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Microcredentials the next “big thing” in adult learning

By CARTER HAMMETT - January 16 2022
Microcredentials the next “big thing” in adult learning

We’re living in a culture that’s “credentials crazy.” These days you literally need to be certified to place bags of potato chips on a shelf (it’s called a food handling certificate.) 

Having said that, It’s always a good idea to keep abreast of industry trends while looking into your crystal ball and determining what skills will be needed during the next phase of your career. That’s one of the reasons why professional development (PD) is so important. It’s adult education that should—but often doesn’t—transfer back into the workplace. 

PD not only builds on your existing knowledge base, it also increases your confidence, credibility and helps you become more agile as you adapt to the rapidity of workplace and industry changes.

Employers also benefit from PD. How? Good people leave bad situations. Good employees hanker to build and expand existing skill sets so allowing PD to feed hungry workers, helps create satisfied workers thereby increasing retention rates. Employees who leave can be quite expensive for an employer to replace, so it makes good business sense to keep those employees happy. 

Microcredential programs 

If you haven’t heard of these short-term PD programs yet, you will. The Ontario government has invested substantial dollars into these short-term courses which are already being developed and promoted around the world.

A new partnership between youth employment agency First Work and the Ontario government is granting free “licenses” to access over 16,000 LinkedIn Learning courses that will enable learners to upskill their credentials while looking for work. Likewise, people already employed will be able to add learning credentials to their skill sets as well. Heads up though: this agreement expires at the end of March 2022, so if you’re interested in taking advantage of this offering do it sooner rather than later.

But Canada has yet to determine a precise definition for microcredentials, but there are some specific characteristics this form of learning shares with each other, including:

• A short-term learning program focused on developing a narrow range of skills and competencies

• Competencies are demonstrated in terms of skills or behaviours and vary across microcredentials.

• Quality is guaranteed because of peer and industry review

• Microcredentials are industry-recognized. Many of these courses are either designed in tandem with subject matter experts or based on requirements from that organizations are looking for.

• The courses are stackable. This means they can be “stacked” to create an eventual qualification. They are also modular. This is especially true in Ontario (as of this writing) that the qualification will appear on a learner’s college or university transcript.

• Microcredentials are personalized to meet the individual learner’s needs. 

• They are shareable. Thus, a finished course can be placed in a digital wallet or an e-portfolio that can be shared with your employer. 

Microcredentials are not traditional online classes or time-based. They are not even necessarily about acquiring knowledge. Rather, they’re about applying that knowledge through mastered evidence of a particular skill that can be demonstrated.

A report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) published in May 2021, revealed that over half of Ontario’s postsecondary institutions were already offering microcredentials. Further, 86 per cent of industry professionals said they would be open to partnering with community groups or industry companies to create microcredentials.

Included in the report are the ranked outcomes of microcredentials by all respondents. For postsecondary respondents, the top five included: industry-aligned, short, based on common definitions, competency-based and stackable.

The courses can be delivered entirely online, in-person or through a blended format. 

This is also an opportunity for Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) providers to step into the fray. Among these, Udacity, FutureLearn and edX offer over 900 microcredentials. A personal favourite is Udemy which offers a plethora of courses from customer service to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Professional associations like the Institute of Management Accountants and The Society for Human Resource Development also offer their own certifications.

In Canada, all credentials are posted to a learner’s e-portfolio and, once posted, are “owned” by the learner. In Canada, all college and university registrars have agreed in principle to move to digital credentials using the platform developed by Digitary, a blockchain platform developed in Ireland.

If a skill or competency becomes out of date, for example, a new way of undertaking a specific process or competency becomes standard, it’s possible for the issuer to revoke that credential. For example, when the guidelines for CPR changed in 2010, a digital CPR certificate issued before that date could be given an expiry date requiring the holder to update their skills and competencies.

Finally, employers are interested in your commitment to ongoing learning, demonstrable skills as well as skills-based evidence over degrees. In fact, in a study conducted by U.S.based- Northeastern University, indicated that 55 per cent of all respondents saw microcredentialling eventually reducing the emphasis currently placed on degree-based hiring. Several companies, including Google, EY, Costco and Home Depot no longer consider degrees as a major component of the hiring process. 

Thus, microcredentialling is perceived as forming a substantial part of the future of work while improving access to the workforce for many, among them, workers with disabilities.

For more information on free LinkedIn Learning courses, visit: First Work x LinkedIn

Carter Hammett is the Manager of Employment Services with Epilepsy Toronto. He can be reached at carter@epilepsytoronto.org


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