Eduvation Blog


What follows is a selection of coverage from the Eduvation Insider this year focused on microcredentials…



Bold Ideas

Online, On-Demand PSE

RBC predicts that PSE will become more competitive now that nearly every institution worldwide has invested in online delivery. “Online education has the potential to be a great leveler… It is borderless, scalable, and untethered to the traditional academic calendar.” Canadian institutions may want to collaborate to achieve the scale necessary to compete, integrating AR/VR and AI to personalize learning, and should pursue flexibility in experiential learning, and blockchain microcredentials. The real challenge is whether the socio-emotional skills in highest demand among employers can be developed online. RBC




The Rise of Microcredentials

Short, modular and stackable microcredentials were an intriguing development before the pandemic, but COVID19 seems to have accelerated market demand, government initiatives, and institutional offerings. In Australia, the government has incentivized the creation of hundreds of new microcredentials, and plans to create a national marketplace. Here are a few recent stories…

Growing Adult Interest in Online Certificates

A June survey of 2,500 prospective adult learners suggests that fewer are seriously committed to pursuing PSE (16%), while almost half are now “skeptical.” 25% say that COVID19 has made them reluctant to return to public gatherings, and 15% seem affected by financial pressure. The recession is boosting interest among people with lower levels of education, in vulnerable occupations, and in the short term, 37% are interested in non-degree, non-credit courses and certificates (up from 29% a year ago). For the next few months, they show twice the interest in purely online courses. Encoura

Cut-Rate Bite-Sized Courses in Australia

The Australian government has responded to the pandemic in part by encouraging the creation of 6-month online accredited “undergraduate certificate” and “graduate certificate” courses, to reskill workers for labour market needs. (Course credit can also be applied towards diploma and degree programs.) 54 institutions launched 344 such courses, with tuition discounted 90% (although universities did so at a loss). The minister wants these short courses “to be a permanent fixture.” THE

Jobless Americans want Microcredentials

The economic recession and surging unemployment has led 37% of youth and 23% of older Americans to say they plan to enroll in further education or training within 6 months. 35% said they would change fields if they lost their job, but 61% say more education “would not be worth the price,” and 62% would rather pursue nondegree skills training than a degree (and 71% of those with no prior PSE.) “The societal backlash to the college degree has gone too far.” IHE

A National Microcredential Marketplace

The Australian government is committing $4.3 M to establish a “one-stop-shop for microcredentials,” building on the success of its relief package this spring. The marketplace will allow comparison of course duration, delivery mode, outcomes, and credit value – and will give students “the assurance they need to invest in this new mode of education.” (Critics have pointed out that the service would needlessly duplicate the CourseSeeker website the government launched in 2018.) The Guardian

Credentialing Innovations

Badges and microcredits are being stacked or accepted as credit towards traditional degrees, consulting companies are creating their own MBAs, TRU is accepting microcredits from OERu, and ARUCC is creating a national “credential wallet” for the storage and exchange of digital transcripts…

Digital Badges from Griffith U

Australia’s Griffith U is promoting a digital badging system (based on Credly’s Acclaim platform) to showcase student qualifications and capabilities as “Griffith Credentials.” Griffith badges can be earned for selected courses, MOOCs, awards, WIL, and co-curricular activities, and for prior learning, professionally or personally. Some are for transferable “employability skills” like communication or leadership. Students can add badges to their profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, share them with employers via email, embed them in a digital résumé, or store them on other OBI badging sites like Veriskills. The Acclaim platform allows students to search for active job postings based on their skill set. Griffith

EY Creates an MBA from Badges

Big 4 accounting firm EY has partnered with Hult International Business School on a new part-time, online MBA that will be offered free to EY’s 280,000 employees worldwide. The 300-hour program focuses on technology, data science and cybersecurity. Unlike traditional MBA programs, it omits classroom case studies, networking, travel abroad and career fairs. It utilizes EY’s badge system, established in 2017. WSJ

TRU accepts OERu Microcredits

In a “giant leap forward” and “an act of trust,” Thompson Rivers U is the first in North America to offer OERumicro-credit transfer towards a university-level credential. Students can study free bite-sized OERu courses or micro-courses through its partner institutions, and pay for assessment only if they want academic credit or Edubits. (Canadian partners include BCcampus, Ryerson, TRU, Kwantlen, and Athabasca U.) At this stage, TRU will transfer credit towards its Certificate of General Studies, but it intends to expand to diplomas and bachelor degrees. TRU

National “Credential Wallet” for Canada

Canada’s university registrars have partnered with Digitary to create a new ARUCC National Network, a platform for secure, digitized, and portable official transcripts and credentials. Digitary’s technology is already used by 100+ institutions around the world, and national systems in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. The system will provide “self-sovereignty for learners,” will be password protected, available 24/7, bilingual, and housed in Canada. It will be piloted with World Education Services, 19 PSEs, as well as OUAC, OCAS, NSCAT, and EduPlannerBC – 4 provincial systems that support 90+ institutions. ARUCC

Ontario Colleges want Degree Autonomy

Ontario colleges are urging the province to give them more autonomy to replace diploma programs with new 3-year degrees, expand the range of 4-year degrees without provincial maximums, and to create master’s degrees for college and university graduates in specialized fields like robotics, cybersecurity and animation. They also recommend more government funding for short-term microcredential programs, to provide retraining opportunities for workers displaced by the pandemic. Colleges Ontario




Macro Microcredentials

Over the past year, I’ve been accumulating announcements, reports, and criticism of the rising tide of microcredentials around the world – including about 100 items I haven’t had the chance to share with you yet!  With the flurry of announcements in Ontario and BC lately, it’s about time we started to tackle this trending topic, as microcredentials proliferate…


Promoting in Australia

Around the world, governments have been responding to the pandemic recession and rising unemployment by promoting the creation of short-cycle, sometimes no-cost, career-relevant microcredentials to upskill displaced workers. You may recall that the trend began in Australia back in spring and summer 2020…

“Snack Sized” Courses

Australian colleges and universities are offering discounted 12-week online courses aligned with industry needs, from coastal systems engineering and sustainable engineering management to sport and exercise science. These microcredentials, called “undergraduate certificates,” are “a pivot towards a new shape of higher education for a transformed economy.” Back in May 2020, New South Wales reported 85,000 enrolments in its first 21 courses.  THE

Stackable Certificates

The Australian government has responded to the pandemic in part by encouraging the creation of 6-month online accredited “undergraduate certificate” and “graduate certificate” courses, to reskill workers for labour market needs. (Course credit can also be applied towards diploma and degree programs.) 54 institutions launched 344 such courses, with tuition discounted 90% (although universities did so at a loss). The minister wants these short courses “to be a permanent fixture.” THE

Microcredential Marketplace

The Australian government committed $4.3 M in July 2020 to establish a “one-stop-shop for microcredentials,” building on the success of its relief package last spring. The marketplace will allow comparison of course duration, delivery mode, outcomes, and credit value – and will give students “the assurance they need to invest in this new mode of education.” (Critics have pointed out that the service would needlessly duplicate the CourseSeeker website the government launched in 2018.) The Guardian



Partnering in Ontario

Many Ontario PSEs are partnering directly with employers to develop the microcredentials, in hot sectors like personal support work, digital marketing, electric vehicles, data analytics, and more…

eCampus Ontario has led the development and growth of micro-certification in the province since 2017, and formed a working group in summer 2019 to establish a framework and “common currency” for microcredential initiatives. In late 2019, eCampusON pilot tested the framework with 14 institutions, and in summer 2020 launched a second set of pilots with 22 institutions and their member partners. eCO

Algonquin College has been developing microcredentials since June 2019, and planned to pilot and evaluate 15 of them, with a report due next month. Algonquin is currently developing microcredentials in Good Manufacturing Practices and Cleanroom Behaviour, in partnership with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and BioCanRx Immunotherapy Network.  AC  |  eCO

Cambrian College is developing microcredentials for prospective PSWs, in collaboration with Pioneer Manor and the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board.

Canadore College is developing a microcredential in Caregiving, in partnership with Spark Lifecare and Spark University.  Canadore

Collège Boréal is developing a microcredential in Battery Electric Vehicle maintenance, in partnership with Mayhew Performance.  Boréal

Durham College offers about 30 microcredentials including medical terminology, and graphic design foundations. Durham is developing a Municipal Employment Readiness microcredential, in partnership with Northumberland County.  Durham Region

Fanshawe College is developing a microcredential in Digital Marketing Skills for small businesses in recovery, in partnership with Downtown London.

George Brown College launched a 4-course online Service Robotics microcredential last Fall, in collaboration with robotics solution provider GlobalDWS. “The demand for this type of technology is growing and the COVID19 pandemic has highlighted the possibilities for service robots in frontline sectors.” GBC is also developing microcredentials in accessibility training and building codes, in partnership with the Ontario Building Officials Association.

Georgian College offers 4 free “RapidSkills” microcredentials “to prepare underutilized and underemployed workers, workers at risk of job loss, and unemployed individuals for longevity in the automotive and advanced manufacturing sectors, while providing employers with highly skilled and agile workers.” The microcredentials, in Industrial Automation, Hydraulics/Pneumatics, Precision Machining, and Robotics, are each comprised of 2-4 modules, and include certifications such as Forklift Operator or Working at Heights. The program works in partnership with 6 employers in the Simcoe area. RapidSkills  eCo reports that Georgian is also developing microcredentials in Essential Skills for Supportive Care, in partnership with the County of Simcoe Long Term Care and Seniors Services.

uGuelph is developing “reflective microcredentials” in workplace diversity and bias, in partnership with Guard.Me International Insurance.

uHearst is developing microcredentials in intercultural competencies with Innovanor, Pepco, and regional health services.

Lakehead U is developing microcredentials in mathematics for workers and prospective university students living in northern and Indigenous communities, in partnership with a range of First Nations communities and employment services.

McMaster U is offering 3 microcredentials in data analytics, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health Informatics. Each “course” is comprised of 8 sessions, in subjects including business analysis, data exploration, quantitative analysis, communication of results, and data life-cycle management.  McMaster

Mohawk College is offering 5 micro-certifications supported by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce in its Free Workplace Preparation program to support internationally trained professionals. These modules include research skills, workplace culture, job readiness, interview skills, and workplace communication.  Mohawk

OCAD U and Myant Inc, a leader in textile computing, have jointly created 2 online microcredentials in Human-Centred Design: Empathy + Social Insight and Ideation + PrototypingOCAD

Ontario Tech U has been offering microcredentials since 2020, and has already issued >400 digital badges. Some are integrated into existing undergraduate degree programs, while others are offered as standalone certifications through the Office of Continuous Learning. The Faculty of Education offers microcredentials for teaching Ontario’s new curriculum in math and coding. The newest offerings are industry-approved, competency-based microcredential programs in response to digital transformation, automation and remote work’s impacts on key sectors. TD Bank is sponsoring 1,000 free microcredentials across 24 topics of interest for those who are “mid-career, under-employed, or who are currently or likely to face changes in the workplace.”  ENC

“Effective partnerships between Ontario’s businesses and world-class colleges and universities can deliver high-quality education that leads to real jobs… Working together, we can create flexible and responsive programming to react to the needs of employers and ensure that Ontarians can learn a new skill, to help them better succeed in their careers.”Ross Romano, Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities


“We must ensure solutions are flexible enough to accommodate the time constraints and changing needs of non-traditional students. Microcredentials and badges provide that answer in a very convenient and personalized way.” – Fiona McArthur, Strategic Project Manager, Ontario Tech U


Sault College is developing a stackable microcredential program related to Indigenous rights and relationship building in the forestry sector, in partnership with Project Learning Tree Canada. By March 2021, 4 online courses will be available.  Sault

Seneca College has launched >100 short courses to help students and professionals respond to COVID19 disruptions or take their careers to the next level. Seneca is continuing to add microcredentials in business, creative arts animation and design, education community and social services, engineering technology, information technology, media and communications, and science. The Avid Ingest Operations microcredential, developed in partnership with multimedia company Avid Technology, is one recent addition.  ENC

uToronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health is developing microcredentials in 4 key areas of Indigenous cultural safety, in partnership with the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, and Peterborough Public Health.

York U is developing stackable microcredentials in patient navigation, in partnership with Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada.



Sudden Burst in BC

And just this month, BC announced a major push for free microcredentials for workers displaced by the pandemic, with the intention that many could be stackable in future…

$4M for Microcredentials

In early February, the BC government announced a $4M program to allow 15 PSEs in the province to offer 24 short-term microcredential courses, “to put students on the fast track to high-demand jobs,” particularly in the clean energy, health, and construction sectors.  Globe & Mail

“Microcredentials are a new way to learn in BC. They are focused on in-demand jobs so that British Columbians can access opportunities that put their new skills to work.”Anne Kang, BC Advanced Education minister


BCIT is offering microcredentials in Digital Transformation, Natural Resource and Environmental Protection, and Mass Timber Construction.  Education News Canada

UBC is offering “micro-certificates” in Blockchain Innovation and Implementation, and Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation.

UBC Okanagan is offering an 8-module microcredential in Critical Skills for Communication in the Technical Sector and in Programmable Logic Controller.

Camosun College is launching its first microcredential in Clean Energy and Efficient Buildings. “Learners will be able to acquire the skills needed to implement BC’s 2032 building code goals right now in 2021.” ENC

Coast Mountain College is offering a microcredential in Exploring Health Careers. CMTN

College of New Caledonia is offering 2 microcredentials for credit: Core Skills for a Digital World and Core Skills for Data Literacy. Prince George Citizen

College of the Rockies is offering a Skills for Home Support microcredential.  BC Gov

Emily Carr U is offering a microcredential in Web and Digital Design Skills for Transitioning Online.  BC Gov

U Fraser Valley is offering a new Digital Marketing microcredential.  Abbotsford News

North Island College is offering free microcredentials in fully digital or blended format, in GIS Mapping and Drone Operations, Motion Picture Production Assistant, Motion Picture Craft Services, and Fabricator-WelderENC

Royal Roads U launched microcredentials in Leading Projects in a Digital Environment, Workplace Communications Skills, Business Administration Essentials, Supervisory Skills, and Mineral Exploration, Geoscience and Environmental Field AssistantRRU

Selkirk College is offering microcredentials in Core Skills for Facilities Maintenance (including in-person courses on HVAC and Roofing) and Core Skills for Refrigeration Occupations (5 modules fully online).  Selkirk

Thompson Rivers U is offering a tuition-free 6-week blended microcredential in Renewable Energy Fundamentals for Electricians.  TRU

Vancouver Island U is offering a microcredential in skills development for Building Service Workers, updated for enhanced cleaning protocols during the pandemic.  VIU

uVictoria is offering fully-funded microcredentials in Skills to Support Independent Living, and Essential Skills for Data LiteracyuVic CS

“These courses are part of a sector where developing skills will help individuals either gain employment or enhance opportunities in their current career. They are designed to offer a short burst of education and skill development where learners can derive significant benefit by upskilling.”Christine Schmidt, Community Education & Workplace Training Coordinator, Selkirk College




A Microcredential Moment

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




Dreams of Microgravity and Microcredit

In some ways, the dream of a universal system of transferable, stackable, competency-based microcredentials is just as much an unattainable “moon shot” as an orbital research park. I’ve returned several times to the subject of Microcredentials since this newsletter began, and you can check out the Microcredentials Recap for all of it in one place. But since the last time (in February), a few things have started to crystallize for me, and I want to take a couple of days to explore them…


Learning as Play

The elusive “final frontier” of competency-based credentialing would be a system of stackable “nanocredits” that learners could acquire at their own pace, in whatever sequence answers their own personal curiosity, à la carte from a whole range of college, university, K-12 or commercial sources. These electronic (likely blockchain) badges would indicate mastery of specific skills, competencies or content, at a much more granular level than the traditional academic course, and cloud-based learning portfolios would consist of literally thousands of badges. Instead of focusing students on (sometimes demotivating) summative assessments, this modular approach to credentialing learning would gamify education, bringing a self-directed “growth mindset” to academic transcripts, and focusing learners instead on the steady exploration of new material. (Personally, I spent years of my childhood playing with Lego blocks, back in the days before licensed playsets that came with prescriptive assembly instructions. That’s the difference between inquiry-based, self-directed, lifelong learning and our traditional curricular models.)


Elusive Nanocredits

This idea, of stackable nanocredits for learning at the sub-course level, has been floated many times, but has seldom made it past the drawing board. York’s Tracey Taylor O’Reilly helpfully distinguishes between “endogenous” microcredit (which constitute building blocks towards traditional certificates, diplomas or degrees) and “exogenous” ones (which are often merely non-credit add-ons, like co-curricular records or some postgraduate certificates). Exogenous examples are few and far between. About a decade ago, Algonquin College was discussing “Provincial Learning Units” as a much more granular way to improve credit transfer between institutions than course equivalencies, to save students wasted time and effort retaking material, and hence to save government money. (I first read about the idea in one of Algonquin’s earliest Strategic Mandate Agreements, but it seems to have changed significantly by the time a pilot project was funded in 2014.) Arizona State U (yes, the same innovator leaping into orbit with Blue Origin) is trying to drive a national system of competency-based, stackable credentials that could be recorded in a learner-owned blockchain. So far perhaps the best example is Otago Polytechnic’s system of EduBits, a stackable approach to microcredit that can be laddered into formal academic credit at OER U, Thompson Rivers U, and elsewhere.


Growing Demand?

US colleges and particularly universities have been steadily awarding more sub-year certifications over the past two decades, but until recently stackable microcredentials have largely been the domain of non-traditional learning providers, whether MOOCs like edX or FutureLearn, or competency-based online institutions like Western Governors’ U or Southern New Hampshire U. The advent of the COVID19 pandemic turned 2020 into “the second year of the MOOC,” as some 60M more MOOC learners enrolled and almost 400 new MOOC microcredentials were launched. Several recent surveys suggest that displaced workers and adult learners are increasingly interested in non-degree, non-credit courses and certificates, and an Athabasca U study found that 61% of Canadians would now consider microcredentials in order to advance in their careers.


“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



Catnip for Politicians

In the face of a massive global recession and unprecedented urgency to pivot businesses into ecommerce, politicians worldwide have found the idea of microcredentials irresistible (like “catnip,” as Alex Ushermemorably quipped). The promise of inexpensive online short courses that could quickly upskill or reskill workers and fix the economy before the next election cycle was too good to be true.

Almost a dozen Australian universities rolled out at least 64 short government-funded online courses in early 2020. Education minister Dan Tehan said the 12-week courses were an opportunity “for universities to lead globally with a pivot towards a new shape of higher education for a transformed economy.” 344 for-credit “undergraduate certificates” were launched at 54 institutions, at a subsidized, 90% tuition discount.

The European Commission wants to “democratize knowledge and to sustain lifelong learning through microcredentials,” and a microcredentials consultation group issued its report last December. To facilitate transnational validation, recognition and portability of microcredentials, the report proposes a “roadmap of actions” to develop common and transparent definitions, 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.”

British Columbia announced a “first wave” of 24 microcredentials in Feb 2021, again emphasizing their ability to deliver education and skills for high-demand jobs as part of its COVID19 recovery plan. $4M funded more than 2,000 student places in the programs, at 15 public colleges and universities. Courses were related to essential workplace skills, CleanBC and climate action, technology and emerging economies, health and human services, and construction maintenance. Many programs would be credited or “recognized as a launching pad” toward longer programs, and “over time” microcredentials could become stackable into certificates or diplomas.


“Microcredentials are a new way to learn in BC. They are focused on in-demand jobs so that British Columbians can access opportunities that put their new skills to work.” – Anne Kang, BC Advanced Education minister


Alberta’s 2030 strategy promised 56 microcredentials at 19 institutions by Fall 2021, to offer “specialized, job-ready skills” in “priority industry sectors,” to help learners “quickly re-skill or upskill to pivot in their careers or re-enter the workforce.” (Key partner industries include energy, agriculture, forestry, tourism, hospitality, culture, technology, aviation, aerospace, logistics, finance and fintech.)

The Quebec government has provided $1.9M in funding to 11 CEGEPs to offer short-term training courses to upskill workers displaced by the pandemic.

In 2020, Ontario announced a 3-year, $59.5M commitment to establish an online microcredential portal and virtual learning passport, create new microcredentials, extend OSAP, and raise awareness among learners and employers. The $3M Rapidskills pilot program encouraged 13 short-duration, “industry-sensitive” microcredentials at colleges across the province, with particular focus on automotive and advanced manufacturing skills. Through eCampus Ontario, 36 pilot microcredentials were launched at colleges and universities with employer partners, to address identified skills gaps. In early 2021, Ontario mounted a $15M Microcredentials Challenge Fund, to invite proposals from approved public and private institutions working with local industry employers to develop new or expand existing microcredentials that lead directly to local or regional jobs.


OSAP for Microcredentials

Ontario’s 2021 Budget even expanded OSAP to include loans and grants for students taking microcredentials at colleges, universities and Indigenous institutes – making Ontario “the first province in Canada” to offer financial aid for microcredentials. As of Oct 2021, about 600 OSAP-eligible microcredentials are offered by 17 colleges, 14 universities, and 2 Indigenous institutes. Many are college certificates, pre-training or continuing education courses, ranging in duration from 3.5 to 196 hours. Some focus on basic computer literacy, ESL, executive education or “core success skills,” while many offer additional qualifications for healthcare professionals, truck drivers, manufacturing and construction workers, teachers, and PSE staff or faculty. Particularly broad selections of approved microcredentials are offered by Western (80), Lambton (96), Waterloo (202) and York (263).


Disruptive Potential

If traditional transcripts and credentials are the “currency” of the academic world, some outspoken punditspredict that blockchain badges, nanocredits and microcredentials could emerge as a parallel, even underground “academic economy,” much as Bitcoin and cybercurrencies have done in financial markets. Critics observe that traditional credentials have limitations that are becoming increasingly obvious to students and employers: they seldom capture details about skills, competencies, or valuable experiences, frequently aren’t machine-readable or internally verifiable, and often don’t transfer between programs or institutions. Perhaps ARUCC’s MyCreds platform, powered by Digitary, is a first step to bring CdnPSE into a global microcredentials exchange and transfer system – but I don’t get the sense it poses a disruptive challenge to traditional transcripts and credentials, so much as it reflects an attempt to modernize and digitize them.



There’s been plenty of exciting action in CdnPSE microcredentials – from thousands of new offerings to new branded platforms – but somehow I’m growing discouraged about their near-term likelihood of reaching “escape velocity” in order to realize much of the transformative impact outlined above.

More on that next time!



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