Monday, April 4, 2022

Micro-Credentials are having their Napster Moment

Image of a mixtape with handwritten label: Skills, competencies and Things I've learned


Micro-Credentials are having their Napster Moment

Micro-credentials offer important ways to give educational options to people – those that are reskilling or upskilling, or learning about a new topic of interest. 

Moving forward through the rearview mirror

Micro-credentials are disrupting traditional forms of education. 

Micro-credentials are not necessarily new. 

What is new is how micro-credentials are part of a wider cultural movement toward more granular forms of disaggregation as applied to learning.

Lessons on disruption from the music industry

In the early days of the internet, Napster emerged as a pirating website that incentivized a more atomic model of music consumption. Where you previously had to buy an album if you liked a song on it, post-Napster you could access individual songs. This disrupted the music industry significantly as it called into question many aspects of control over who has the right to say how music is consumed. Music was collected and released on albums, though the 45” single is perhaps the micro-credential version of traditional music. Regardless, initial monetization of this model by the music industry included Digital Rights Management (DRM), which failed. 

Then came iTunes and the ability to buy a song for $.99, followed by other streaming services – Rdio, Pandora, Spotify et al.  The disaggregation of the macro music monopoly was complete. 

The future of music was micro. Fast forward to now, and most music is streamed.

Meso: The mixtape as metaphor

The middle, mediating ground here is the mixtape. Music lovers would take songs from various albums and curate these into personalized collections. Napster built on the curatorial context of the mixtape, and presaged streaming, which is a mixtape at scale, enabled by digital technology. 

Micro-credentials, as part of a history of education, help people demonstrate their learning history but more importantly refer to the skills and competencies they have acquired. Micro-credentials can be bundled into larger curated credential/competency demonstrations. In this case, a learner’s digital credential wallet or passport is like a mixtape. The validation of their skills is this mixtape being played and heard.

Macro: Impacts on skills and education

Micro-credentials are to traditional forms of education what streaming is to music now. This is change, and it is disruption, but it is centred on the learner. 

This moment of micro-credentials means it is time to make space for new forms of learning that are agile and flexible.






Les micro-crédits ont leur moment Napster

Les microcrédits présentent des options éducatives significatives pour les personnes qui se recyclent, qui se perfectionnent ou qui cherchent à se renseigner sur un sujet d'intérêt. 

Les micro-crédits bouleversent les formes traditionnelles d'éducation.

Les micro-crédits ne sont pas nécessairement nouveaux.

Ce qui est nouveau, c'est la façon dont les microcrédits participent à un mouvement culturel plus large, vers des formes de désagrégation utilitaires appliquées à l'apprentissage.

Les leçons de l'industrie de la musique en matière de perturbation

Au tout début d'Internet, Napster est apparu comme un site de piratage qui a encouragé un modèle de consommation musicale plus ciblé. Alors qu'auparavant il fallait acheter un album si on aimait une chanson, avec Napster on pouvait accéder aux seules chansons souhaitées. 

Cette évolution a considérablement perturbé l'industrie musicale, car elle a remis en question de nombreux aspects du contrôle de la consommation musicale. 

À l’époque, la musique était réunie et publiée sur des albums, malgré que le 45 tours pouvait en être considéré comme la version microcréditée. Quoi qu'il en soit, la monétisation initiale de ce modèle par l'industrie de la musique intégrait la gestion des droits numériques (DRM), une approche qui a échouée. 

Puis iTunes et la possibilité d'acheter une chanson pour 0,99 $ sont arrivés, suivis par d'autres services de streaming - Rdio, Pandora, Spotify et autres. La désagrégation du macro-monopole de la musique était terminée. 

L'avenir de la musique se profilait à travers l’offre ciblée des pièces voulues. Aujourd'hui, on constate que la majorité de la musique est ruisselée précisément et sur demande.

Méso : la liste d’écoute comme métaphore

Les listes d’écoute se sont rapidement imposées comme solution intermédiaire. Les amateurs de musique prenaient des chansons de différents albums et les conservaient dans des collections personnalisées. Napster s'est appuyé sur le contexte de conservation de la liste d’écoute et a conçu l’idée du streaming, le ruissellement qui est une liste d’écoute à grande échelle rendue possible par le numérique. 

Les microcrédits appartiennent maintenant à l'histoire de l'éducation. Ils aident les gens à démontrer leur parcours d'apprentissage, mais surtout à référer aux aptitudes et aux compétences qu'ils ont acquises. Les microcrédits peuvent être regroupés dans des démonstrations plus larges de crédits et de compétences. Dans ce cas, le portefolio ou le passeport numérique d'un apprenant est comme une liste d’écoute. La validation des compétences d’un individu consiste à faire la lecture de cette liste d’écoute particulière, faite de crédits et de compétences.

Macro : Impacts sur les compétences et l'éducation

Les micro-crédits sont donc aux formes traditionnelles d'éducation ce que le streaming est à la musique aujourd'hui. Il s'agit d'une perturbation qui est centrée sur l'apprenant.

Cet avènement des micro-crédits constitue un moment particulier dans l’évolution de l’éducation, indiquant qu’est venu le temps de faire place à de nouvelles formes d'apprentissage, plus agiles et plus flexibles.


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Some missing links in the discussion on innovation

Much digital ink has been spilt over the nascent Canadian version of the storied DARPA, including a good overview by Alex Usher today. Usher rightfully points out some dissonance in the focus on disruptive versus incremental innovation; this incidentally confuses the difference between invention (new to the world) and innovation (new to a market). He also questions the focus on product innovation over process innovation, but misses marketing and organizational innovation. But his point is sound: “simply adopting big-country solutions is unlikely to help us overcome them.” 

In thinking this through there are two key points that are missed here and elsewhere (see for example this piece in the Logic). The first is the importance of private+public partnerships for R&D, and the second is a focus on demand-driven innovation. I would add a third here, which is the turn (finally) in Canada to a focus on the entire spectrum of R&D, and here I mean TRLs 1-9. More on this below.

Private+public partnerships for R&D (what I’ve elsewhere called P3RD) are essential for ensuring intellectual property (IP) generated in our world leading public research universities gets to markets. These partnerships are also essential for helping businesses to perform R&D and to innovate more broadly. Not only do research partnerships with higher education institutions helps companies to conduct R&D they might not otherwise do, they also give students valuable work integrated learning opportunities. This results in innovation literacy: “the ability to think creatively, evaluate, and apply problem-solving skills to diverse and intangible issues within industrial problems and multidisciplinary contexts.

Demand-driven innovation is the opposite of what Canada has focused on in terms of Science and Technology policy. That is, we invest more per capita than most every other OECD country in publicly funded research, but we lag on business investment in research and commercialization. Read the CCA Report on Science and Technology – it is a comprehensive overview of the particular values, strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian research to innovation ecosystem. 

According to the Horizontal Review on business innovation and clean technology (2018) – which while 4 years old is still a good barometer of S&T policy – most business facing R&D support is for early stage effort (what the OECD Frascati Manual calls Basic Research). The Horizontal Review further outlines the following:

  • Only 78% of support is focused on traditional product and process innovation and formal R&D
  • Less than half of funding is directed to firms that are in a growth stage, and
  • Only 8% support goes towards productivity enhancing technology adoption.

A focus on technology only (product innovation) disadvantages inclusive innovation, especially in the world of intangibles, a point made very clear by Ontario’s Expert Panel on Intellectual Property

As Alex Usher points out, according to Mazzucato the private sector does not generally invest in early stage research. And the public sector is not historically motivated to carry forward commercialization, preferring to publish results rather than commercializing them (though this is changing).

Most academic research is basic research – very little is applied research and hardly any is experimental development. This continuum matters. A lot:

The continuum from basic and applied research through to experimental development constitutes the types of activities that make up the innovation carrying capacity of national economies: the ability to proactively create value from public investments in basic research by fostering private sector receptivity and engagement to the public S&T systems.

Only 20,000 – 2% - of Canadian companies file SR&ED claims, the most reliable indicator we have for firms that conduct R&D activities, which are essential for innovating products and services for global markets. This is down from 25,000 a half decade ago. This may be only .5% of companies overall, but it represents a 20% drop in SR&ED filers. SR&ED is also down from 4 billion to 3 billion annually. This is not a good indicator for Canadian innovation. We can take from this the stark reality that not enough companies do R&D, and those who may be unsure if they want to conduct R&D have little or no incentive to start.

And this gets me back to the point missed by Usher and others. The discussion around a Canadian DARPA is worthwhile as it gets us into the mindset of developing challenge-based research capabilities. It socializes the idea that private+public partnerships for R&D is a good thing (this is the key DARPA model, along with limited time and funding). It puts us into the mindset that demand-driven research and innovation challenges are the right thing to do – to orient the best and brightest capabilities we have in our higher education institutions to address key challenges, be these health, environmental, social, or economic. 

The good news is that there are many working in this space. Check out OCI and Mitacs, who fund excellent programs that engage colleges and universities in all forms of research. Check out the good work happening at Communitech and their focus on “True North - solving Canadian problems with Canadian Innovation.” And check out how eCampusOntario is helping our 50 member institutions create research partnerships through a unique demand-driven innovation platform piloted with the City of Toronto

Working together we can mobilize the latent R&D capacity in our higher education institutions to increase the numbers of firms doing R&D with explicit reach out to those firms currently not innovating. Together we can aid the economic recovery and growth with Ontario-made innovation. Research partnerships have broad application and net benefits to our social and economic prosperity, supporting:

  • Commercial Innovation via industry-sponsored R&D and commercialization of University research 
  • Career opportunities for post-secondary graduates by providing relevant work experience and building their professional networks
  • IP and Innovation Literacy by integrating student experiential learning and issuing micro-credentials for project work with partners 
  • Employment and economic development by enhancing overall effectiveness of adjacent R&D for programs by providing a common entry point for Ontario businesses.

CARPA or no, the discussion around demand-driven innovation and research partnerships is right-headed. Not only that, but these are essential for competing in the global innovation economy. 


Post-Script: The Continuum of Research

I’ve written many times about this and why it matters. Developing the capacity and contribution for the span of R&D – from basic to applied research through to experimental development – is key to enacting intentional innovation. 


An excellent graphic from the CCA Report Competing in a Global Innovation Economy that describes the links between R&D, Innovation and Wealth Creation. 


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Innovation and Intellectual Property Rights

Over the break I read Innovation in Real Places by @dbreznitz - great overview on the need for local adaptations on innovation policy (more to come on this including how eCampusOntario is helping our sector to support private+public research and development partnerships).

But I wanted to point out the bit below on the need for regions to #BeSmarter on #intellectualproperty and #intellectualpropertyrights. This is exactly why we are supporting a call for proposals to develop an advanced curriculum course focused on intellectual property (IP) to support the implementation of the Government of Ontario’s Intellectual Property Action Plan. Read more here.

The Advanced IP Curriculum program will ensure that the Ontario innovation "community members are highly IPR-educated" and will be "the savviest IPR strategists."

Download the Advanced IP Curriculum Call for Proposals and register for the technical briefing on the program - being held January 11, 2022  -12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. ET.

Let's work together to build on Ontario's world-leading research excellence and flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Together we can ensure Ontario's innovators can #BeSmarter on #intellectualpropertyrights. Our future prosperity depends on this. 



quotation from Dan Breznitz's Innovation in Real Places book on the importance of regions to educate people on intellectual property rights


Friday, September 17, 2021

Enabling Innovation from Idea to Impact

Here is an excellent article on innovation by Dan Breznitz and Daniel Trefler (paywall alert). In it, they correctly state the clear difference between invention and innovation. Canada is good at the former but lags at the latter. Where Canada lags is in what I've earlier called the transit of Intellectual Property (IP) - how to we manage the process to go from idea to invoice. This is about enabling innovation through public+private R&D partnerships. It is about being intentional about supporting the development of ideas through applied research and experimental development, two key areas of research, the latter of which is very often is overlooked.

The Ontario IP Action Plan is putting place needed resources to help disambiguate the distinction between invention and innovation, and to ensure that we have an economy of IP and innovation literate population skilled in all aspects of the continuum of R&D. This is a core plank in the system.

I have elsewhere outlined some work on Capacity and Contribution for Intentional Innovation, where we articulate the connections and the continuum from idea to invoice. A logic model depicting how we might start to think about how partners can enable intentional innovation is below. This is one way to start thinking about how we can scaffold research performers in the public and private sectors to play to their strengths and support inventions to achieve impact.

Here is an example of this in action, using the eCampuOntario platform mission model to put in place engagement models, and support partnerships for transformative effect:

Last year we piloted a model with the City of Toronto that connected City research needs with Toronto area colleges and universities. We worked with our research funding partners at Mitacs, OCI, NRC-IRAP, Magnet and SOSCIP to fast track the process. This successful model for municipal innovation is now a permanent feature of the City, as announced by Mayor Tory last November. The success of this was entirely because of the joint effort of a dedicated group of professionals who came together to make this happen.

And we're not done yet. Watch this space for more to come on platforms that enable innovation, from idea to impact


Research-Innovation: Capacity & Contribution Logic Model


Monday, August 9, 2021

Platform Mission Model

The eCampusOntario strategic framework is an integrated approach to providing the sector with the tools, resources and engagement needed for excellence in virtual learning and support for sector transformation. We are supporting the Ontario postsecondary education sector with a platform mission model that will lead to sustained and significant change in Ontario PSE. Our platform mission model is comprised of three components:

  • Transmission: Access to systems and shared services 
  • Transaction: Opportunity for engagement, collaboration and partnerships
  • Transformation: Vision and driving sector transformation to realize global leadership 

The eCampusOntario Platform Model is comprised of three interrelated components: 1.Transmission - Access to systems and shared services; 2. Transaction: Opportunity for engagement, collaboration and partnerships; 3. Transformation: Vision and driving sector transformation to realize global leadership


The eCampusOntario platform mission model accounts for the sudden and enormous shift in post-secondary education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also considers the longer-term evolution of virtual learning. 

Fundamentally, we are creating, in collaboration with our member institutions, the necessary learner and educator supports to foster rich, humanized, inclusive and successful educational experiences within the realm of virtual learning. In practice this means developing new programs, frameworks, services and support systems – our platforms – that address sector-wide challenges and provide creative opportunities for addressing these challenges. 

eCampusOntario’s central role and ‘honest broker’ status means we are extremely well positioned to lead and coordinate the development of these platforms for the benefit of all Ontarians.


Monday, May 17, 2021

The Virtual Learning Strategy Funds PSE Innovation

eCampusOntario is excited to be part of today's announcement about the Virtual Learning Strategy (VLS). The VLS is helping to chart a new path in postsecondary education at a time when online education has become so critically important.

Through our work together, our sector is preparing Ontario postsecondary institutions not just to succeed now, but also for the future. This investment is accelerating the transition from Emergency Remote Teaching that we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, to a future of high quality, purposeful digital learning that will ensure learners have access to education anytime, from anywhere. 

This important transition requires innovation and curriculum that is digital by design. This means designing for the 21st century learner and ensuring that content and community are accessible to all Ontarians, wherever they are, and whenever they want to learn. 

The future of learning is about supporting options for learners. Whether this be fully online or hybrid, and we want each semester to be the best one yet. 

The Virtual Learning Strategy enables lifelong learning so that learners can meet the needs of our rapidly evolving labour market at any stage of their careers. This means building digital fluency and the ability to navigate a digital learning and teaching environment. 

For the future of learning is the future of work. And that future is now.

We are collectively poised to help prepare Ontario for the next phase of virtual learning where what was born out of necessity now becomes an advantage.

eCampusOntario looks forward to working with Ontario’s Indigenous institutes, colleges, and universities and our partners over the coming months to create what will become an unprecedented wealth of virtual learning content. 

Check out vls.ecampusontario.ca and have a look at the almost 400 projects that have been funded to date under the Virtual Learning Strategy. You will find:

  • Innovative approaches to support our faculty and our learners and their success in digital learning;
  • Investments in the Digital Capacity of our Indigenous institutes, colleges and universities to create meaningful online learning;
  • Support for partnerships with Ontario educational technology companies to help them achieve the pedagogical proof points for their solutions to realize global markets; 
  • Digital Content that is using virtual reality and simulation for teaching complex skills in critical areas of the economy like healthcare and engineering; 
  • Wrap around supports for supporting Digital Fluency for diversity and inclusion, and student and faculty mental health; 
  • Content to teach Ontario students about Entrepreneurship, including Indigenous and Black Youth Entrepreneurship, and an Entrepreneurship for Creatives Micro-credential Program. These are great links to the provincial Intellectual Property Action Plan
  • Courses on Indigenous knowledge and language, and support for Francophone learners across Ontario; 
  • and Collaborative efforts to market Ontario postsecondary education as a destination, to the world. 

And there is more to come: Digital Delivery supports for system software licenses leveraging a collaborative common license; and ongoing Digital Capacity supports through the eCampusOntario Central Virtual Learning Platform to help our institutions continue to build best in class digital learning.

As we strengthen Ontario’s reputation as a global leader and testbed for innovation in teaching and learning, we also expand access for Ontario’s institutions to the global marketplace. In supporting our growing education technology sector here at home, we are sending the message: Buy Local. Think Global. 

When we support Ontario educational technology, whether this is emerging from our innovative faculty or our colleagues in industry, we are supporting excellence in teaching and learning. We are supporting the future of learning for Ontario. 

This generous funding from the Ministry could not come at a more opportune moment to provide new and innovative ways for Ontarians to access the education and training they need for jobs in the pandemic and post-pandemic economies.

The Virtual Learning Strategy has brought our sector together, to collaborate on the future of learning, for all learners.

We at eCampusOntario look forward to the considerable benefit that Ontario’s learners will gain from this important work.


Image of the Virtual Learning Strategy Project Results Lookbook






Monday, March 1, 2021

Micro-credentials: Education with no wrong door, no dead end

Friday saw over 530 people gather for the fourth annual eCampusOntario Micro-Credential Forum

This year’s Forum theme, Opening Doors for all Learners, featured a series of cross-sector conversations and perspectives focused on the voice of the learner. Our goal was to explore how we can support a flexible and accessible micro-credential ecosystem that ensures education access and opportunity for those in any stage of learning.


Micro-credentials offer “bite-sized” learning – stackable, short-duration, lower-cost, and adaptable learning that breaks down obstacles and improves access to education for all. A more detailed description is as follows:

A flexible and granular form of postsecondary education training of specific skills and competencies that are developed and offered in a partnership between one or more postsecondary institutions and one or more employers, that may be tailored towards a specific need or may be stackable together, tracking towards a larger recognized credential or certificate.

The day was kicked off with a welcome message from eCampusOntario Board Co-Chairs, Dr. Ann Marie Vaughan, President and CEO of Loyalist College and Dr. Steven Murphy, President & Vice-Chancellor of Ontario Tech University, and the Honourable Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities. 

Minister Romano emphasized that micro-credentials are evolving but here to stay, and they must be stackable and trackable: focusing on recognizable skill & knowledge development that tracks and building toward other credentials. They must meet the needs of Ontario learners and industry. Minister Romano outlined how micro-credentials offer lifelong learning opportunities for Ontarians who need to retrain and upskill, and allow lifelong learning to be delivered in ways that are realistic for those who need it, such as mid-career workers: where and when they need it, outside of the traditional 2 & 4 year fulltime enrolment model.

Some highlights of the day:

  • A panel of learners started the day and articulated how micro-credentials offer important ways to demonstrate their job-ready skills and versatile access to education. 
  • This was followed by an industry perspective panel in which discussion focused on the importance of education that is responsive to the labour market and how micro-credentials create value for lifelong learning and labour mobility. In creating micro-credentials and educational pathways we need to be intentional about not creating any ‘dead ends’ – this is the stackable component that enables learners to continually build on their skills and competencies. 
  • Representatives from Indigenous institutes, colleges and universities outlined the need for transparent connection points across the ecosystem. In this new realm of education, learners are curators of their experience; educators are stewards of that experience. 
  • The faculty perspective emphasized the role of contextual knowledge and the need to provide education that is both transactional and transformational. 
  • An overview of research that eCampusOntario is conducting with the Diversity Institute unpacked what unbundling might look like vis-à-vis our traditional structure of diplomas and degrees. In looking at this we need to dislocate ourselves from the past in order to allow ourselves to visualize what education could be in the future.
  • An overview of connected systems and the policy landscape featured panelists outlining the competency approach to education and reinforcing how micro-credentials enable access: there can be different entry points to learning.
  • The final panel on Equity, Access and Lifelong Learning emphasized the disruptive nature of the moment that micro-credentials are ushering in, and the importance of Open credentials, open frameworks, and open recognition.

Over the past four years, eCampusOntario has funded 36 pilots and developed a Micro-credential Framework – a nimble skills recognition model that supports the development of verifiable, labour market relevant micro-credentials that support lifelong learning.

Micro-credentials will be essential in the post-pandemic effort to retrain and support displaced workers, and to sustain the dramatically changing needs of Ontario industry.

What has struck me most about the multiple perspectives that were shared is the sense of shared interests, and our capacity to work together to build educational options. Whether micro-credentials are delivered online or in person, the future needs to be about access and options.  Learners need access to education that leads to meaningful lives and full social and economic participation in society. Learners need the option to pursue learning when and where they need or want to. To have access to learning that recognizes and builds on what they know. To be able to choose learning opportunities that will help prepare them for what will come next.

The necessity of today is the potential of tomorrow: Education for access, equity, and opportunity.


Head on over to micro.ecampusontario.ca for more information on our framework, the pilots, and our ongoing research. And check out our video: Micro-credentials: Opening Doors for all learners.