Eduvation Blog

A Microcredential Moment

Good morning!

After that laundry list of microcredentials yesterday, I hope you’ll give me a chance to finish what I started – which was to explore the some of the implications of small, portable, stackable, competency-based credentials for the future of higher ed.

That’s a tall order for a short newsletter, so the best we can hope is to get started on the subject…


Micro Motivation

Microcredentials have been on my radar for a decade, but like so many PSE innovations, the COVID19 pandemic has pushed them into overdrive…


Microcredential Moment

Especially in the US, “short-term, online alternatives to the college degree are having a moment” thanks to “the unprecedented societal turbulence caused by a pandemic, the worst recession in a century and a national reckoning over racism.” Since the pandemic began, 2U reported particular interest in short courses on disruptive tech (blockchain and finance), functional job skills (like digital marketing), and leadership skills. Moody’s reports that non-degree/certificate programs have grown at twice the rate of others since 2015. Increasingly they’re being offered by big tech companies: Google rolled out 3 new career certificate programs it considers “equivalent to a degree,” and funded 100,000 bursaries for students. IBM, Facebook, Salesforce and Microsoft have their own short-term, skills-based credentials. Many expect similar credentials in healthcare and education. Some believe “the labour market is presenting in more granular ways.” Insider Higher Ed

“The coronavirus will also accelerate growth of nontraditional programs such as undergraduate nondegree/certificate programs, where career-advancement courses can be completed discretely and bundled into a degree.”Moody’s


“This looks to be a catalytic moment. Like what’s happened with the rapid digitization of so many other areas of our daily lives, we’ve probably gained in a few months a level of interest and participation in online education that would have steadily played out over years.”Sean Gallagher, Executive Director, Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, Northeastern U



Pandemics and Perpetual PD

Last April, use of LinkedIn Learning tripled to 1.7M hours a week, and 24% of UK adults reported they had undertaken study to “boost their employability and protect the value of their skills.” Displaced employees, struggling entrepreneurs, or remote workers with regained commuting time were exploring new skills and interests, and engaging in “perpetual professional growth.” Some employers are even funding online lessons purely for their mental health benefits, from positive psychology to music and crafts. Forbes


Badges as Motivation

Students are discovering the appeal of à la carte microcredentials to provide just-in-time skills, boost opportunities for a pay raise or promotion, and even add up over time to a degree. Each badge earned can increase the odds of finding a job, and provide tangible recognition of learning even if a full diploma is never completed – and in a recession, many people can only afford to spend 2-3 months retraining. “They don’t have two to three years of runway to put a pause on their life.” Early in the pandemic, enrolments in Western Governors U’s stackable IT bachelor’s program more than doubled, and edX saw enrolments rise 14-fold – thanks in part to their lower price point ($150 or $166 per credit, compared to an average $594 at many F2F universities). The payoff of multiple smaller credentials helps to motivate students who might otherwise be at risk of dropping out of a longer degree program, and even accelerate their progress: ~70% of students in stackable IT programs finish their bachelor’s degrees “not in 4 or 6 years, but in 2.”  Hechinger Report 

“People are looking for shorter forms of learning during this time. They don’t know whether they have 2 months, 3 months. They’ve lost their jobs. For them the ability to earn a microcredential within a few months and improve their potential to get hired as we come out of Covid becomes much more important.” Anant Agarwal, CEO, edX



More Micro CdnPSE

My overview of recent microcredential announcements yesterday was nowhere near a complete inventory of CdnPSE (it was just intended to set up this discussion) – but there were a few more examples I simply couldn’t squeeze in…


Conestoga College is launching 6 mini-credit courses next month in PSE teaching and learning, which can be stacked into microcredentials or even a full certificate in PSE teaching. The 2-week courses are free for Conestoga employees and $150 for others, on topics like intercultural teaching skills, evolving assessment practices, team-based learning and more.  Conestoga


Humber College announced RapidSkills Advanced Manufacturing microcredentials in September, to help “laid-off, at-risk and underutilized workers in the auto or advanced manufacturing sector transition to new roles and sectors.” Microcredentials include subjects in Mechatronics, Pneumatics and Hydraulics, Program Logic Controllers, and Lean Manufacturing.  Humber


Lambton College launched its first microcredential in July 2020, as part of its “Flexible Education” strategy, and now offers 60 microcredentials, with 30 more in development. They focus on in-demand fields like PSW, Food Service Worker, Welding Fundamentals and eLearning Development, and many stack together into micro-certificates, or can even ladder into institutional credentials or provincial certificates. Lambton’s microcredentials have been developed with input from >25 partners representing local industry and community groups, and with support from the province through the Rapid Skills and Skills Catalyst grants.  Lambton


11 Montreal-area Cégeps will be offering 27 new short-term training programs to upskill unemployed or laid off workers starting next month, thanks to a $1.9M grant from the Quebec government. The courses, offered in English and French and in online, F2F and hybrid formats, last 2-4 months, in sectors like digital marketing, food processing, administration and management. Students may also be eligible for a $500 weekly allowance during their training.  CTV

“This is also a change in culture that we must make collectively, namely that of continuous training throughout professional life. It is also important that employers can continue to forge a strong and resilient labour market.”Jean Boulet, Quebec Labour Minister



College of the North Atlantic announced the first microcredentials in its history last October, as a newly-designated Amazon Web Service Academy provider. CNA began offering AWS Cloud Computing last month, and will expand microcredentials further as part of the academic planning process.  CNA


Red River College offers microcredential courses in business, communication, data science, digital design, health sciences, new media, leadership and management and more. (Including of course COVID19 Testing.) The courses “align with some of the most desired skills sought by industry and those looking to start a side gig,” and some are offered in partnership with the Learning Resources Network (LERN).  RRC



The Future of Micro

For stackable microcredentials to truly fulfil their potential, common terminology and frameworks, credit transferability, and student financing changes will be required…


A National System

Arizona State U is one of the largest and most innovative institutions in the world, so I often find interesting developments there. ASU’s University Design Institute is almost halfway to raising $30M to “drive a culture change and the commitment to redesign and restructure higher ed… across the country.” Specifically, its “student-centric” goals include developing a competency-based system of stackable credentials, a verifiable learner-owned (ie. blockchain) record system to replace transcripts, and personalized online learning and career development tools for high school students. “The goal is not to replicate ASU, but to advance a design model that enables every university to put learners, of all ages and life circumstances, at the centre.”  Campus Technology


A Transnational System

The European Commission plans to create a common “European Education Area” by 2025, which would allow students and credentials greater international mobility. All 49 PSE ministers recognize the “potential to democratize knowledge and to sustain lifelong learning through microcredentials,” and a microcredentials consultation group issued its report in December. “The objective of the European approach to microcredentials is to facilitate their validation, recognition and portability, and to foster a larger uptake to support individual learners to gain and update their knowledge, skills and competences in any subject area, at all stages of their career and in any learning environment.” The report proposes a “roadmap of actions” to develop a common and transparent definition, explore the alignment of microcredentials with the EU qualifications frameworks and credit transfer system, ensure quality assurance standards, develop interoperable storage for digital credentials, prepare national regulatory frameworks, and encourage uptake by PSE institutions, “with a special focus on academia-business cooperation in their development.”  EU


More Flexible Loans Needed

Universities UK found in a poll last fall that 82% of people “unemployed, at risk of unemployment or looking to learn new skills” were particularly interested in studying “individual modules” at university, particularly if government loans applied. The most compelling subjects included Engineering, Business Management, Teaching, Nursing and Allied Healthcare. PM Boris Johnson announced a “Lifetime Skills Guarantee” in September, to provide 4 years of flexible loan funding for PSE.  Times Higher Ed


Microcredentials are a massive, evolving field, but if you want to keep an eye on new developments, consider watching






Never Stand Still

Fort Lewis College (CO) released a 30-sec spot last Fall that shares the sentiment of many PSE commercials in the pandemic: don’t give up, keep learning. Over dynamic visuals of campus and students, and a funky wordless music bed, the titles say it all: “Stand Up. Stand Out. Never Stand Still.” It’s a 30-sec spot that might spark some creative ideas in your marketing group.  YouTube


As always, thanks for reading!  Let me know if you’ve spotted something cool or thought-provoking, at your campus or elsewhere. And while I’ve got absolutely no shortage of topics for future issues, let me know if there’s something you would particularly like me to tackle!


Be safe and stay well,


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