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.