New report analyzes Canada’s micro-credential trends and knowledge as online learning and demand for skills rise
eCampusOntario, Ryerson’s Diversity Institute and Magnet partner to research, collaborate with stakeholders and provide framework for micro-credential ecosystem
March 1, 2021: The global pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of post-secondary learning amid historic shifts in Canada’s labour market. Micro-credentials, short duration, targeted learning for skills and competency development, are fast becoming a key route to ensuring that those displaced by the pandemic and those wishing to upskill or reskill can quickly learn and fill new jobs.
eCampusOntario, Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute and Magnet are collaborating on a micro-credential research project to assess existing approaches to micro-credentials with a goal to provide an evidence-based framework and guidelines to address some of the challenges and opportunities in support of Canada’s economic recovery and lifelong learning.
Is the Future Micro? Unbundling learning for flexibility & access, a report produced as part of this research collaboration, was released this week following eCampusOntario’s annual Micro-Credential Forum 2021. The report analyzes available research and current trends about lifelong learning, delivery of micro-credentials around the world and here in Canada, identifies barriers to access and offers a framework for future micro-credential development. Growing in popularity and demand by learners and employers alike, a micro-credential is a certification of assessed learning associated with a specific and relevant skill or competency. However, to date, approaches to micro-credentials are inconsistent and fragmented making it challenging to assess their emergent value. This report serves as a benchmark and provides context for micro-credentials and their implications for learners, postsecondary education (PSE), industry receptivity, and labour market preparation and mobility.
The new research collaboration also builds on the work of organizations across Canada that are currently engaged in micro-credential research and is supported by the Future Skills Centre and funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills program.
Canada’s future rests on our ability to define, assess, develop and utilize skills more effectively. COVID-19 has disrupted virtually every industry sector and accelerated digital transformation. Recent research has highlighted the importance of new approaches – including micro-credentials – to help post-secondary graduates transition to employment and to upskill and reskill the workforce. Micro-credentials can augment post-secondary programming and are offered in a variety of forms by a range of providers. While initially focused largely on digital skills, they have expanded to include a wide range of skills and delivery models.
In addition to eCampusOntario’s leadership on micro-credentials, the Diversity Institute is regarded as a leader in this field having developed and delivered micro-credential programs like the Advanced Digital and Professional Training (ADaPT) program aimed at helping post-secondary grads from across disciplines transition into their preferred and high-paid roles. Over the past six years the program has served 500 graduates from 20 universities in locations across Canada and consistently surpasses provincial post-secondary job placement rates including during the pandemic. More recently, the Diversity Institute has built on this success to develop micro-credentials in the areas of entrepreneurship training and diversity and inclusion.
eCampusOntario has a vision for micro-credentials that provide both stand-alone recognition of competence and ladder into traditional educational programs. This future is realized through 36 micro-credential pilots eCampusOntario has funded with support from the Government of Ontario since 2017. These pilots are ongoing across Ontario colleges and universities using a co-created framework that sees micro-credentials built on trust, value, and exchange (eCampusOntario, 2019). Trust ensures that learners are assessed to verify skills gained; Value refers to the relevance of skills gained to workplace needs; Exchange allows for a portable record of micro-credential activity that is accessible and transferrable for learners.
Highlights of the Is the Future Micro? Unbundling learning for flexibility & access report include:
- Micro-credentials are growing in uptake and popularity around the world and in Canada.
- 76% of Canadian higher education institutions offered online courses for credit in 2019, and that proportion is likely to have grown in 2020.
- Provincial governments— including Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia—have all moved to invest and expand the role of micro-credentials within existing education systems and countries like Australia and especially New Zealand have embedded micro-credentials into their formal understanding of the education ecosystem.
- Micro-credentials are currently offered in a variety of formats, with increasing activity around the development of virtual delivery and the use of hybrid approaches.
- Despite the potential for micro-credentials to increase access to training for those facing educational barriers, some studies have shown that micro-credential enrollees and completers are most likely to be Caucasian or Asian, already employed, and aged between 30 and 44 years old.
- More research and program development to understand how to design micro-credential programs to meet the needs of diverse individuals is needed.
- Emerging trends suggest that equity is key to success in micro-credentialing offerings and that the needs of learners should be prioritized. Proposed solutions include embedding mentoring and guidance in program design and ensuring that micro-credential design is always done in consultation with end users to ensure accessibility.
- An ecosystem of relevant, accessible, and portable micro-credentials can support rapid reskilling in Canada across provincial and national borders.
Please follow this link to see the full report.
“Now more than ever there is a need and opportunity to build a national micro-credential framework that is digital by design, and meets the skills and educational needs of learners, industry and the post-secondary sector,” said Robert Luke, CEO of eCampusOntario. “eCampusOntario is pleased to be collaborating on this important research and to support new pathways for flexible and mobile learning. Micro-credentials can be used to support our economic recovery and offers rapid reskilling designed to lower barriers and increase access to post-secondary education.”
—Robert Luke, CEO, eCampusOntario.
“We have undertaken several studies – on pathways to employment for University graduates, on upskilling and reskilling the workforce, and on how new technologies are being harnessed to support skills, as well as research looking at the impact of COVID. All roads lead to the importance of new innovative models like micro-credentials. Our own experience with ADaPT and other programs shows the power of thinking out of the box. But, there are many sources of friction in the system including a lack of clear definitions, standards for assessment and fragmented platforms for sharing information. We need a coordinated approach to support job seekers, employers and service providers, including post-secondary institutions and are pleased to work with eCampusOntario in order to move the dial.”
—Wendy Cukier, Founder, Diversity Institute and research lead of the Future Skills Centre and Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.
Kathleen Powderley, 416-803-5597, firstname.lastname@example.org
 Shapiro Futures, H., Andersen, T., & Nedergaard, K. (2020). A European approach to micro-credentials: Output of the Micro-Credentials Higher Education Consultation Group. European Union. https://aca-secretariat.be/newsletter/a-european-approach-to-micro-credentials/