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State of Continuing Education 2022: Why Institutions Are Hesitant to Adopt Micro-Credential Programming

Micro-credentialing may still be seen by some institutions as a passing trend, but these programs offer so many opportunities and pathways to students that didn’t exist before. Finding a common language, as well as a way to communicate the value of micro-credentials to faculty, could change the future of education.

Evo: Why is there a hesitancy to adopt and expand access to alternative credentials?

Sheila LeBlanc (SL): I suggest it’s not just the institutional willingness to adopt—it’s actually government funders, it’s employers, it’s creating a shared understanding of what micro-credentials are. My opinion is that it’s rooted in the lack of a credentials or qualifications framework. We don’t have a common language to discuss our alternative credentials, in terms of the depth and breadth of learning taking place or what it is that we’re measuring.

Across the higher education system, people have a sense of what a bachelor’s or master’s degree is, or even what a graduate certificate is to a certain extent. But when we start talking about alternative credentials and micro-credentials, we haven’t created enough common understanding within higher education institutions to encourage the rest of the academy and our colleagues in various faculties and disciplines to work in that space actively.

And what we’re finding is that if you work with a particular employer and create something [an alternative credential] together, they’ll understand what that is. But for mass creation and amplification of alternative credentials, we need some common understanding of what it is we’re doing, what it is we are selling. That way, students can see their value for themselves, employers want to support it, and government funders want to provide funding for it. We’re at a tipping point in that need for common understanding. Other international jurisdictions have been taking this on more actively than we have here in North America.

Evo: What advice would you share with senior executives and other leaders aiming to create a more diversified, more accessible and more future-oriented institutional environment?

SL: I’d start off recommending that senior leadership offer support and seek funding structures that work outside the traditional academic structure, so we can access more financial resources. Also, support with some of our shared services mechanisms, whether that be legal services or otherwise. CE needs to have a voice, a seat at the instructional technology decision-making table.

When we start talking about our learning management system, what items we’re using for video capture or managing our digital assets, a lot of those resources and technology solutions are a significant part of the work we do. Historically, we have been left off on the side, working on our own.

It’s time for those practices—what we’re seeing as best practices—to migrate back into the center and create that exchange of knowledge and necessary systems and infrastructure for us to create a higher education system of the future that’s a little more flexible and allows the individual to plan their own journey through the different types of learning they can take.

We’re talking about how we can inform and be part of the information technology (IT) stack discussions because—in all instances, whether educational IT or back-end IT—it becomes a significant part of what we do, particularly in an online learning environment.

And last but not least is the need, at a research-intensive university, to start the conversations at the top. From our presidents to vice provost, to senior leaders, it is important to be talking about the importance of learning in all forms—short cycle learning, micro-credential learning, continuous learning and upgrading—not just the importance of research and research funding. All these things are an important contribution to our institutional mission.

That cultural shift is important in the research-intensive sector. We need that support from our leadership. We have been asking for it and have been getting some great traction here at UCalgary these days.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

To read the full State of Continuing Education 2022, click here.

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