eCampusOntario is a provincially funded non-profit organization that leads a consortium of the province’s publicly funded colleges, universities, and Indigenous institutes. We develop the platforms, tools, and research that advance the use of education technology and digital learning environments in support of lifelong learning.
The landscape of micro-credential development has expanded significantly since 2020, when the need for a micro-credential toolkit was conceptualized and initial planning began. The early adopters of micro-credentials in higher education and government highlighted their potential impact for skills-based and short-duration learning, as these examples demonstrate :
- In 2016 the European Skills Agenda called for more modular and flexible learning through the development of a European approach to micro-credentials. This was followed in 2017 with a commitment by the European Union to quality and inclusive education, training, and lifelong learning. By November 2020, the Rome Ministerial Communiqué identified micro-credentials as a vehicle to democratize knowledge and sustain lifelong learning (Futures et al., 2020) .
- The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), part of New Zealand’s regulated education and training system, incorporated micro-credentials in 2018 as a recognized and credentialed part of their education system. The NZQA regulations for micro-credentials require a coherent set of skills and knowledges be addressed to meet the needs of employees, members, and people.
- By 2017, eCampusOntario started building a micro-credential ecosystem in Ontario with two rounds of pilots at post-secondary institutions, and co-created one of the first micro-credential frameworks developed and tested in what was then still an emerging area of educational innovation.
Micro-credential development greatly accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic as a practical, impactful, and rapid way to address urgent skill needs and gaps. In Ontario, there has been significant investment provincially in micro-credential development, including expanded funding eligibility through the Ontario Student Assistance Program. Other provinces, including British Columbia and Saskatchewan, and national organizations, including Colleges & Institutes Canada (CiCan, 2021), introduced their own approaches and frameworks. Globally, increased government adoption of micro-credentials in countries (e.g., Australia) has occurred alongside growing interest from organizations such as UNESCO. However, while growing global investment and focus on micro-credentials have codified micro-credentials into some education systems and frameworks, the sharing of practical experiences for building, offering, and evaluating them is not as comprehensively developed.
For the past five years, eCampusOntario has been working to help support the Ontario post-secondary education sector in the exploration, experimentation, and development of micro-credential programs. Through annual events and communities of practice, we provide the opportunity and space for conversations and connections. To enable micro-credential practice and development, eCampusOntario has funded 36 pilot projects across Ontario post-secondary education institutions. The learnings from these pilots have helped to shape the micro-credential ecosystem in the province and have been documented. These findings have also helped shape the content in this toolkit.
The foundation of eCampusOntario’s work in this space is the Micro-credential Principles and Framework. That document was developed in 2019 by a group of employers, colleges, universities, and other public agencies dedicated to building a harmonized micro-credential ecosystem in Ontario. It has been tested and piloted by institutions across Ontario and their employer partners. The content in this toolkit is based on the principles and framework document, building on it to provide to a “how-to guide” for developing micro-credential programs, rather than a comprehensive overview of the subject.
eCampusOntario’s Micro-credential Toolkit outlines how to navigate opportunities and challenges of developing micro-credentials around three core themes: collaboration, structures, and recognition. It also offers practical suggestions from practitioners who have developed micro-credentials at post-secondary institutions throughout Ontario. These practitioners share their knowledge on building micro-credentials based on their own experiences.
During regular community of practice meetings, participants collaborated to co-create the toolkit’s sections and structure, and then co-wrote a draft of the toolkit in a shared document. The result of this process is a practical road map to developing, testing, and revising micro-credentials as the ecosystem continues to grow.
This first iteration of the toolkit was then developed collaboratively by several volunteer working groups, comprising micro-credential community leaders. To encourage participation and offer flexibility around competing priorities, eCampusOntario organized two working groups that varied in purpose and commitment:
- The micro working group, a small group of individuals, met every two weeks to collaboratively develop an outline and content for the toolkit.
- The macro working group represented a larger community of stakeholders that met every two months to validate outcomes of the micro-working group and to learn about the toolkit’s progress.
Prior to engaging both groups, we consulted the community at large to establish the following guiding principles to define the scope of the resource:
- Learner focused: Designed with and inclusive of lifelong learner feedback; learner-centred pedagogy.
- Educator and employer partners: Common and equitable skills accreditation that supports recognition and transferability across sectors, with a clear role for employers.
- Situated: Situated in—and informed by—local, national, and global contexts; aligned with industry standards.
- Frame of reference: Designed as a blueprint and guide to account for different contexts and environments.
- Open: Openly licensed, open development, open community.As the micro-credential ecosystem continues to grow and shift, as institutions and industry partners solidify their partnerships, and as this toolkit is tested and used, the content will adapt to these changing contexts. It is intended that the Micro-credential Toolkit will be adopted by institutions, organizations, industry, and government to develop new and advanced existing micro-credential programming. In 2022, this first iteration will be piloted by post-secondary institutions with varying experiences in micro-credentialing to evaluate its validity, applicability, and existing gaps. Piloting will inform adaptation plans for the second iteration.
eCampusOntario would like to acknowledge the following volunteers for their contributions:
Micro working group
Erin Akins, Tracy Al-idrissi, Nick Baker, Michel Beaulieu, Joseph Bertrand, Alissa Bigelow, Colleen Booth, Bettina Brockerhoff-Macdonald, James Buckingham, Mandi Buckner, Mary Chaktsiris, Olivier Chartrand, Dave Cormier, Michelle DeCoste, Christina Dinsmore, Jennifer Francisco, Sam Grey, Laurie Harrison, Aaron Hobbs, Shelly Kelly, Lenora Knapp, Rod Lastra, Sharon Lee, Pat Maher, Fiona McArthur, Paige McClelland, Tracy Mitchell-Ashley, Jennifer Mosley, James Papple, Jen Porter, Don Presant, Umair Qureshi, Jessie Richards, Jennifer Sommer, Val Thomas, Alexandra Varela, Russ Wilde, Edmond Zahedi, Gwen Zeldenrust
Macro working group
Tracy Al-idrissi, Melissa Antony, Nick Baker, Michel Beaulieu, Joseph Bertrand, Alissa Bigelow, Colleen Booth, Daniel Brett, Bettina Brockerhoff-Macdonald, James Buckingham, Mandi Buckner, Kelli Buckreus, Heather Carroll, Mary Chaktsiris, Mark Chapeskie, Olivier Chartrand, Janice Cooke, Dave Cormier, Beatrix Dart, Charlotte de Araujo, Michelle DeCoste, Jennifer Francisco, Eric Fry, Aline Germain-Rutherford, Sam Grey, Laurie Harrison, Johanne Hayes, Nazlin Hirji, Aaron Hobbs, Nina James, Debbie Johnston, Shelly Kelly, Lenora Knapp, Indira Koneru, Rod Lastra, Ivy Chiu Loke, Pat Maher, Todd Malarczuk, Daniella Mallinick, Fiona McArthur, Paige McClelland, Tracy Mitchell-Ashley, Yvette Munro, Nadine Ogborn, Linda Pardy, James Papple, Dan Piedra, Heather Pollex, Marilyn Powers, Jen Porter, Don Presant, Carol Preston, Umair Qureshi, Gabriel Ramsay, Hazel Richardson, Shauna Roch, Lucy Schenk, Christina Sckopke, Vin Seunath, Robindra Sidhu, Claire Turenne Sjolander, Paul Smith, Peder Soeraas, Theresa Steger, Julie Sullivan, Lindsay Tayler, Val Thomas, Eric Tremblay, Nancy Turner, Alexandra Varela, ShiKui Wu, Russ Wilde, Edmond Zahedi, Gwen Zeldenrust