University Learning Store: Competency-Based Micro-Credential Offerings for the Workplace

Concurrent Session 10

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This presentation discusses a cross-institutional approach to developing an assessment-driven, competency-based, micro-credential program designed for workplace learning. We will discuss how a collaborative program (University Learning Store) by a group of top-tier universities provides a unique self-paced approach for adult learners to gain mastery of workplace competencies valued by employers.    


I currently work at University of Wisconsin-Extension as an instructional designer. I received my doctoral degree in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences from Utah State University in 2016.

Additional Authors

Terry Tao is a Senior Instructional Designer and Team Leader at UW-Extension, Continuing Education, Outreach, and E-Learning. He has worked traditional online programs, collaborative degree programs, and competency-based programs. His instructional design and project management experience include both academic programs and cooperate training projects.

Extended Abstract

Competency-Based Education for the Workplace

Recent years have seen a huge disparity in the way higher institutions and business leaders view college graduates’ work force readiness. While 96% of chief academic officers from over 800 higher institutions believed that they are preparing college students for success in the work force (Jaschik & Lederman, 2014 ), only 11% of business leaders strongly agreed that higher education institutions prepared college graduates with the skills and competencies they need (Gallup & Lumina Foundation, 2014). Employers believe engaging learners in applied learning projects can improve learning and better prepare them for career success. Especially, they generally value a candidate’s skills to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems more than the crosscutting and field-specific skills students learned from their degree programs (Hart Research Associates, 2015). We find competency-based education to be an important solution to prepare learners with competencies valued by employers.

Competency-based education or personalized learning, according to the U.S. Department of Education, provides learners with the flexibility to progress as they demonstrate content mastery “regardless of time, place, or pace of learning” (para. 4). It provides different pathways for learners to achieve learning outcomes via personalized learning opportunities. Competency-based education provides a unique way for adult learners to gain mastery of workplace competencies valued by employers, at their own pace and outside a traditional classroom.

University Learning Store

University Learning Store (ULS) is a collaborative online learning project created by a group of top-tier universities to address work readiness issues. Years of success in providing reputable, high-quality online and professional skills education makes this group of universities uniquely qualified to offer competency-based micro-credential courses. ULS provides an opportunity for individuals to master workplace competencies, demonstrate that mastery, and earn non-degree credentials. ULS also serves as an employer resource providing professional training to employees and recruiting prospective employees.

To provide more flexibility for working adults, ULS has developed a unique offering structure that has mastering and validation of the competency occur separately. The course model used in ULS consists of two separate sections: a learning app and a badge assessment. A learning app is a collection of educational content focusing on a particular competency, and a badge assessment is a project-based authentic assessment that evaluates the learner’s mastery of a competency. For learners who want to expand their workplace competency, the learning app is available to help them master the competencies they need. Learners who have already mastered certain competencies from their professional experience can simply take the badge assessment to validate their competency and earn the micro-credentials. Although a learning app is designed to prepare students to master a specific competency, learners are not required to enroll in a learning app before they take the associated badge assessment. 

Learning App — Applied Competency

A learning app is designed for adult learners to gain mastery of a workplace competency they need. Workplace competencies valued by employers include “managing resources, accessing and storing information, interpersonal situations, understanding systems, and using technology” (ACT, Inc., 2000). Each ULS learning app is built upon applied competencies designed with the following question in mind: “What concepts or skills does a learner need to master in order to be successful in a professional environment?” Well-designed competencies lay the foundation that learning resources and authentic assessments are built on. The competencies available through ULS are based on institutional expectations, industry standards, and life skills so that each targeted competency set equips learners for success in their professional endeavors. In ULS, each learning app consists of three or more topic modules. Each topic module includes a topic introduction, learning resources, practice activities, a tip sheet, and an auto-graded quiz, as shown here:


ULS Offering Layout

Learning App:

  • Homepage
    • Primary learning objectives
  • Introduction
    • Competency Statement
  • Topic Module 1
    • Introduction
    • Learning Resources
    • Practice
    • Tip sheet
    • Quiz
  • Topic Module 2
  • Topic Module 3

Badge Assessment:

  • Project
  • Rubric

Topic introduction. The topic introduction provides an overview of the related topic that eases learners into the learning content. It summarizes key concepts within the topic and draws connections between the topic and the real-world examples.

Learning resources. Learning resources provide detailed coverage of the topic to help learners gain a better understanding of the competency. The learning resources are either created by a subject matter expert or can be freely accessed as Open Educational Resources (OERs). 

Practice. Practice consists of activities that require learners to applying the knowledge and skills they have learned in the topic. Practice activities are closely related to the learning resources and workplace scenarios.  

Tip sheet. A tip sheet is provided in each topic module, summarizing key information about the topic. Each tip sheet includes a description of what it covers and when and how to use the sheet in the workplace. The tip sheets are written by a subject matter expert or repurposed from an existing OER. 

Auto-graded quiz. At the end of each topic module is one auto-graded assessment for learners to self-evaluate their progress toward mastery. Typically, each quiz includes 10-30 multiple-choice questions that align with the module-level learning objectives. These quiz questions focus on higher-order thinking rather than memorization.

Badge Assessment — Authentic Assessment

Badge assessment is designed for learners who want to earn micro-credentials to signify their mastery of certain competencies. To evaluate their master of competency effectively, all badge assessments in ULS are authentic assessments, which measure learners’ application of knowledge and skills based on learning tasks that mirror real-world situations (Wiggins, 1990). ULS authentic assessments are developed based on three key quality standards: they align with curriculum and content, resemble realistic professional experiences, and require higher-level cognitive skills. To assess learners’ mastery of a competency, in ULS we proposed a five-level authentic assessment model with authenticity increasing from Level 1 to Level 5: Level 1 - case-based objective; Level 2 -case-based short answer; Level 3 - case-based long answer; Level 4 - creation or performance; Level 5 - creation or performance in a specific workplace. In this model, all five levels focus on higher-level thinking. At the first two levels, although the assessments are objective and auto-graded (e.g., multiple-choice, true/false, matching questions), they are designed to address high-level thinking by using realistic cases and requiring complex decision making. In the last three levels, assessments can be presentations, essays, project reports, oral examinations, and job performance, etc., with increasing authenticity in relation to workplace competencies. See Table 1.

Table 1

Based on this authentic assessment model, the badge assessment in ULS requires learners to analyze, plan, and create a solution to a complex workplace problem. The badge assessment evaluates the learner’s ability to perform the competency, rather than their ability to remember a specific case that was covered in the learning app. All badge assessment include detailed instructions and necessary materials for learners to complete the project. The assessments are graded by content experts (e.g., faculty, industry experts), and rubrics are available to provide additional guidelines for learners. Upon passing the badge assessment, learners receive a micro-credential.

Audience Engagement

During this session, we will present the ULS catalog website and the LMS interface of a sample ULS offering. We will also provide, as handouts, (1) the instruction document we provide to subject matter experts to help them create learning content and (2) a quality review checklist. The audience will have opportunities to explore the student experience from enrollment to the reception of a micro-credential. The handouts will also help the audience to understand the ULS content development process.


ULS places a unique emphasis on competency-based education for workplace competencies valued by employers. We believe the unique model of ULS offering will provide more flexibility to working adults. Audiences from higher education and industry fields will benefit from this presentation as it explores a new pathway to support adult learners in workplace learning. If accepted, we will further illustrate the details of this project and invite discussion.


ACT, Inc. (2000). Workplace essential skills: Resources related to the SCANS competencies and foundation skills. Retrieved from

Gallup, & Lumina Foundation. (2014). What America needs to know about higher education Redesign. Retrieved November 17, 2016, from

Jaschik, S. & Lederman, D. (2014). Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers. Retrieved November 17, 2016, from

U.S. Department of Education. Competency-based learning or personalized learning. Retrieved from

Hart Research Associates. (2015). Falling short? College learning and career success. Retrieved from

Wiggins, Grant (1990). The case for authentic assessment. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 2(2). Retrieved from