Stacking and Micro-credentials
Just a short one today, on micro-credentials.
In theory, micro-credentials can serve one of two purposes. One is that they can be used as bespoke workforce-oriented training to fill very specific/niche labour market ends; the other is that they can be used – like credits – to stack towards large credentials such as diplomas, master’s degrees, and others. If you draw up the policy framework for micro-credentials in the right way, they can achieve either or both of these goals at the same time (see recent policy work in Europe and Australia, for example). But for incredibly frustrating reasons, Canada has chosen to go the other way and deliberately put barriers in the way of making micro-credentials stackable into larger credentials.
How have we done this? Let me count the ways.
First: provincial governments simply haven’t taken the lead in creating frameworks that prioritize stackability. Either they ignore the issue altogether in the framework or they waffle about the framework in such a way that basically institutions can do whatever they want. Which is to say: they don’t have a framework.
Second: to its credit, Colleges and Institutes Canada (that is, the body which represents community colleges) did get its members to agree on a collective framework for micro-credentials, which in this country is nothing short of a damn miracle. But the framework kind of punts on the issue saying simply “Microcredentials may provide clear and seamless pathways across different credentials (both non-credit and credit) and may be stackable” without creating any rules or standards about how that could happen. This definition leaves open the possibility that some colleges could create credentials which convert internally to stackable credentials, but effectively rules out something that could be portable across institutions (unless, for whatever reason, a college’s Prior Learning Recognition system happened to accept it outside any formal credit-transfer system). So, it’s better than nothing, but it’s far from perfect.
Three: universities are too paralyzed by process to even think properly about micro-credentials. Basically, the message most institutions have absorbed from government about micro-credentials is that they need to be “fast” (in the sense that they need to be developed lightning quick to deal with labour market opportunities/demands). But at universities, things which could end up as part of a degree need to be approved by the University’s Senate, General Faculties Council, or whatever. And the thing is, the words “Senate” and “fast” are rarely found in the same sentence.
So, what many universities have done instead is hand the whole enterprise over to their Continuing Education departments, which are certainly fast (precisely because they exist outside the purview of Senate) but are also, at most institutions anyway, under no circumstance permitted to issue anything resembling credit. That is to say, in order to reach the government goal of “fast”, universities have basically tossed away any possible method of making micro-credentials stackable.
This isn’t a lost cause. Governments could get wise to this problem and refine their frameworks to encourage stackability. CICan, potentially with limited trouble, could add detail to its existing framework to make both stacking and portability a possibility. Universities might one day choose to make Senates quicker and less dysfunctional with respect to dealing with things like micro-credentials, rather than simply passing the buck to their cont. ed directors.
It’s all do-able: we just must stop ignoring the problem.