Western is at the forefront of a fast-growing movement to offer microcredentials: short-course nuggets that provide learners with enhanced professional qualifications and skills.
With a $650,000 funding from the province, Western will develop three suites of microcredentials leading to microcertificates in healthy aging, pedorthics and biotechnology for the food and bio-pharmaceutical industries.
“Microcredentials have really burst onto the scene in the last three to four years – and, coming out of the gate, Western has been a leader among Ontario universities,” said John Doerksen, Western’s vice-president (academic) and acting provost.
Western offers 90 microcredential courses that are student-loan-eligible through OSAP, said Nicole Tate-Hill, director of Western Continuing Studies, where most of the units have a centralized home.
“The biggest distinction between microcredentials and traditional, participation-based continuing-studies courses is that these have very clear, standardized learning outcomes related to a specific skill, and then an assessment at the end of it,” Tate-Hill said.
“Microcertification is an opportunity to reskill and upskill,” she said. “The courses are quicker, more accessible and more stackable than conventional university courses. And because they’re usually designed in partnership with industry, they’re extremely relevant and responsive to workplace needs.”
General microcredential offerings from Western include project management, leadership, marketing and conflict management.
The new ones under development, to be ready for enrolment in September 2022, are more specialized.
The pedorthics microcertificate, for example, will consist of three, eight-week microcredentials to help specialists broaden their expertise in orthotics and lower-limb care..
Micro-certification is an ideal way to future-proof careers and build extra skills into a workplace or resumé, added Sarah Padfield, director of operations and finance at the Faculty of Health Studies.
Her team includes partners in the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging and in the care-home sector who together are designing a four-course microcertificate in aging well, with the aim of improving senior fitness and mobility, preventing falls and improving well-being.
The courses, Padfield said, are ideal for personal support workers, nurses and others in regulated health professions, people with aging parents and new graduates in kinesiology.
“Our students, in the broadest terms will be people who are engaging or connecting with older people,” Padfield said.
Doerksen said the credibility, flexibility and short duration of microcredentials are important to employers and learners alike.
“They’re valuable not just to provide technical skills and knowledge in specific fields, but also in a more general way in providing social learning, in leadership courses for example. It’s the kind of knowledge and skills development that’s essential to the workplace. For us as educators, it also reinforces our role both in preparing students for life and preparing them for a living.”
Flexible time and place
While some microcredentials are suitable for people in any field of study, some are also highly specialized.
Chemical and biochemical engineering professor Amarjeet Bassi is developing six, 20-hour microcredentials that together will form a microcertificate in the growing field of biotechnology for the food and bio-pharmaceutical industries.
“The biggest advantage here is that someone can continue their jobs, their professions, their other studies, and can complete these credentials on weekends or in their off-hours,” Bassi said. “They can choose their own time and place and can do this over the course of one year or two years or whatever timeframe works for them.
“In the future, there may eventually be entire degrees made of different microcredentials and microcertificate units and a whole new way of thinking about education.”
Bassi has partnered with Fanshawe College, Brescia University College, and the chemical and biochemical engineering program at Western to develop these microcredentials.
eCampusOntario has led the development and growth of microcredentials since 2017 and, with partners across sectors, has developed a network and framework for building connections among postsecondary institutions and the Ontario workforce.
The province launched the Ontario Microcredentials Challenge Fund last April to fund microcredential development proposals that would be responsive to learner and employer needs, support Ontario’s economic recovery, and contribute to continued economic prosperity.
Ontario’s three-year, $59.5 million microcredentials strategy builds on the province’s commitment to providingstudent financial support for microcredentials through the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).