Certificates and micro-credentials are both types of credentials — a document that proves qualification. Each provide proof of the skills typically learned in a course taken before an exam to earn the credential.

But how does a certificate or micro-credential compare or differ? While the two terms are somewhat interchangeable, they aren’t always the same. Keep reading to learn about the similarities and differences between the two.

What is a micro-credential?

A micro-credential is also called a badge, digital badge, or micro course. It’s a credential typically awarded after an end-of-course test that assesses knowledge learned in the course. It’s called an end-of-course credential because it’s taken after a course that takes less than a year to complete. It’s piece of paper or a digital document that certifies the holder has skills and knowledge of the topic.

Other characteristics of micro-credentials are that the courses are shorter than a quarter or semester. They also usually cost less than a full college course. Some colleges and universities allow micro-credentials to substitute for college course credits.

Micro-credentials are popular with working professionals. The National Education Association, for example, offers a variety of micro-credentials for working educators.

Since the pandemic began, the number of people pursuing micro-credentials has skyrocketed. The largest use has been workers looking to retrain for different jobs or add to their existing job skills.

What are certificates?

Certificates can be called certifications, certification exams, career certifications, career skills certifications, credentials, or stackable credentials. And like a micro-credential, a certificate is a credential.

Certificates though tend to be broader, and the courses required to learn the information to earn them longer in duration. They can be end-of-course certificates or end-of program certificates. End-of-program certificates take one or more years to complete and typically multiple courses. An example of an end-of-program certificate is the National Consortium of Health Science Education (NCHSE) National Health Science Assessment.

Certificates can be earned in a variety of places — high school, trade schools, colleges and universities The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is a university-level certification. They can also be earned through private providers that serve adults in the workforce, such as Google Career Certificates, Coursera, and LinkedIn Learning. State-issued licenses, for example an electrician or plumbing license, are also types of certificates.

Regardless of where or how credentials are earned, they can cover a variety of topics, including professional education, technical education, vocational education, and more.

For secondary and post-secondary students, certificates follow classwork either online or in person.

Secondary school certificates

Secondary school certificates are earned during high school or at a two-year technical college as part of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. Most are end-of-course certificates though some end-of-program certificates are also available. They give students tangible proof of skills learned in a course. And they can be used for direct entry into the workforce and/or for college credits.

They matter. A multiyear survey by YouthTruth found than less than half of high school students felt that school prepared them for work and college. In another survey by Gallup, 66% of students said classes weren’t relevant or interesting. Yet, while on average only 88% of high school students graduate, graduation rates are up to 8% higher for students who take CTE courses.

A unique feature of secondary CTE certificates is that some exams offer pretests as well as posttests.

Post-secondary professional certificates

These credentials are pursued at a four-year college or university. They may be offered as post-graduate certificates for returning alumni or to new students as a substitute for or addition to a bachelor’s degree.

These certificates are typically end-of-program and the programs to earn them may span up to two years. Some are school-specific. Others, like the PMP, are backed by professional institutions. The Project Management Institute in the case of a PMP certificate.

What are stackable credentials?

Both micro-credentials and certificates can be stackable. A stackable certificate or credential is where multiple individual credentials are earned. Certificates come from different courses. They combine to show knowledge in a specific area or areas related to a specific skill or industry.

The NCHSE National Health Science Assessment is an example. It can be taken as one end-of-program exam. It can also be taken as four individual stackable credentials. The stackable credentials are in Essential Healthcare Practices, Foundations of Healthcare Professions, Human Structure Function Disease A, and Human Structure Function Disease B.

Another example of a stackable credentials in a specific area might be Adobe Photoshop I, II, and III. An example across related areas might be Marketing I, Adobe Creative Suite I, and Marketing Analytics I. Another example is adding a certificate for soft skills onto any other credential or set of credentials.

What are the benefits of credentials?

Seeing students succeed is one of the biggest joys as an educator. Part of their success can come from the benefits of certification, including:

Proof of skills, knowledge and experience

Certifications let students get hands-on experience and prove their skills, no matter the field. Potential employers see that they’re up to the task. Students have a competitive edge against uncredentialed peers when a hiring manager looks at their resume for a full-time job, internship, pre-apprenticeship, or apprenticeship.

Skip general education classes if on a post-secondary pathway

Students headed to college can use certificates to skip entry-level classes, which saves time and money

Increased engagement and better outcomes

Cultivating interest in real-world career pathways helps students understand why they’re learning what they’re leaning. A study by the US Department of Education found that high school students who concentrate in CTE courses are more likely to graduate high school, go on to college, and hold a job eight years after high school.

Why choose certificates?

Micro-credentials have their place, but not all are created the same. Filling gaps in standard curriculum with tailored certifications bolsters students’ educational experience.

Identifiable goals

Certification gives students identifiable goals and trackable progress. As students work their way through the course or program, they see what they’ve learned and its practical use. Students are more engaged when they know that what they’re learning has value and what that value is. If the certification is stackable, they also gain relevant skills while working toward a larger goal.

Soft skills

Hard skills are important on a career path and teachable. Soft skills aren’t as teachable, but in high demand by employers. The LinkedIn 2019 Global Talent Trends report found that 92% of hiring managers saw soft skills as, or more, important than hard skills.

YouScience, as part of Precision Exams by YouScience, gives educators a way to let students prove their soft skills with the 21st Century Skills certification bundle.

Precision Exams by YouScience

Precision Exams by YouScience lets student validate their skills and knowledge. Educators access more than 200 industry-recognized certifications for career and technical education (CTE). Students get tangible proof of what they’re learning with entry- to mid-level certifications for all National Career Clusters as well as soft skills.

Exams are developed with education and industry experts to meet industry needs for career and technical training and 21st Century Skills. Students can use their certificates to enter the workforce or skip entry-level college courses.

Exam data lets educators support stackable credentials. And pre- and posttests let educators measure student growth, drive program improvements and easily meet and report on funding requirements. Data also lets educators increase diversity in certification programs to further maximize funding.

And with comprehensive YouScience Platform educators can access exams and aptitude-based career guidance. That lets you uncover students’ natural talents, in-demand matched to their talents, and education pathways to attain those careers — whether certifications or post-secondary schooling.

Have questions? Looking for answers? Don’t hesitate to contact YouScience today to learn more about certifications and how you can empower students to succeed.

Ready to offer your students industry-recognized credentials?

Talk to us about using Precision Exams by YouScience credentials today. While you’re at it, ask about aligning students to the best pathway using aptitude-based career guidance.