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Meeting Needs, Finding Means: Micro-credentials and the Future of Learning

Much of the last year has shown how flexible and persistent Manitobans can be. Indeed, it is those qualities that also ensure Manitoba’s potential, to emerge on the other side of pressing social challenges with determination for a stronger educational future. Persistence is a sterling quality, to be sure: but flexibility moving forward is likely to be a top-of-mind need for our province’s leaders and learners as we scope out higher education’s post-pandemic recovery. Micro-credentials are a vital way for learners to gain skills in ways that work best for them, while still meeting evolving labour market needs and shifting industry demands. They are an important part of Manitoba’s educational future.

The Meaning

Micro-credentials comprise a broad category of accredited, short-form training opportunities that are industry-driven and focused on skill development. Offered as ‘short bursts’, they are seen as “additional, alternate, complementary to, or a component of a formal qualification” (Pan-Canadian micro-credential definition, Oliver 2019).

With this in mind, micro-credentials are less a function of time spent learning (like a formal degree program based on credit or contact hours), and more a measurement of a learner’s competency in a very specialized area. In a micro-credential, students are trained on a very specific task, relevant to their career pathway and/or current needs as dictated by external forces. Ultimately, learners are developing the skills that will make them the most effective, relevant, and innovative practitioners in response to pressing challenges, early on and well into their careers.

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The Muscle

Besides economic practicality, micro-credentials have many benefits to learners who are navigating personal and social pressures in addition to anticipated career demands.

Micro-credentials are:

  • a great fit for someone who needs a flexible programming option or does not have time or money for a traditional credential;
  • aimed at adding very specific skills to an existing skill set, to ultimately enhance one’s professional qualification;
  • excellent for someone considering a career change to gain basic, yet focused skills;
  • great for employers to know which prospective job candidates have the specific or specialized skills required in a particular course of duties;
  • helpful for employers and employees to engage in practical or cooperative training endeavours;
  • scalable and stackable: they allow learners to take on only what is necessary at any given time, and then to broaden and expand that awareness as they see fit.

While these are just a few benefits of micro-credentials, ultimately, they afford the time and space needed by learners to expand their educational horizons, without sacrificing quality, relevance, and impact.

Micro-credentials in Manitoba

Manitoba’s post-secondary institutions are placing increased value on micro-credentials, with some offering up their learning options.

Provincial highlights over the last year or so, involve rapid-response programs to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and expanded programming in general. Of note were the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology’s micro-credential for Indigenous students, Red River College’s double offering for training in COVID-19 testing and immunization, and Assiniboine Community College’s development of eight new micro-credential programs.

Below are some links to micro-credential pages at Manitoba post-secondary institutions and professional organizations, as well as some from beyond the province.

Assiniboine Community College

Red River College

Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology

Manitoba Construction Sector Council

Manitoba Prior Learning Assessment Network: Webinar

Colleges & Institutes Canada (CICAN)

eCampus Ontario et al.: ‘Is the Future Micro?’ report

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Want to know more about a particular micro-credential option available in Manitoba, or elsewhere? Contact us for support.

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a group of students learning in a classroom

The Way Forward

Students need learning options that fit into their already-packed schedules without taxing their well-being. Post-secondary institutions know they must provide the most impactful, relevant educational experiences possible for the betterment of the Canadian economy. They must also maintain awareness of mental health and well-being across their communities.

As flexibility becomes the standard mode of contemporary educational practice, work must continue in addition to the work that’s already been done by Manitoba’s institutions and support organizations, beyond the devastating frame of the pandemic, and well into the future. Micro-credentials can, and should, play a vital role.

In their recent Skills, Talent, and Knowledge Strategy, the Government of Manitoba put micro-credentials on the radar, intending to “explore opportunities for micro-credentials…in a Manitoba context and across jurisdictions, assisting with economic recovery and helping individuals…quickly top-up their skills and connect to the labour market” (10).

It’s a tall task, but micro-credentials are an important step in helping members of Manitoba’s post-secondary communities find an educational sweet spot, and a way forward that serves all stakeholders in establishing Manitoba as a vibrant, innovative leader in the Canadian educational and economic spaces.

Campus Manitoba is a consortium of Manitoba’s public universities and colleges. Through collaborative projects and shared services, we facilitate student mobility and expand access to post-secondary programs for students in Manitoba. In addition to campusmanitoba.ca, our websites include ecoursesmb.casetyourcourse.ca, and openedmb.ca.

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