Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Expanding the Scope of Postsecondary Education

Where, when, with whom and what we learn is changing

Here are a handful of education trends worth watching as we embark on the new calendar year:

Digital First Design.

Today’s learners are digital first. Meeting the evolving learner needs means providing effective and high-quality digital experiences in all aspects of higher education, with programs that are career-focused and that support job-readiness.

Our postsecondary education system was designed to support learners coming from secondary school. These are now the minority of learners when you consider the system as a whole. The non-traditional student is now the norm. With Canada enjoying one of the highest tertiary education attainment rates in the OECD the majority of learners are now returning to education to upgrade skills and competencies in support of career and wider lifestyle engagement. As outlined in the (excellent) CDLRA’s 2023 Pan-Canadian Report on Digital Learning Trends in Canadian Post-Secondary Education, all learners expect greater digital by design learning options. These options render extensible learning location: online, hybrid and fully face to face – all oriented to supporting skills and competency acquisition. These options also reinforce the importance of digital transformation: using technology to empower trailblazers, improve learner experiences, strengthen resilience to sustain growth across the sector and prepare the workforce of the future to thrive.

Competency over content. 

And speaking of competencies, 2024 will mark increasing progress of competency over content. Higher education as we know it today is largely based on learning content. Vocational programs in professional faculties (medicine, law, skilled trades) focus on developing competencies, but generally speaking our model of higher education produces content experts based on programs of study (majors). The focus on skills that has arisen the past two decades has slowly disrupted this; the advent of generative AI has accelerated this disruption. In a world where Artificial Intelligence helps mobilize the widespread public availability of content (with many downsides given baked-in biases in this public content) we will see a renewed focus on competencies emerge. These competencies may well be in the effective use of AI, but themselves will be AI-proof. And by making content more context-aware, AI provides the scaffolding to support learning by doing at scale. Work integrated learning is the best fulcrum for learning competencies and legitimate peripheral participation in communities of professional practice. 

Missions not majors. 

Content knowledge is still going to be important even as we shift more to focusing on competencies. It is the operationalization of content that is key, and this will be important as we support a much greater emphasis on mission-oriented education instead of focusing on majoring in subject areas. Think learning ecosystems linked by shared values that enable learners to obtain credentials in a subject area that is defined by a social or economic purpose versus the content area itself. We already have this in the form of entrepreneurship education, where learners can stand up their own social venture or company as part of business school curricula. But it will become increasingly common, particularly as new generations of (re)learners seek to participate in addressing social, cultural and economic priorities such as climate change through social purpose and business incubation. Significantly, this trend helps to promote the increased porosity of postsecondary education institutions, for work integrated learning and research partnerships. This is part of a broader embrace of demand-driven innovation across the postsecondary environment. 

Micro- and bespoke credentials

Commensurate with an increased focus on competencies and the mission-oriented education model sketched above is the continued growth of micro-credentials, including stackable micro-credentials that cohere into larger credentials over time. This includes innovative pathways for credential completion and support for lifelong learning comprised of fast-track educational pathways in areas of critical need for the economy (healthcare, AI/ML, automotive innovation, climate change mitigation, entrepreneurship). Features of this theme include: employer partnerships; easy credit transfer and stackability of micro-credentials into degrees comprised of courses from any participating institution; newcomer credential recognition and scaffolding into Ontario credentials; digital access to a suite of supports, skills transcripts and industry engagement. À la carte curriculum journeys will enable broader engagement with education contiguous with personal career management. Providing the tools to do this will support social and economic resilience. eCampusOntario is supporting the development of AI tools that enable learners to identify competencies obtained via content-oriented credentials, figure out gaps in career mapping, and find micro-credentials to scaffold these gaps. 

Subscription models of education.

The economics of postsecondary education are under significant pressure. The mission of higher education – creating informed citizens capable of navigating increasingly complexity – is more important than ever before. 

The business model of education is evolving to meet the current and future social, economic and cultural demands of society. Some will decry focusing on the economics or using terms like business models in education, but the reality is that educational institutions must balance public funding, public missions and mandates, the need to embrace digital transformation and the reality of meeting rising costs. The trends outlined above are part of this evolution. The evolution of subscription models as applied to education will mark a significant step forward in helping institutions realize new and different models of educational delivery with revenue diversified streams.

It is fair to say that majority of people today stream music, movies and other media. I read various news sources to which I subscribe. Doing so lowers the per item cost and provides the media organizations with (relatively predictable) recurring revenue. Subscription models make sense.

Applying subscription models to education takes advantage of the evolution of micro-credentials that disaggregate learning into more discrete bits that scaffold learner engagement over time. More people need to access higher education in ways that better fit their lives with family care obligations, working, and lifestyle considerations that complicate the ability to spend 2 or 4 years dedicated to full time study. This is still important, but not the norm going forward. By providing subscriptions to education our institutions can help frame lifelong learning within current contexts and paradigms of curation and consumption while fostering affective investment in learning itself. These models are effective for companies – large and small – seeking to future proof their workforces, as well as for individual learners seeking to grown and manage their careers. Engagement of alumni networks is one simple step to realizing the value of subscription models for lifelong learning. 

Disruption, digital by design.

Education in the digital by design era is going from anywhere, any time, to everywhere, all the time. Disruption is ubiquitous. Higher education is increasingly focusing more on experiential and work integrated learning, and on more bespoke educational paths and credentials. Experiential and work integrated learning can be aided by AI that can also help us make better sense of the competencies we gain from our content-based curricula by analyzing what we learn and how the credentials we confer also infer competencies. We can help learners to make sense of what they learned, but also what they learned how to do.

Dx and Strategic Foresight: innovation you can implement.

As technological, social and contextual changes emerge higher education is embracing Digital Transformation to more fluidly engage with learners. You can learn more about how eCampusOntario supports the Six Dimensions of Digital Transformation with our Digital Transformation Guides:

Explore digital futures: Co-design the future of education with Strategic Foresight.

Empower digital leaders: Engage academic teams with professional development.

Investigate digital technologies: Discover, Pilot, Review, and Adopt educational technologies.

Find strategic partners: Build capacity with partners and access new networks.

Expand Open Education: Adapt, Adopt, and Create Open Educational Resources.

Develop tomorrow’s workforce: Align new programs to labour market demands.

Stop by our Strategic Foresight practice to tap into the wealth of knowledge included in the excellent series of Foresight reports: tools to support the navigation of uncertain and complex futures. 

Reach out to engage and learn with us. 


Saturday, November 4, 2023

Generation AI and Humans in the Loop of Learning

This year’s edition of eCampusOntario’s Technology and Education Seminar and Showcase -- #TESS2023 – was another huge success. It is at TESS that we convene the postsecondary education sector and all its stakeholders to focus on the co-creation of the province’s digital learning ecosystem.

We were grateful to once again have Elder Whabagoon provide our conference with a moving context for opening and closing the discussions.

At the outset of TESS2023 we heard from OntarioTech University president and eCampusOntario Board co-chair Steven Murphy, who asked that we think about digital and learning as essential experiences in a global context. President of Humber College and eCampusOntario Board co-chair Ann Marie Vaughan reminded us that we are the change makers, and that this requires us to lead with innovation and care. 

This year we explored the digitally empowered learner and how technology can open new doors to the knowledge and skills learners need to achieve the future they imagine. 

In supporting the digitally empowered learner, we are collectively creating not just the future of learning but the future of work. This is also the future of social interaction and the future of civic engagement. 

Supporting the digitally empowered learner is about so much more than online learning; it is about all the technologies we all use in almost every aspect of our lives. And importantly, it means ensuring that humans are at the centre of the design of technology. 

The Honourable Jill Dunlop, Ontario’s Minister of Colleges and Universities provided an inspiring message about the essential nature of digital learning, and what it means to supporting an innovative and competitive Ontario. As Minister Dunlop said, the Government sees digital learning as a key player – not a supporting character – in postsecondary education. 

Minister Dunlop is a tireless advocate for the value of postsecondary education, providing leadership and support for digital learning as an essential part of our world leading postsecondary education system. She outlined some of the ways the third round of the Virtual Learning Strategy (VLS) is continuing to support our institutions with a focus on priority areas and continuing to have a positive impact – building hybrid learning capacity. 

I think of this as sticking the landing. The historic investment of $70M in the VLS continues to have a significant impact. We conducted an economic impact analysis of the Government’s investment in digital learning. The results are clear:

For every dollar invested in virtual learning, our members receive $5 in value through our platforms and programs. This equals $650,000 annually.

Our member institutions directly benefit from eCampusOntario programs that supplement or replace activities the members either could not provide or would have to fund independently.

And learners receive over $15M in value, through services that help faculty teach and learners learn – helping Ontario compete globally. 

As Minister Dunlop mentioned, eCampusOntario is currently focused on increasing Accessibility and our collective readiness to meet the AODA. More Open Education and wider interoperability of the Open Library. And support for our Francophone learners and teachers. 

Minister Dunlop also mentioned the new Microcredentials Challenge Fund set to be launched that will enable Ontario to continue to lead in this space. I invite you to check out the latest development of the Micro-Credentials Portal. We have been working closely with the Future Skills Centre and the Conference Board of Canada to mobilize labour market information and occupation-specific data to enable smart scaffolding for learners. This means they can input their current or desired job title, and find the skills and competencies required for it, and links to programs that offer these. 

We also heard about the importance of partnerships and collaboration. This is one of the six dimensions of Digital Transformation that we are supporting. Increasing the porosity of our institutions for more public-private partnerships is resulting in more learners having access to programs, bridging to careers, while helping businesses across the province to innovate.

The opening panel featured Mary Butler, President and CEO of New Brunswick Community College (NBCC), Tricia Williams, Director of Research, Evidence and Knowledge Mobilization, Future Skills Centre and Patrick MacKenzie, CEO, Immigrant Employment Council of BC Discussing Facilitating Access to Skilled Talent: Improving Employment Outcomes for Canadian Newcomers, a program that takes a human-centred design approach to supporting labour market integration for newcomers. 

We heard from Nicole Johnson Executive Director, Canadian Digital Learning Research Association reviewed Current Digital Learning Trends – this is always a highlight as it provides us with up to date data as to the current state of digital by design learning. And Val Walker CEO, Business + Higher Education Roundtable (BHER), provided guidance on Navigating an AI-Powered Future: Perspectives from Employers and Postsecondary Leaders.

eCampusOntario team members provided insight on our many platform and programs, as well as foresight informing Artifacts in the Futures of Postsecondary Education. Our francophone team members outlined the many ways we have expanded our support for Ontario’s learners.

TESS2023 encouraged us to ask some important questions: 

  • How do we prepare our learners to be literate in the use of today’s technologies and those yet to come? 
  • How do we ensure that people have the necessary digital fluency to thrive in their careers and in society?

And perhaps more fundamentally: 

  • What is digital empowerment? 
  • What does this mean for our learners? Our institutions? 

Let’s consider artificial intelligence. Our keynote speaker on day two – Dr Bonnie Stewart, focused on preserving participatory learning experiences as a counterpoint to automated outputs. 

This is an important point. Humans – experiences and engagement – are at the centre of learning. 

Generative AI has given rise to Generation AI. Generation Alpha may include those born between 2010 and 2024, but those of us from prior generations – X, Y, Z – are also part of Generation AI: the current generation of people growing up with the use of AI.

But all of us are the humans in the loop that can and should be directing the use of AI, to ensure that the experience of learning is much more than mere access to content. 

AI is just the latest, most current and seemingly most disruptive new technology. There are many more technologies on the horizon that will continue to challenge us. Technological change has always been a fact. It is the pace of this change that is new, and accelerating. And dealing with these changes productively is why digital fluency – and digital empowerment – are so important. 

In many respects, digital fluency is the lingua franca of learning. This is about learning how to learn, and how to learn with and through any media. About learning how to learn with other people. This is empowering.

Technology is certainly useful in many situations, but we need people and engagement to support digital empowerment.

Talking and engaging with others at events like this is essential for sharing ideas and learning what works, what doesn’t, and how we can leverage our collective insights to benefit learners. 

At TESS this year we discussed learner empowerment, work integrated learning, about using AR and VR, about learning with Open Educational Resources, Artificial Intelligence and other digital learning trends. 

Throughout these discussions we kept a consistent focus on how we can promote digital fluency and digital empowerment. A focus on how we can work together to ensure that people can learn and work with any technology, that they can use any media to be an engaged learner and productive citizen. 

A focus on how we can enhance the human in the loop of learning

With a special thanks to our sponsors for this year’s TESS: CDP Communications, Crowdmark, Wooclap, Koru Coaching and Education, and VoiceEd Radio (live podcasting in the vendor showcase!). And a special thanks the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, our main funder for the event. Thank you all for your support.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Microcredentials Plus™

The world of micro-credentials continues to progress. Following this year’s successful Micro-Credential Forum eCampusOntario continues to support the further development of micro-credentials as a core component of a modernized postsecondary education system. 

Last week’s Ontario Budget emphasized Ontario’s Micro-Credential Strategy with continued investment in the Micro-Credential Challenge Fund. And work is proceeding on a Micro-Credential Quality Assurance Framework here in Ontario. 

On the eCampusOntario Micro-Credentials Portal there are over 1800 OSAP-eligible micro-credentials. Some of these may stack into further certifications. We are continuing to develop the portal and for us, finding a way to denote where stackable micro-credentials ladder into other, more macro credentials, is important. 

These MCs should be called Micro-credentials Plus™ (MC+). 

Micro-credentials Plus™ would clearly signal to the learner that the micro-credentials they are considering ladder into further learning. The plus (+) means it is an additive learning experience; it builds on the learning path one is on; it adds up to helping to learn more in a given area. 

The stackability of micro-credentials is an important avenue for developing the full potential of microlearning. 

Stackability refers to the additive potential of micro-credentials when these are used to combine or stack into larger credentials (diplomas, certificates, degrees). As we outlined in our report with the Future Skills Centre and the Diversity Institute, “Micro-credentials are not intended to replace traditional forms of higher education; rather, they are often designed to be connected to or integrated into an established post-secondary education system. This describes the characteristic of stackability” (p 13). 

Currently not all micro-credentials are stackable. This makes sense as they are still relatively new. But there are many options currently that are changing the ways in which micro-credentials can fit into the wider educational toolbox. 

Here are some examples of stackable micro-credentials: 

  • eCampusOntario has a stackable suite of micro-credentials that support faculty professional learning for digital fluency. The Ontario Extend micro-credential gives people advanced standing in the Conestoga College Certificate in Post-Secondary Teaching. 
  • Humber College and the Future Skills Centre partnered on the development of Digital Fluency Stackable Micro-credentials for the Workforce 
  • Centennial College offers options for stackable micro-credentials – not all are stackable, but where feasible they are and this is a good way to frame the role of micro-credentials for learners  
  • Four of the eCampusOntario pilot micro-credentials are stackable:  
    • OCAD University and Myant, Inc developed the stackable Human Centred Design Micro-certification, funded by eCampusOntario, was featured at this year’s Forum 
    • Ontario Tech University and their partner Lakeridge Health created a stackable micro-certification program, “Interprofessional Practice in Healthcare on Care and Safety” 
    • Sault College and Project Learning Tree Canada developed a stackable micro-credential program for various competencies related to Indigenous rights and relationship-building in the forestry sector 
    • York University and Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada created stackable micro-credentials in patient navigation. 
And while stackability is important in the continued evolution of micro-credentials, this alone is not a defining feature. Turning once more to our report The Future is Micro

Overall, we heard that for micro-credentials to reach more learners, they need to have stand-alone value outside of stackability toward a larger credential. While the option of stackability may provide learners with more choice—for example, to continue or return to a learning pathway started through a microcredential—the message was that it should not come at the expense of a micro-credential that has value on its own.  (p28)

Finally, here’s a great overview by Kevin Weaver, president of Georgian College, on 6 Common Misconceptions About Microcredentials and Stackable Credentialing

Micro-credentials Plus™can be one way to signal the potential stackability of learning. Doing so empowers learners to continue in lifelong learning. 

Friday, March 3, 2023

The Spark of Ingenuity: Empowering learners with options

The 7th annual eCampusOntario Micro-Credentials Forum – Pathways for Jobs – concluded today. Over three half days we engaged with hundreds from across Ontario, Canada and indeed the world on how micro-credentials are reshaping the face of education today. 

It was gratifying to get to spend time together as a community, to share stories, experiences and ideas; and to collaborate on a common vision for the future.

Key takeaways include:
  • Empowering learners with options is an important foundational value of micro-credentials.
  • Listening to learners and employers is essential to standing up relevant and timely programs. 
  • There are opportunities to build on the needs of learners with stacking micro-credentials and to use these to promote further engagement.
  • Providing badges and other visible ways of demonstrating completion on platforms like LinkedIn is important for promoting conspicuous contribution and employer and learner engagement. 
  • Micro-credentials support a No Wrong Door approach to education: any point of access to education and pathways for career progression. 
Calls to action:
  • Sectors such as the mobility industry – led by OVIN – have articulated a clear vision for the skills and competencies employers need., Educational institutions have an opportunity to meet these needs today.
  • More broadly there is a need for PSE to engage with employers and partners in new, more agile ways. 
  • Micro-credentials have an “iPad conundrum”: People want them but might not know what they are.
eCampusOntario is the clutch that enables many gears (employers, educators, institutions) to enact the smooth transmission of knowledge. The eCampusOntario Micro-Credentials Framework has provided the blueprint for the Canadian conception of what a micro-credential is.We have tools to construct micro-credentials, and we help broker partnerships between employers and institutions. 

We look forward to continuing to support the future of education with options for learning. 

Below is a more detailed summary:

The theme of the 2023 Micro-credentials Forum was “Pathways for Jobs.” As a frame for our discussion here are a few facts that make the focus on how micro-credentials help put people into programs and into jobs timely. 

  • Canada has the second highest level of tertiary education in the OECD. 
    • Highest in the G7 – 66.4% of our population has a tertiary credential.
  • The majority of students entering tertiary education are mature learners. 
    • The PSE system was designed for direct entry from high school. These are now the (small) minority of learners entering PSE
  • These learners will continue to access tertiary education in order to reskill, upskill and pivot their personal career paths. 
  • Indigenous and immigrant learners are the two growing demographics that will be seeking tertiary education
    • For Indigenous learners micro-credentials are important avenues of access
    • Many newcomers to Canada already possess tertiary credentials; they need fast routes to labour market participation 
  • Fundamentally, Micro-credentials support agile participation in the innovation economy and our collective ability to address key challenges in the world today
    • Climate change
    • New technology integration
    • The Intangibles economy

These are all important shifts that we are collectively responding to. These shifts all emphasize the importance of providing new forms of education, like micro-credentials, to support social, economic and cultural resilience.  

Day one featured really thoughtful presentations by Tricia Williams, PhD and Sanjeev Gill whose presentations each discussed the importance of partnerships between institutions and businesses. There was great discussion about better linking of employers and institutions and the business models of providing micro-credential continuing education, and an exemplary model of this with the RapidSkills program at Georgian College, presented by Holly Burch-Hie, Mary Johnston, and Stephannie Schlichter. eCampusOntario's Alex Hughes, PhD provided insights into the forthcoming report our Research and Foresight team is producing on learner perceptions of micro-credential wallets - stay tuned for the release of this important look into the future of digital credentials!

Our second day, held online, featured engaging presentations broadcast live from the collective studios of the eCampusOntario annual Micro-Credential Forum.

Thank you to Rowan Smith and Rebecca Jamieson from Six Nations Polytechnic for opening the day with a welcome and land acknowledgement. I greatly appreciated your opening remarks and encouraging us to open our hearts and minds to learning.  It was a great way to start the afternoon of discussions.

Thank you to the Honourable Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities | Collèges et Universités for opening remarks about the importance of micro-credentials and how Ontario is leading the country in supporting agile educational options for learners. The Ontario Micro-Credential Strategy is helping to ensure that Ontario remains a competitive jurisdiction – able to help people rapidly retrain and reskill for all sectors of the economy.

And thank you to Steven Murphy, PhD, ICD.D, co-chair of eCampusOntario and president of Ontario Tech University. Your remarks about how we are collectively rethinking traditional credentials and how micro-credentials work effectively with traditional credentials are timely as we realize this opportunity space.

We had excellent presentations from Raed Kadri and Amanda Sayers from the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network who talked about how they are putting in place the conditions for success across the spectrum of inputs to the automotive industry: mobility as a sector, enabled by technology and fuelled by a complex amalgam of people, ideas, raw elements and minerals and the know how and drive to excel, together. As Raed said, "allowing innovation to thrive" is essential, and by working together we will succeed.

Adam Hopkins and Ashley Maracle from First Nations Technical Institute provided excellent insights into linking traditional ways of knowing and learning to micro-credentials with their approach to learning bundles. They also talked about their approach to PLRR: Prior Learning Recognition and Renewal – what a great way to acknowledge the experiences and gifts folks bring to learning.

Allyson Pele from the Northwest Business Centre demonstrated not only that the scale of entrepreneurship in Ontario is really vast, but also the power of micro-credentials to spark ingenuity. Micro-credentials are pathways for jobs, but these are for the job makers - the entrepreneurs - as well as the job takers. Both are essential.

We ended the afternoon with a masterclass presentation from Melanie Gomez-Murphy and Michelle Mouton from TALENT™ (Ontario Tech Talent). Theirs was "a story about relationships" - a common theme in the development of partnerships and the importance of listening – to the needs of learners, to the needs of businesses, and the particular contexts in which people live and work.

Our third day of the 7th Annual Micro-Credential Forum was opened with an address by Deputy Minster Shannon Fuller from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. Deputy Fuller outlined how micro-credentials are helping people build the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
Everyone’s path is different and the focus on providing options for learning is important. The many components to Ontario’s Micro-Credential Strategy provide needed supports for learners, institutions and partners to access education in new ways. “We all share a commitment to everyone from all walks of life,” she noted, and “PSE does not stop at the completion of a degree or diploma.” 

Empowering learners with options is an important foundational value of micro-credentials. When micro-credentials are offered online and face to face learners benefit- this helps increase participation in education and ensures that there are opportunities for all learners to build their skills.

We heard from Evan Tapper, Director of Continuing Education at OCAD University, who spoke about the importance of industry partnerships and outlined some of the challenges around objectives, priorities and timelines. Evan focused on the important context of creative entrepreneurs and those who are participating in the gig economy. This is a really important validation of the role of micro-credentials in being pathways for jobs – the spark of ingenuity for entrepreneurship. On a related note check out this recent research by Matthias Oschinski on The Skill Utilization of Gig Workers – it is some really interesting relevant research.

Jonathan Bauer and Nadine Ogborn from RRC Polytech discussed their partnership with Skip the Dishes in their discussion Micro-credentialing for Gap Training. RRC provides education and training and pathways for additional learning. They discussed what I would call the iPad conundrum: People wanted them but didn’t necessarily know what they were. 

This is a “known known” in many respects – microcredentials are a name for something people understand well – continuing and lifelong education. There are many important concepts that accrue to the use of the term micro-credentials, so marketing and communications are important to ensure we share a common understanding of what they are and their potential. 

For micro-credentials RRC focuses on assessed learning as important to defining what a micro-credentials is. This is congruent with the eCampusOntario Micro-Credentials Framework which has provided the blueprint for the Canadian conception of what a micro-credential is. Also important is their point that digital badges provide a really concrete and visible way to demonstrate completion of the micro-credential.

A few presentations focused on supporting faculty. This included Alexandre Bekhradi, Anne-Marie Cantin and Anthony Miron from the Université de Hearst who spoke about their experience on the Co-development of a micro-credential on effective supervision for internships. They provided a great network effect model for supervising internships. 

Nicole Drake and Kathryn Brillinger from Conestoga College spoke about Using Stackable Micro-Credentials for Innovative Faculty Development. Their model is a really excellent and explicit way to ensure that all faculty are able to be content experts and expert teachers. This is such an important avenue for developing our teaching talent. 

Conestoga College is a leader in offering micro-credentials, especially as it relates to faculty development. They are a great partner in our Ontario Extend program; people who complete the full Extend micro-credential gain advanced standing in the Conestoga College Certificate in Post-Secondary Teaching.

John Lewis, University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and Alexis Berolatti of BCDiploma discussed Micro-credentials: the pathway from a learner-focused experience to innovative new blockchain tools. Again, meeting the needs of learners with Relevant and Targeted content, and Funding opportunities – including OSAP eligibility and reasonably priced where not OSAP eligible – is essential. Authentic assessments that reflect workplace deliverables provides a great focus on really relevant learning. And employer endorsements of many of the micro-credentials offered

They showed how sharing micro-credentials on LinkedIn supports further pathways and conspicuous contribution of upskilling and career progression – learners are enthusiastic and positive about their learning and really good organic marketing for the programs. Alexis Berolatti reminded us that the market for micro-credentials is global. Encouraging learners to present their micro-credentials on their LinkedIn profile helps these learners, but also our institutions that offer them. Blockchain-based platforms that use the Open Badge Data Model is important for ensuring that a basic amount of information is presented in any digital portfolio. Complementary attributes further enhance the value of the presentation of a digital artefact. The value of using the blockchain to distribute your micro-credentials is that that are then verifiable, sustainable, trusted and tamper proof (eCampusOntario provide BCDiploma for our members).

The Forum closed with a panel discussing Credit Pathways and Laddering Panel: Building the Micro-credential Learning Journey and Pathways Forward, featuring ONCAT’s Adrienne Galway, John Reid from Yukon University, Sheila Leblanc from the University of Calgary, and William Gage from York University.

Discussion was excellent and focused on recognizing what learners want and what employers want. An intentional approach to design will help employers understand what the students have done and help the students articulate what they have learned. Micro-credentials can help institutions think more overtly about how they work with employers. Creating doorways to education instead of pathways (Sheila Leblanc’s point) will help reframe how we can collectively get better at becoming a more responsive educational system if we are to play a meaningful role in the professional and work force development ecosystem.

The 2023 Micro-Credential Forum was closed by Rowan Smith who noted he has had the opportunity to learn as a young person what the PSE system is becoming. Thank you again Rowan for helping us frame the event.

And that’s a wrap for this year. It was a great series of discussions. 

Thank you all for participating and thank you to the eCampusOntario team for standing up such a best-in-class discussion on the future of education.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Supporting Business Growth through Collaborative Innovation

The postpandemic recovery requires businesses to innovate, to create products and services for global markets while supporting workforce education and training to ensure employees remain at the forefront of business innovation and economic transition.

A series of articles in the Globe and Mail outline Canada's innovation policy and the context in which research and development (R&D) operates as a pipeline for innovation. The first article outlines the work to stand up the Canadian Innovation and Investment Agency. Many good points are raised about the need for clarity of purpose, but I would sum up the issue as a historical inability to differentiate R&D from innovation. Canada is the G7's highest per capita funder of research in the public sector and the lowest for business R&D. Compounding this is the fact that Canadian companies underinvest in education and training and new technology adoption. This is the three-legged stool of innovation and productivity.

The second article outlines the Artificial Intelligence strategy deployed by Ottawa over the past several years. The challenge here is again the over-reliance on basic research, to the detriment to applied research, and most importantly, experimental development. As I have said before: 
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.

The third article in the series offers a clickbait title that detracts from the main issues: the need to increase business R&D as well as receptor capacity in Canadian businesses for innovation and Intellectual Property (IP). This includes not just products (which are easy to patent), but also other forms of IP.

The Expert Panel on Intellectual Property Report: Intellectual Property inOntario’s Innovation Ecosystem outlines 13 types of IP that are essential and important to the intangibles economy. We can add to this things like startups, software, databases, policies, traditional knowledge, practices and positions. A commitment to inclusive innovation means acknowledging that there are many types of IP being commercialized, by many types of people running many types of businesses. 

The bottom line here is that it is good to see innovation policy front and centre, it's just too bad that these reports did not unpack many important and related issues: diversity of actors, inputs and outputs; receptor capacity for supporting R&D and IP commercialization; and the role of reskilling for innovation to name just a few (check out two recent reports on the innovation literacy angle - one from Mitacs and the other from the Future Skills Centre). 

There are 440,000 small companies, 9,000 medium sized companies, and fewer than 2,000 large companies in Ontario. Not enough of these companies currently perform research and development (R&D). The most reliable indicator we have for R&D performing companies is from the SR&ED tax rebate program; currently only 2% of companies in Canada file SR&ED claims. The lack of R&D performance is clearly linked to lacklustre economic competitiveness.

Small companies that do R&D are more likely to survive and grow, hire more people, export more goods and services, and have a bigger economic impact in their communities. Startups, new companies, and small companies that are seeking to join the global economy in key sectors like health, IT, manufacturing and automotive – they need help finding supports to conduct R&D. The potential here is vast.

This is why we have built the Ontario Collaborative Innovation Platform. By working together the entire Ontario higher education system is able to help support the transit of IP - from idea to invoice.

Logo for the Ontario Collaborative Innovation Platform (OCIP)

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Intentional Innovation

Much ink has been spilt in Canada regarding our lacklustre innovation capacity as a puzzling counterpart to our international excellence in basic research. I won't be retrying these arguments. Rather, I want to point out an excellent article on the need for intentional innovation and the absolute necessity of updating our approach to how we integrate research and industrial innovation ecosystems. 

In Canada needs a new approach to science, research to stay competitive, Robert Asselin does an excellent job of articulating the need for "The modern application of science and technology is the new frontier of economic competitiveness." This statement will alienate some who might prioritize the approach to publicly funded research outlined by Vannevar Bush in Science: The Endless Frontier, in which public funding was exchanged for autonomy to pursue basic research. Applied research and experimental development were thought to emerge naturally from market-facing actors who would create value from the fruits of basic research as they realized a vague downstream potential. That was good when this was first articulated in the 1945. But as Asselin points out "The arms-length science model we adopted after the Second World War does not provide an adequate framework for today’s economic paradigm."

As Asselin says, "the road to innovation is long and hard," and it requires us to think and act in new ways. This means being intentional about creating and protecting intellectual property (IP), and helping to foster collaboration across the public and private sectors. Below I've put a logic model that outlines such an approach, reposted from earlier

And we have successfully piloted this model in Toronto as part of an orchestrated COVID-19 response where the 8 colleges and universities in Toronto worked together to support City of Toronto research priorities. eCampusOntario is supporting all of our 53 members to bring this model to fruition across the province. 

Watch this space for more, but in the meantime, read this article. And while you are at it, check out this one From Dan Breznitz and Daniel Trefler.

A logic model that articulates the connections between research performers, type of research, and anticipated outcomes
An Integrated Model for Intentional Innovation: From Idea to Impact

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

On marketing and micro-credentials

I had the great pleasure of being a guest on the Marketing News Canada podcast with marketing and  podcast expert Darian Kovacs from Jelly Academy. We talked about

  • How the rise of micro-credentials is similar to streaming music 
  • The importance of micro-credentials in upgrading and upskilling one's career, and how it serves as a form of continuing education 
  • The demand for both a combination of technical and soft skills
It was a great discussion about the importance of micro-credentials and the role of collaboration and innovation in post-secondary education. 

And in an esprit de l'escalier I am really interested in discussing and learning more about the role of marketing and education more broadly, particularly as it relates to partnerships that support collaborative innovation, upskilling outcomes and work integrated learning. 

My thanks to Darian and Jelly Academy for the opportunity to join the discussion. 

logo for Marketing News Canada
Logo of Marketing News Canada