Design Considerations: Stories from the B.C. Post-secondary Sector

This chapter shares some of the experiences of B.C. institutions in designing micro-credential programs.

Chapter Audience:

  • program managers icon Program Managers
  • Faculty

An Instructional Designer’s Role in Creating FILMBA (CapU’s Experience)

Yi Cui served as a program developer in continuing studies at Capilano University (CapU). In 2021, she coordinated the development and delivery of the micro-credential Filmmakers in Indigenous Leadership and Management Business Affairs (FILMBA). Below, she describes the role of an instructional designer in putting together this program.


Let’s start with FILMBA. What is this micro-credential?

“FILMBA was the brainchild of Doreen Manuel, the director of the BOSA Centre for film and animation and a founding member of CapU’s Indigenous digital accelerator. Working with people in the sector, she identified that there was a gap in supporting mid-career Indigenous filmmakers. Many are quite successful at producing independent films, but to reach the next level of production — to help them get to the multimillion budget level in two or three years — they need knowledge about the business aspect of filmmaking. This includes training in funding models, contract negotiations, financial management, and intellectual property law and distribution. Manuel also recognized the importance of networking and wanted these Indigenous filmmakers to build their industry connections.

“She sought funding to support this training and found it from several sources, including TD Bank, the Indigenous Screen Office, TELUS’s Storyhive, Creative BC, Warner Bros. Discovery Access Canada, and Western Economic Diversification Canada. This allowed her to develop this program and sponsor a cohort of twenty Indigenous filmmakers from around North America.

“In terms of the format, Manuel envisioned a program where a small group of experienced Indigenous filmmakers would meet online with industry leaders every couple of weekends. Each weekend workshop would be taught by one or two different instructors, someone who is an expert at finance, or fundraising, or law, etc. She used her connections to enlist the help of these industry leaders. After each weekend workshop, learners would be required to apply what they learned on a project-based assignment, where they would be putting together plans for their own production. The program also made provision for individual mentorship opportunities between the leaders and learners.”

What was your role in this project, as the program developer/instructional designer?

“Someone needed to take Manuel’s vision and turn it into a reality. That was my job. I did it through two different roles.

“First, due to the large number of people involved in offering this program, there was a need for project management. There were 21 subject matter experts and five guest speakers in this program. Each had to be scheduled at the right time in the program and needed reminders about deliverables. There was also a program coordinator (a graduate teaching assistant) who attended every class and provided continuity for the learners, and I worked with her to ensure she knew what was coming next. The program was offered through continuing studies, so I used my knowledge of its processes to ensure that we collected and submitted the right information at the right time (e.g., putting together information for the registration webpage, coordinating the marketing plan, coordinating with CapU contract services for instructor contracts, reviewing applications, and ensuring learners received all of the required information to access online tools, etc.). I also monitored the budget, managed funds, and collected data to support Manuel to meet the funders’ reporting requirements.

“The other aspect of my role was more as an instructional designer. I have a PhD in education and am an expert at how to design effective educational experiences. Many of the subject matter experts who participated in this workshop had never designed a lesson, never taught, and needed guidance about how to design a successful weekend workshop. I guided that work. I met with each subject matter expert ahead of their workshop, discussed what they wanted to achieve, proposed activities to help learners achieve these objectives, and discussed appropriate ways to assess whether learners had achieved them. I also made sure that each workshop aligned with the overarching program goals. With each instructor, we reviewed effective teaching strategies so that they would facilitate good online sessions, and after each weekend workshop I collected and shared learner feedback and provided suggestions. I used the learner feedback, together with my analysis of trends in learner activities (e.g., assignment submission behaviour and sign-ups for mentoring sessions), to inform later workshops.

“I didn’t ask the instructors to create the online course component because I wanted all workshop modules to have a consistent look and because it didn’t make sense to teach them how to use our learning management system since they would only use the tool for a short period. I just took care of that myself. I created the online course component in Moodle based on what the subject matter experts were planning to do in their workshop.

“That said, the instructors did use Moodle to provide feedback on each assignment, so I created a brief online tutorial to teach them how to do it. I also created an online orientation course for learners, to teach them how to use our learning management system (e.g., how to post in the discussion forums, how to submit an assignment, how to book a mentoring session) and how to use Zoom. These orientation courses saved us a lot of time later.

“Finally, I worked with the program coordinator to collect data about each learner’s performance on assignments and issued a digital badge for those who had met the criteria for passing the micro-credential.”

How was working on this project different to your typical role in continuing studies?

“In some respects, FILMBA wasn’t different to any other program I have coordinated in continuing studies. In my role, I work with subject matter experts to help them design and teach a course for adult learners and I project manage each program.

“Perhaps one difference is that we were working with Manuel, who is a faculty member at CapU, and this program was really under her leadership. Manuel came to us to offer the program because there were no systems in place to offer such non-credit, short-term training provided by industry experts as part of the regular offerings at CapU. Continuing studies had them in place. So, we formed a collaboration and worked under her leadership to create this program. That was different. Usually, continuing studies directs its own activities and is insulated from the activities of the rest of the institution. We did have to work out a few things, because the system wasn’t built to facilitate collaboration between continuing studies and academic departments (e.g., we had to figure out how to transfer funds between departments). Overall, it was nice to make connections and work alongside colleagues at our institution.”

Top Tips from CapU

  1. Budget for a project manager. FILMBA, and similar programs that enlist the help of multiple stakeholders, require the coordination of many people and resources to make them a reality. A project manager is a critical resource to budget for when developing multi-stakeholder micro-credentials.
  2. Budget for an instructional designer. Micro-credentials often rely on subject matter experts to develop and teach a program. While experts in their field, they may not have requisite educational experience or knowledge. An instructional designer can help non-educators create effective, high-quality curriculum. Factor the work of an instructional designer into the budget. Note that many instructional designers are effective project managers, so the two roles could be performed by the same person.
  3. Budget for a teaching assistant. In programs like FILMBA, which consist of individual workshops facilitated by different subject matter experts, it is important to add an educator to the project who will provide continuity for the learners. This person can develop relationships with learners, answer questions about the program, and point out connections between the various workshops. This ensures that the program is coherent and provides connection for the learners.
  4. Clarify roles and responsibilities. As in any team-based project, establishing well-defined roles and responsibilities for each team member is essential. This may be particularly important in roles that involve instructional designers working in collaboration with faculty, as some faculty may not have prior experience working with a curriculum expert and may be unclear about the division of labour between themselves and the instructional designer.

RRU’s Transformation of Existing Courses into Micro-credentials

Zoë MacLeod is associate vice president of professional and continuing studies at Royal Roads University (RRU). In partnership with CanAdapt, her unit developed the micro-credential in Climate Adaptation Fundamentals. Below, she shares how she was able to repurpose existing curriculum to rapidly create a new, rigorous micro-credential.


How did this micro-credential get its start?

“It begins with the Adaptation Learning Network (ALN) (now CanAdapt), led by Robin Cox, professor and director of the Resilience by Design Lab at Royal Roads University. ALN was a climate-adaptation capacity-building project funded by Natural Resources Canada, the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and the B.C. Ministry of Post-secondary Education and Future Skills. The ALN project included consultation with national and international climate adaptation experts to produce a climate adaptation competency framework that describes the knowledge and skillset needed by professionals in diverse fields to engage in climate change adaptation. Using these competencies as a guide for developing both learning outcomes and content domains, the ALN team worked with six B.C. universities to design and deliver 11 professional development courses. RRU was one of these institutions. Climate change curriculum is an area of strength for RRU, so it was natural that experts in our institution designed some of these courses.

“Then the Ministry’s call for proposals to fund pilot micro-credentials came out. That’s when my unit, professional and continuing studies, became involved. It was clear from the call for proposals that the province was interested in pathways from non-credit to credit programs.”

How did you structure the micro-credential?

“We set about exploring how to transform what we already had developed as stand-alone courses for working professionals into a multi-course micro-credential. For that, we referred back to the climate adaptation competency framework. Aligning a micro-credential’s learning outcomes to a recognized competency framework is emerging as a key characteristic of micro-credentials in Canada and internationally.

“When we did this, we realized that what we needed to do was to expose learners to two foundational areas of knowledge: fundamentals of climate adaptation, and Indigenous perspectives and knowledge on climate change. These became the two core courses in our micro-credential. We had some content on these topics in existing courses, but mostly these courses had to be developed from scratch.

“We also wanted to give learners the opportunity to explore areas of interest and decided that they could pick two electives as part of their micro-credential. Many of the existing courses could be retrofitted for this purpose. We used the content, reworked them a bit, and included assessments, since that is a distinction between stand-alone professional development courses and micro-credentials.

“Together, the two required courses plus an additional two courses on topics relevant to the learner’s needs help learners acquire the competencies listed in the climate adaptation competency framework.”

What was the process of designing assessments for this micro-credential?

“Each of the climate adaptation courses created as part of the ALN project was online, non-credit, and provided about 20 hours of instruction. None of the courses were designed with embedded assessment activities to validate the competencies developed through the learning experience. That was something we had to add.

“We examined different ways of assessing the competencies of the competency framework throughout the micro-credential. For example, we considered whether each of the four courses in the micro-credential needed to have its own assessment, or whether the micro-credential as a whole could have an assessment. For this micro-credential, since it was foundational training, we decided that the best option was to assess learners in each course. However, the idea of assessing learners outside of individual courses, to encourage learners to integrate learning across courses, is something that we are interested in pursuing in future micro-credentials.

“The other thing we considered was the most suitable assessment format. For this micro-credential, tests were not suitable. While tests might be a good way to demonstrate technical competencies, our courses were in the area of social sciences. It was more about demonstrating that learners understood the content. We worked with employers and professional associations to assure that the assessments were relevant to them. We built in applied assessments where learners are asked to use what they learned in the course and apply it in their work. For example, they might develop an action plan for their organization. There were also a few case studies.”

Will you be reproducing this model (or adapting existing curriculum) to create new micro-credentials?

“Yes. We recently partnered with the Climate Risk Institute (CRI), a non-profit organization that delivers training on climate risk assessment, adaptation planning, and adaptation policy. They have years of experience in offering professional development training in this field and access to subject matter experts in climate adaptation. They want to reach a broader audience, and RRU can help them do that. RRU will use its instructional design expertise to transform CRI’s training into robust online courses, and that includes adding assessments. This is another example of not reinventing the wheel — we are taking the training content they already have, adding rigorous assessments, and offering it as high-quality professional development training.”

Adding assessment in a program opens up the possibility of laddering into other education. Are you capitalizing on this?

“The micro-credential in Climate Adaptation Fundamentals requires learners to engage in about 100 hours of work. That’s equivalent to a three-credit course at RRU. We have worked out an agreement where, upon successful completion of the micro-credential, the program can be used as one course (three credits) in the Master of Arts in Climate Action Leadership. It makes this master’s program more accessible for those who gained an appetite for this topic through the micro-credential.

“The other thing that we have been thinking about is that assessing learners outside of individual courses in a program opens a pathway linking non-credit and credit programs. For example, say a learner is completing a non-credit program composed of several non-assessed courses, and they are interested in continuing on at RRU in a credit program. As one of their electives, they might take a course where they work with an adviser to create a portfolio that captures and demonstrates their learning in the program. I should note that there should be some flexibility in how knowledge is demonstrated — it could be a portfolio, but it might also be a conversation with the instructor, or a paper, or a presentation — it just has to be a documented demonstration of learning. We might call this an ‘integrated assessment,’ and this assessment can be used as a form of prior learning and assessment recognition (PLAR) to ladder into an academic, credit-based program. This idea of including out-of-course assessment might have more than one use….”

Top Tips from RRU

  1. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Explore whether there is existing content that could be repurposed and transformed into a micro-credential. Consider who has a piece of the puzzle already. This includes reaching out to faculty at your institution as well as partnering with outside organizations.
  2. Align the learning outcomes to a competency framework. Align the micro-credential’s learning outcomes to a recognized competency framework. This is emerging as a micro-credential best practice globally and can help with the design of assessment.
  3. Be relevant to industry. Repurposing course content, and transforming it into a micro-credential, requires a conversation with industry, employers, and professional associations. This will ensure that the selected competency framework is valid for your target audience and can help identify assessments that are recognized by industry for those competencies.
  4. Consider when to assess. Depending on the goals of the micro-credential, consider whether it is more appropriate to assess a learner at the end of each course, or whether it would be more telling of their abilities if the assessment took place upon completion of the program where they could integrate learning across several courses of the micro-credential.
  5. Build in flexibility. Be sure that the assessments, while rigorous, are flexible for adult learners and do not introduce barriers. For example, consider whether assessment should be optional, where completing the assessment leads to award of the micro-credential, and not finishing an assessment results in a letter of completion. Also consider whether a learner has the flexibility to change their mind later and have their learning recognized. Are there on-ramps or pathways they can use to have their learning assessed and recognized later, such as through an “integrated assessment” pathway?
  6. Assessment should create pathways. Assessments provide stakeholders with confidence that learners have met the intended learning outcomes or have demonstrated the target competencies. Consider how this can be leveraged to open up opportunities for learners who wish to pursue further training in this field.

VCC’s Exploration of LMS Options for Micro-credentials

Adrian Lipsett is dean of continuing studies at Vancouver Community College (VCC). The institution recently launched an Award of Achievement in Production for Animation and VFX. As part of the development of this micro-credential, his team explored a non-traditional learning management system (LMS) option.


What led you to explore an online delivery option other than your institution’s LMS?

“What sparked the comparison of different learning management systems is a questioning about our brand. We asked ourselves: what do we want to be known for in terms of online student experience. We wanted to establish quality norms. Among other things, we wanted the student experience to go very smoothly, whether they were accessing the platform on a laptop or on their mobile device. We didn’t want them to have to open a PDF file in order to access a URL that sends them to another page. We wanted to consciously manufacture that student experience into the learning platform.

“At our institution, we use Moodle. Moodle offers lots of tools, but the look and feel of certain versions do not meet the polished online experience that adult learners come to expect from our competitors. For example, I had used Thinkific as a learner in a program. I knew that it and other platforms like Udemy offer a smooth student experience.

“We did a comparison of several LMS options. We considered the student experience, number of tools, and pricing. We ended up giving Thinkific a try as part of a pilot.”

What has been your experience so far?

“The student experience has been great! Students get their account and they just move through the online curriculum in an effortless manner. It’s intuitive and it looks like a polished product. Students participate in discussions using a simple but effective tool. Whether accessed on a mobile device or a computer, it’s beautiful and seamless.

“We did a privacy impact assessment of Thinkific. To abide by privacy regulations within the scope of the pilot, we had to do student registration manually, and that turned out to be a lot of work. The platform is great for entrepreneurs who handle a small number of students and register them manually; for larger institutions, we need a more automated system. While Thinkific does offer a higher tier subscription that would enable Banner integration [Banner is VCC’s student records system], we opted for a lower tier option for budgetary reasons.

“Another thing to think about is that the scope of assessments is limited. The options (at least at our subscription tier) are multiple choice and true or false test items. It’s also important to note that you cannot export any materials you upload to build a course. Once you are on that platform, you are committed and cannot export it back to Moodle in a SCORM package.”

What else did you do to meet learner expectations for a quality online experience?

“We wanted to integrate some professionally produced videos into the course. The videos were mostly interviews with key industry players that show the workplace. It is expensive. We budgeted several thousand dollars for a few three-minute videos. That money goes toward a video crew that is booked for the whole day; they bring equipment like a microphone, tripod, and front and back light, and of course the video camera. They shot a ton of footage, edited it, submitted it for our review, did more edits, and we got the final product. The video turned out awesome and students have noted as much.

“The talent at the companies donated their time to be interviewed. They let us film in their workplace. Our students got to see what it was really like to work at these places.

“Many public post-secondary institutions have in-house services for this type of video work, but they often do not have the capacity to do it. We want to see our competition as LinkedIn Learning, where this quality of video is the norm. If students are going online to learn, their experience cannot just be words and click-through, click-through, click-through. Students need to readily see value built into the LMS.”

Top Tips from VCC

  1. Choose an LMS that creates a smooth online learning experience. Many of the LMS used in post-secondary institutions offer powerful tools with customization options. However, they are rarely as user friendly as online professional development training platforms that students are familiar with such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and Udemy. Consider how to deliver a seamless online experience for learners, regardless of how they access the course content (i.e., on a laptop or a mobile device).
  2. Pick a platform that allows you to retain control over your content. Try out various platforms to assess their strengths and weaknesses. However, it is important that the online course can be easily exported to another platform, in the event you choose to change platforms. Be sure to include this feature as one of the criteria when comparing different LMS options.
  3. Choose a platform that integrates with your systems. Post-secondary institutions can process a large number of student registrations for a course. While it may be possible to register students manually in the LMS, consider options that integrate with your system or find ways to automate the registration process.
  4. Create an online experience brand. For each program, think of the online experience that you want students to have. What will students associate with your brand through this experience? Start by defining your brand and then integrate it consistently throughout the online course.
  5. Consider professionally produced videos. Some online course providers use professionally produced videos. Students come to expect this sort of quality product in their online courses. Consider whether videos would support the learning and whether production value is an important element of your brand and of student expectations. If you decide to create professional videos, be sure to allocate sufficient budget for their production.


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BCcampus Micro-credential Toolkit for B.C. Copyright © by Annie Prud'homme-Généreux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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