- Program Managers
Why the Growing Interest?
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
Alvin Toffler, misquoted
Revolutions in the Workplace
The world of work is in flux. Rapidly emerging technologies are displacing workers, the aging population is causing vacancies to go unfilled, and the climate crisis and COVID-19 are causing large disruptions to the labour market (Burning Glass Institute, 2022; Conference Board of Canada & Future Skills Centre, 2022; Dharmaratne et al., n.d.; eCampusOntario, 2022; Environics Institute et al., 2020; Fissuh et al., 2022; Future Skills Council, 2020; Hill et al., 2022; Leaser, 2021; Leblanc et al., 2021; Lund et al., 2021; OECD, 2020; Russek et al., 2021; Statistics Canada, 2022).
In the face of a changing world, the currency of a degree — the length of time the skills and knowledge learned during training remain current — is estimated to be between five and seven years (Allen & van der Venden, 2002; Eggers et al., 2012).
Many people no longer stay in the same job for their entire working life. More than two thirds of Canadian baby boomers stayed in their jobs for 12 or more years. Gen Xers typically held 3.2 jobs in that same period, and Gen Ys held 3.9 jobs (Workopolis, 2014). The trend of people switching occupations is accelerating. For this reason, and because of the short duration of degree currency, the training people received at the start of their career is unlikely to sustain them through their working lives (Tugend, 2019).
We are entering a world predicted by author and futurist Alvin Toffler, where people need to learn, unlearn, and relearn throughout their career. Dubbed “the 60-year curriculum,” education is no longer a once-and-done affair. Adults must return to education at various points in their careers (Dede & Richards, 2020; Richards & Dede, 2020).
The current credential system is not well suited to learners who weave in and out of the worlds of work and education (Modern Campus, 2021; Oliver, 2019). Adults juggle many commitments and can’t invest in (and often do not need) a four-year degree. Most macro-credentials (degrees, diplomas, certificates) do not offer recognition for partial completion, so when an adult interrupts their education, they receive no validation of the competencies already mastered (Gallagher, 2016, p. 43; Hope, 2022; Perea, 2020). Adult learners need competency-specific, rapid, modularized training that recognizes their learning as it occurs, accumulates toward larger and more complex achievements, and allows them to adapt to new work conditions (Fuller et al., 2022; Society for Human Resources Management, 2018).
The following drivers create a need for a new type of post-secondary credential:
- Workplace relevance: Many existing credentials focus on theory, but adult learners are pragmatic. They want authentic curricula and competencies that will make training relevant, validate their abilities to employers, and make them sought-after in the job market.
- Rapid upskilling and reskilling: The job market is rapidly evolving, and there is a need for training that provides the tools and competencies workers need to adapt to a rapidly changing workplace.
- Accessibility: Busy adults have multiple commitments. Traditional education, offered as full-time learning on a set schedule, is not accessible. Adult learners need online and self-paced courses, intensive programs, weekend or part-time schedules, and a shorter time commitment.
- Affordability: Adult learners have multiple commitments and need affordable solutions for continued education. Shorter and online programs make education accessible.
- Transparency: Certificates, diplomas, and degrees are signals employers use to assess the abilities and suitability of prospective employees. But these credentials can be opaque. “One of the most common complaints about university degrees is that they are blunt instruments lacking in detail about the skill or learning of the holder and existing as static paper documents” (Gallagher, 2016, p. 112). There is a need for a more descriptive list of a learner’s abilities than what is captured on a traditional transcript (Gauthier, 2020; Oliver, 2019).
What’s the Solution?
“There appears to be consensus among key parties that the future higher education landscape will include a proliferation of new options and university credentials beyond the monolithic degree” (Gallagher, 2016, p. 18). Post-secondary institutions have entered a period of experimentation and innovation, exploring ways to serve this new need for lifelong learning. This includes a focus on credentialed learning that allows learners to validate their competencies to employers.
More than one solution exists. The rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in the early 2010s marked a turning point, and they are making a comeback (Lohr, 2020). Bootcamps — intensive, short, hands-on training (usually a few months of full-time learning) popular in the tech sector — are another (Burke et al., 2018; Waguespack et al., 2018). Other options include master classes, MicroBachelors and MicroMasters (proprietary brands of edX), and Nanodegree (proprietary brand of Udacity). Together, these shorter credentials that target adult lifelong learners are called alternative credentials (Brown & Kurzweil, 2017).
Employers and private trainers are responding to this need. For example, in 2018 Google launched a suite of career certificates that give people a fast-track to in-demand technical jobs such as data analytics and cybersecurity (Grow with Google, n.d.). These certificates are offered at scale though online, flexible training that can be completed in three to six months. Google also partnered with over 150 companies that now hire directly from their alumni pool, creating an education-to-job pipeline adults want and need. Within four years of its launch, 50 000 people had completed a Google Career Certificate, with 82 per cent of alumni reporting the training helped them further their career (Beshkin, 2022). Google is not the only company to offer large-scale, short-term, career development training. Many others do as well.
Where does this leave post-secondary institutions? B.C. post-secondary institutions have a mandate to meet the educational needs of their communities. For most of their existence, they have been the de facto provider of education for adult learners, but now there is competition.
Public Post-Secondary Institution Response
Not all institutions want to engage in the delivery of alternative credentials. Institutions need to assess their mandate and determine whether this pursuit aligns with their purpose (McGreal & Olcott, 2022).
Institutions must consider how to closely align some their operations to the priorities and needs of external stakeholders — employers who can guide curriculum development and validate training (McCarthy, 2014). Institutions can leverage what they have that their competitors lack: a vast ecosystem of credentials. What most competitors cannot do is use short-term, work-aligned trainings as on-ramps for more comprehensive educational opportunities.
Responding to workforce development training needs is not new for most post-secondary institutions. Historically, it has been the purview of schools of continuing education and contract training (Universities Canada & CAUCE, 2022). This has worked well, but schools of continuing education often work in isolation from the rest of an institution (Etter et al., 2023). The conversation around micro-credentials has put a spotlight on continuing education as institutions rethink how to better integrate these units’ activities into larger institutional systems. Continuing education is being moved from the margins to the centre of some institutions’ operations.
The interest in alternative credentials has been around for two decades, spurred by the recognition of lifelong learning needs, ongoing efforts to develop accessible and affordable pathways to education, and advances in online technologies.
The term micro-credential first appeared in published literature in 2014. Its use grew from there (Brown et al., 2021; Nguyen et al., 2022; Varadarajan et al., 2023). There was a surge of interest during the COVID-19 pandemic, when governments and industry stakeholders saw that workplace changes and disruptions were about to be kicked into high gear. Although the interest was global in scope, in Canada, provincial governments have supported the development of micro-credentials since 2019 (MacDonald, 2022) (see Status of Micro-credentials Across Canadian Provinces).
Emerging Themes and Trends
Many academics have researched how micro-credentials are implemented (Ahsan et al., 2023; Brown & Nic-Giolla-Mhichil, 2022; Nguyen et al., 2022; Selvaratnam & Sankey, 2021; Tamoliune et al., 2023; Varadarajan et al., 2023). Common findings include:
- There is no consensus in the definition of micro-credentials (Future Skills Centre, 2022; Oliver, 2019). Most practitioners agree that it denotes short-term, work-aligned training. UNESCO recognized the challenges that this lack of common understanding presents and attempted to come up with a consensus definition (Oliver, 2022).
- Concerns over funding and financial support are the second-most cited challenge to the success of micro-credentials. Varadarajan et al. (2023) found a third of published studies cite this concern.
- Research supports the idea that micro-credentials foster innovation, the development of new pedagogical models (Varadarajan et al., 2023), and institutional discussions about educational reforms.
- Employers have a low level of awareness about micro-credentials (Nguyen et al., 2022), likely because it is ill-defined as a concept and can take many forms.
- There is little evidence of the outcome of micro-credential training (Oliver, 2019). Practitioners and learners want concrete data about its effectiveness in helping people with career goals and increasing accessibility to adult education.
- Some micro-credential providers report challenges in developing and updating course materials given the fast-changing nature of industry practices and the need for micro-credentials to be work aligned (Nguyen et al., 2022).
- Despite the name, micro-credentials require a large investment of effort, time, and money for learners and institutions (Nguyen et al., 2022). They should be entered into thoughtfully.
Some have critiqued the emphasis on workplace preparation in micro-credentials (Wheelahan & Moodie, 2021; 2022). They worry that post-secondary education will be reduced to workforce development and fail in its important role to train engaged, critical, creative citizens. They also question whether micro-credentials are more accessible and affordable forms of education. They argue that workforce development should be the burden of employers, not employees, and that putting the cost of workplace preparation on workers is morally dubious. They caution that by unbundling education, micro-credentials blur the lines between private and public education and constrain higher education to the demands of industry, contributing to the neoliberal forces that privatize education and reduce the autonomy of the academy (Ralston, 2021).
Some of these concerns merit attention, and practitioners should consider the broader impacts of micro-credentials. Nguyen et al. (2022) is a good guide. These authors conclude that micro-credentials are not a zero-sum game, and that their gains are not macro-credentials’ loss. The two types of credentials can offer different advantages that complement each other to the benefit of learners. The post-secondary credential ecosystem can support both types of credentials.
Expected Benefits of Micro-credentials
- Increased employability;
- Access to purpose-built training focused on work readiness;
- Ability to demonstrate and validate granular competencies;
- Access to up-to-date curricula and content;
- More flexible learning designed to meet the needs of working adults with multiple commitments;
- Lower cost of study than macro-credentials;
- Gateway to larger educational opportunities.
For post-secondary institutions:
- Developing learning experiences that bracket macro-credentials and serve as on-ramps to education and off-ramps to employment;
- New business model with the possibility of new revenue streams;
- Meeting the needs of the community and society;
- Outreach opportunities that bring new learners to post-secondary institutions;
- Diversifying the learner population at post-secondary institutions;
- Greater collaboration with industry and network development outside post-secondary institutions;
- Opportunities for innovation in education, especially in tools and digital learning;
- Increasing learner motivation, retention, and completion rates;
- Improved quality of course design;
- Breaking down silos within the institution as units collaborate;
- Opportunity for conversations about the purpose of post-secondary institutions.
- Assist with recruitment;
- Improve employee retention;
- Discover “invisible” or emergent skills in employee pool;
- Workforce development; new continuing professional development options; More fit for purpose professional learning;
- Take steps to address the widening skills gap between education and work;
- Enhance collaboration with post-secondary institutions;
- Leverage 70-20-10 learning;
- Ensure authenticity, validity, and usefulness of the training for the workplace.
- Address broad labour market needs in a responsive and innovative way.
Micro-credential Frameworks – An International Survey
Many jurisdictions have developed micro-credential frameworks to define micro-credentials and support a consistent approach to their development across institutions and stakeholders (Lang, 2023). Some example include:
Australia released a national framework for micro-credentials to ensure consistency across higher education, vocational education, and industry (Australian Government, 2021). It defines critical information requirements, which is the information that must be shared on a micro-credential attestation of learning (e.g., a digital badge awarded to validate achievement).
In 2022, the European Union accepted the council recommendation on a European approach to micro-credential learning and employability (Council of the European Union , 2022). This document outlines a definition of micro-credentials adopted throughout the European Union, as well as information that must be shared when awarding a micro-credential to a learner (i.e., what information to include in a digital badge or transcript).
Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
In addition to development financing, the IDB provides research, knowledge transfer, and education and training services across Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Its digital credentialing service, CredencialesBID, has a library of over 700 digital badges that have been issued to over 250 000 adult learners since 2018. The IDB Digital Credential Framework was published in April 2023 as the key reference tool and roadmap to recognize knowledge building and continuous learning for the IDB Group, partner organizations, and citizens of the LAC region (CredencialesBID, 2023). The Framework is a living document that was developed outside an academic context, but it has been informed by several academic frameworks in addition to IDB’s encapsulated experience in credentialing (Porto & Presant, 2023).
Although not a framework, Ireland has a micro-credential road map that provides recommendations for implementing a national strategy for micro-credentials and the results of a national employer and employee survey (Nic Giolla Mhichíl et al., 2020).
In 2020 the Malaysian Qualification Agency released a set of guidelines for the development of micro-credentials (Malaysian Qualifications Agency, 2020).
The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) introduced a micro-credential system in 2018. There is no published framework, but it established clear guidelines for developing micro-credentials that align with the country’s Qualifications and Credential Framework. It also provides clear instructions and criteria for approval and accreditation. The NZQA hosts a portal where prospective learners can search available micro-credentials (the Register of NZQA-Approved Micro-credentials). In 2023 the NZQA is expected to release a new skill standards that defines the core building blocks of vocational qualifications and will allow learners to more easily transfer between fields (e.g., if they have demonstrated health and safety skills standards in one industry and move to another, their prior achievements are recognized in their new program).
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published a policy paper, “Short Courses, Micro-Credentials, and Flexible Learning Pathways: A Blueprint for Policy Development and Action,” to support international efforts to define micro-credentials (van der Hijden & Martin, 2023). The paper stressed the importance of a shared understanding and framework for micro-credentials as institutions work to develop this new type of programming. It proposes guidelines for success.
The United States has no national micro-credential framework. Some noteworthy organizations and projects include:
- Credential Engine: A non-profit organization that provides access and transparency about available credentials. It has an online registry (the Credential Finder) for micro-credential programs and competency frameworks and a system for supporting quality assurance across the country.
- Credential As You Go: A project that disrupts the US credentialing system by creating opportunities for learners to integrate credentials from varied providers (post-secondary institutions, employers, military, third-party organizations, state licensing boards) and building an incremental credentialing system. The incremental credential framework was recently published (Credential As You Go, 2023).
- The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) released a report on campus guidelines and best practices for alternative credentials, primarily micro-credentials and certificates (AACRAO Alternative Credentials Work Group, 2022).
Micro-credential Reports (from External Stakeholders)
Several non-governmental organizations have published findings in support of micro-credentials. These include:
- ICDE: 2019 report of the International Council for Open and Distance Education on alternative digital credentials, including recommendations to institutions for ensuring their success (ICDE, 2019)
- Lumina Foundation: Private foundation dedicated to helping Americans access post-secondary education. It has published several reports on micro-credentials.
- All Learning Counts is a toolkit that provides recommendations for recognizing credit-worthy learning through workplace training, military experience, apprenticeships, and professional certifications. It helps workers transfer learning to post-secondary credentials (Hunter et al., 2021).
- Connecting Credentials is a proposed credential framework that integrates short-term training like micro-credentials into the larger credential ecosystem (Lumina Foundation, 2015). It uses competencies as the common currency and proposes eight levels of achievement.
- The Short-term Credential Landscape provides an overview of the ecosystem and outcomes for adult learners who complete a certificate (defined as any training of less than a year) (Ositelu et al., 2021).
- OECD: 2020 paper from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to inform policy makers and leaders about the emergence and implications of alternative digital credentials (Kato et al., 2020). OECD also published an environmental scan and overview of the costs and benefits of digital credentials (OECD, 2021).
- UNESCO: 2018 paper that provides an overview of the digital credential ecosystem based on a literature review and interviews with key players (Chakroun & Keevy, 2018)
- World Economic Forum: White paper in support of revamping the educational system using skills as the unit of learning to readily translate academic achievements to the world of work (World Economic Forum, 2019)
In addition to economic development organizations calling for the growth of micro-credentials (e.g., Conference Board of Canada, McKinsey Global Institute), several groups have published reports on the Canadian credential landscape and made recommendations about micro-credentials:
- Canada West Foundation published a policy brief called What Now? Micro credentials: “Small” Qualifications, Big Deal (Lane & Murgatroyd, 2021) that provides 11 recommendations for post-secondary institutions about how to move forward with micro-credentials.
- Royal Bank of Canada published an article about the impacts of COVID-19 on education (Schrumm, 2020). To stay competitive, RBC recommends post-secondary institutions make “proposals to modernize the credit transfer system that recognize micro-credentials and experiential learning completions towards a diploma or degree.”
Several organizations have micro-credential toolkits to help their constituents engage in the practice. They vary in depth of information. eCampusOntario’s Micro-credential Toolkit is the most comprehensive. Others include:
- Commonwealth of Learning’s Designing and Implementing Micro-Credentials: A Guide for Practitioners;
- Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Microcredentialing Toolkit;
- Lethbridge College’s Micro-Credential Development Handbook;
- State University of New York’s Our Story: Building SUNY’s Microcredential Program and Initial Lesson’s Learned;
- UNC-Chapel Hill’s Digital Badging: A Quick Start Guide for Higher Education Program Administrators;
- University of Toronto’s Microcredentials Toolkit.
Survey of Canadian Micro-credential Practices
In fall 2019, before the pandemic, Joanne Duklas conducted a survey of 90 Canadian post-secondary institutions for the British Columbia Council on Admissions & Transfer (Duklas, 2020). The goal was to map the landscape of current and planned micro-credentials in the country.
Duklas reported that 41 per cent of Canadian post-secondary institutions had offered or had plans to explore micro-credentials. Ontario institutions reported high interest, with 65 per cent planning to establish micro-credentials. In B.C. the number was lower at 25 per cent. This was before the B.C. Ministry of Post-secondary Education and Future Skills supported the development of pilot programs.
Only 33 per cent of the Canadian institutions that offered micro-credentials labeled them as such. Instead, institutions used the terms certificates (67 per cent) or badges (39 per cent). Most institutions offered their micro-credentials through their school of continuing education (61 per cent), although a substantial number of academic program areas also served as the administrative centre offering them (56 per cent).
The motivation for offering micro-credentials was primarily to provide access to further education (74 per cent) or meet workplace needs (68 per cent).
When asked how respondents felt about certain features of micro-credentials, the most agreed upon aspects were that micro-credentials should be competency-based (44 per cent) and use a record of achievement awarded in a shareable electronic format (39 per cent).
In fall 2020, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, in partnership with Colleges and Institutes Canada, Business Higher Education Roundtable, and Abacus Data, conducted an environmental scan of Canadian post-secondary institutions’ micro-credential practices (Colleges and Institutes Canada, 2021; Pichette et al., 2021). The report summarized the perspectives on micro-credentials of 201 employers, 2000 working-age Canadians, and 105 post-secondary institutions.
A year after Duklas’s survey, in the midst of the pandemic and with stimulus from government funding for micro-credentials, 89 per cent of respondents indicated they either offered or had plans to offer micro-credentials, compared to 41 per cent a year earlier. In Ontario only 5 per cent of institutions had no plans to offer micro-credentials. In B.C. that number was 10 per cent. Along with Alberta, these provinces had the most active micro-credential activity. Of institutions offering micro-credentials, half were offered through schools of continuing education, and 28 per cent were offered via a faculty or academic department in the institution.
This survey also asked which features institutions viewed as important to a micro-credential program. Ninety per cent viewed alignment with industry as critical, and 87 per cent indicated competency-based training was a key component.
Pichette et al. (2021) reported on some of the questions raised by interviewees in their study that indicated unresolved challenges (p. 15):
- “What are the implications of industry ‘beating colleges and universities to the punch’ and offering microcredentials?
- Are microcredentials financially viable? Could institutions coordinate/differentiate their microcredential [sic] offerings to capitalize on economies of scale?
- Is there something essential lost in the modularization of learning (e.g., general education courses, interconnected skillsets)?”
Around the time of these reports, several national bodies that represent post-secondary education constituents advocated for government investment in the study or pilot of micro-credentials:
- Universities Canada made four recommendations for the 2021 federal budget, of which recommendation 2 — invest in access, upskilling, and reskilling — specified “providing funding for institutions to develop accessible short course in key demand areas” (Universities Canada, 2020).
- Colleges and Institutes Canada published a white paper that outlined four strategies to support COVID-19 recovery. One was to “fill labour market gaps” through the development of “short courses developed with employers and experts to quickly reskill and upskill the workforce” (Colleges and Institutes Canada, 2020). It also published a micro-credential definition and guiding principles, available on its website (Colleges and Institutes, n.d.)
- Polytechnics Canada made four recommendations for the 2021 federal budget. Recommendation 2 proposed the allocation of funding to support learners in taking micro-credential courses. “Empower Canadians to rapidly retrain and upskill by providing financial support and navigation to short-cycle training programs focused on career-relevant skills” (Polytechnics Canada, 2020).
Other national organizations reported on their exploration of micro-credentials across their membership:
- Universities Canada and the Canadian Association for University Continuing Education published a survey of the activities of schools of continuing education at universities across the country (Universities Canada & CAUCE, 2021). The report found more than half of universities had a school of continuing education engaged in making learning accessible for adult learners. Offerings have become increasingly focused on workforce development. Many of these programs could be considered micro-credentials, but the lack of common terminology means they are called by different names such as certificates or badges.
- Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columba released a white paper on micro-credentials to support their development but warned of strains on academic mission and autonomy. It emphasized the importance of using academic governance processes for the development and delivery of all credit-bearing micro-credentials. In particular, “with crossover to for-credit programs, then continuing studies will need recalibration to align better within the collegial governance model of the institution” (CUFA BC, 2021, p. 10).
Status of Micro-credentials Across Canadian Provinces
In Canada post-secondary education falls under the portfolios of the provinces. Several provinces are supporting their development and are at different stages of implementation. The following lists shows the status of development in each province as of April 2023:
- The province invested $5.6 million in the development of 56 micro-credential programs in 2021.
- There is currently no provincial framework or definition of micro-credentials, though cross-institutional workgroups are collaborating to develop recommendations to the Ministry of Advanced Education.
- In 2021 the Labour Education Applied Research North (LEARN) partners contracted the Academica Group to research and recommend the best approaches for micro-credential programs in Northern Alberta (Academica Group, 2021).
- Saskatchewan developed a guide to micro-credentials in 2021.
- Manitoba doesn’t yet have an official micro-credential plan, but the province’s Manitoba’s Skills, Talent and Knowledge Strategy lists micro-credentials as part of its strategy (p. 10);
- Ontario has made the most progress in developing micro-credentials.
- Framework: In 2019 eCampusOntario published a set of principles and a framework for micro-credentials. The working group that developed it chose not to include a definition.
- Pilots: From 2019 to 2021, the RapidSkills pilot program and the eCampusOntario pilot funded the development of 36 new micro-credentials.
- Report: In 2021 eCampusOntario, in partnership with the Diversity Institute, published the report Is the Future Micro?, which evaluated the 36 pilot projects and their impact (Chaktsiris et al., 2021).
- Funding: In 2021 Ontario created the Challenge Fund to support the creation of new micro-credentials. An investment of $15 million that year resulted in 250 new programs.
- Student aid: In 2021 Ontario announced micro-credentials would be eligible for student assistance programs (i.e., student loans and grants support).
- Portal: In December 2021 Ontario launched the eCampusOntario Micro-credential Portal, which consolidates all micro-credentials offered at public post-secondary institutions and provides prospective learners with a website where they can explore all micro-credential training offered in the province. This is similar to New Zealand’s Qualification Authority Register of approved micro-credentials.
- Toolkit: In 2022 eCampusOntario released a micro-credential toolkit to help institutions design and offer micro-credentials.
- Québec has engaged in the development of micro-credentials, though the programs are given different names, making it challenging to track across the province.
- In 2021 the province invested $30 million in the Programme de formations de courte durée to help 1500 workers reskill and retool in short-term training in fields of agriculture, electric transportation, green economy, and aeronautics.
- At Cégeps a credit-bearing micro-credential is referred to as perfectionnement crédité. In the Montreal region, the website Montez de niveau is a portal that helps learners select the right program from a range of institutions. The portal is supported by Services Québec, a branch of the Québec government.
- At Cégeps non-credit bearing micro-credentials are called certifications collégiales.
- Université Laval calls a micro-credential a nanoprogramme, which it describes as at the intersection of credit-bearing programs and continuing education;
- Nova Scotia published a Microcredential Framework in April 2023.
Some Canada-wide efforts support institutions in developing micro-credentials and learners. These include:
- The Future Skills Centre is funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Program. Working with partners across the country, the organization studies global trends that affect workforce changes and use this information to develop skills and training to help Canadians thrive in today’s rapidly changing economy. The Future Skills Centre is interested in the prospect of micro-credentials to address skills shortages and gaps and to help workers rapidly pivot and upskill. Its website shares findings on micro-credentials. For example, see the learning bulletin Microcredentials in Flux: Challenges, Opportunities and Insights from FSC’s Portfolio (2022).
- Quick Train Canada is an association of colleges, polytechnics, and Cégeps that supports the transition to the low-carbon economy through fully funded training programs in Canada. The Canadian Colleges for a Resilient Recovery, which lead this project, are funded by the Government of Canada’s Sectorial Workforce Solutions Program. The only B.C. member of the coalition is the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
Micro-credential Developments in B.C.
B.C. is one of the leaders in micro-credential development in Canada. The Ministry of Post-secondary Education and Future Skills began its support of this new form of credential in 2020, resulting in rapid expansion in the number of offerings. The Ministry’s support of micro-credentials include:
- Micro-credential development funding
- Since 2020 (and as of April 2023), the Ministry has funded the development of more than 130 new micro-credentials across the public post-secondary system.
- In fall 2021, following a year of consultations with stakeholders, the province released the Micro-credential Framework for B.C.’s Public Post-secondary Education System to provide a common understanding of micro-credentials, support the development of institutional structures, and facilitate alignment between institutions.
- Capacity building
- Through BCcampus the province has facilitated several training sessions and discussion forums to help members of the post-secondary sector bolster their knowledge and skills in this emerging field. This includes:
- Learner pathways
- In the fall 2022, to support additional learner pathways across B.C. public post-secondary institutions, the province funded Thompson Rivers University (TRU) – Open Learning to develop a Micro-credential Assessment process to enhance education pathways from non-credit micro-credentials to credit programs (see TRU’s Experience with the Credit Bank in the chapter Educational Pathways for more details).
- System coordination and collaboration
- In the spring 2023, the province funded Vancouver Community College (VCC) to develop and pilot a Micro-credential Collaboration framework to support sharing micro-credential curricula and resources across B.C. public post-secondary institutions.
This early primer has informed many efforts to define micro-credentials around the world.
Oliver, B. (2019). Making Micro-credentials Work for Learners, Employers, and Providers. Deakin University. https://dteach.deakin.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/103/2019/08/Making-micro-credentials-work-Oliver-Deakin-2019-full-report.pdf
Open Universities Australia conducted a survey of 600+ prospective adult learners to identify their perspective on micro-credentials. The report provides concrete data about the duration and costs adult learners are willing to invest in micro-credential training and what they value in these credentials.
Open Universities Australia. (2021). Microcredentials: Exploring the Student Perspective. https://www.open.edu.au/-/media/oua-pdfs/microcredentials-exploring-the-student-perspective.pdf?rev=d517ec08244c4de1b57f392ce207f9da&hash=0B750CF0A17E7BE3042046A2E74AE364
Sean Gallagher conducted early research into the role of alternative credentials at colleges and universities for his doctoral work. He wrote an accessible and fascinating account of the history of alternative credentials and the rationale for their inclusion in higher education. He offered thoughts about where they may be headed. This account predates the rise of micro-credentials, but much of it applies to this field.
Gallagher, S. R. (2016). The Future of University Credentials. New Development at the Intersection of Higher Education and Hiring. Harvard Education Press.
You can hear Gallagher’s thoughts on micro-credentials by watching this recorded panel discussion.
Young, J., Gallagher, S., & Soares, N. (2018). In evolving world of microcredentials, students, colleges and employers want different things. EdSurge. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2018-01-23-in-evolving-world-of-microcredentials-students-colleges-and-employers-want-different-things
Bigelow, A., Booth, C., Brokerhoff-Macdonald, B., Cormier, D., Dinsmore, C., Grey, S., … & Zahedi, E., (2022). eCampusOntario’s micro-credential toolkit. https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/microcredentialtoolkit/
Burning Glass Institute. (2022). The emerging degree reset. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/6197797102be715f55c0e0a1/t/6202bda7f1ceee7b0e9b7e2f/1644346798760/The+Emerging+Degree+Reset+(22.02)Final.pdf
Commonwealth of Learning. (2019). Designing and implementing micro-credentials: A guide for practitioners. http://hdl.handle.net/11599/3279
Institute for Credentialing Excellence. (n.d.). Microcredentialing toolkit. https://www.credentialingexcellence.org/Resources/Microcredentialing-Toolkit
Lethbridge College. (2021). Micro-credential development handbook. Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation. https://learninginnovation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/LCmicro-credentialHandbook_2021.pdf
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- This text is commonly attributed to author and futurist Alvin Toffler. While it is powerful and perfectly encapsulates this section, it is a misquote. Toffler actually wrote: “By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education” (Toffler, 1970, p. 211). ↵
- A recent systematic review found the hyphenated version micro-credential is used in 68 per cent (n = 42) of studies. The unhyphenated microcredential is used 32 per cent of the time (n = 19) (Varadarajan et al., 2023). ↵
- The 70-20-10 Model for Learning and Development proposes that the optimal sources of learning for adult learners is: 70% of their learning from on-the-job challenging experiences, 20% from developmental interactions with colleagues (often their supervisor), and 10% from readings and formal coursework (Jefferson & Pollock, 2014; Training Industry, 2023). This ratio was obtained from a 1996 survey of 200 executives who were asked how they believe they learn new knowledge and skills (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1996). ↵
- LEARN is a group of Northern Alberta post-secondary institutions that includes Northwestern Polytechnic (formerly Grande Prairie Regional College), Keyano College, Northern Lakes College, and Portage College. ↵