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