023). How might micro-credentials influence institutions and empower learners in higher education? Educational Research, 65(1), 40-63, DOI: 10.1080/00131881.2022.2157302

Prud’homme-Généreux, A. (2023). BCcampus micro-credential toolkit for B.C. BCcampus.

Ralston, S. J. (2021). Higher education’s microcredentialing craze: a postdigital-Deweyan critique. Postdigital Science and Education, 3, 83–101.

Reynoldson, M. (2022). Marketing micro-credentials: An analysis of actors, voices and messages in educational innovation discourse. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, DOI: 10.1080/14703297.2022.2083657

Tamoliune, G., Greenspon, R., Tereseviciene, M., Volungeviciene, A., Trepule, E., & Dauksiene. E. (2023). Exploring the potential of micro-credentials: A systematic literature review. Frontiers in Education 7.

Varadarajan, S., Koh, J. H. L., & Daniel, B. K. (2023). A systematic review of the opportunities and challenges of micro-credentials for multiple stakeholders: Learners, employers, higher education institutions and government. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 20, 13.

Wheelahan, L., & Moodie, G. (2021). Analysing micro-credentials in higher education: a Bernsteinian analysis. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 53(2), 212-228.

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