Ep. 256: Creating a Shared Language for Degree and Micro-Credentials at University of Calgary

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Dr. Sheila LeBlanc, Associate Vice President of Continuing Education at The University of Calgary, joins the podcast to talk about the adoption curve for micro-credentials in higher education and the need for shared language and frameworks to accelerate it.

Competency-based recognition

A fully research-intensive institution, the University of Calgary serves up to forty thousand students each year. Their vibrant continuing education offerings are crucial in attracting top talent and keeping the school on the cutting edge.

According to the National Education Association, micro-credentials are designed to give educators and support staff access to much-needed continuous learning. Designed to be flexible and performance-based, they allow instructors to demonstrate a laser-focused mastery of a specific subject.

Dr. LeBlanc has a unique perspective, comparing her organization’s programming portfolios to product development theories. Some are at the very beginning of the development process, especially the more traditional long-form academics.

Short-cycle learning is gaining momentum as the way we work evolves. Programs that take only weeks or months instead of years encourage people to upskill regularly, which can drive growth in both our institutions and our communities. 

While Dr. LeBlanc’s department and others like it have been offering micro-credential programming for decades, there are constantly new opportunities for creating a bridge between four-year degrees and more contemporary learning styles.

Designing recognizing pathways for learning

While micro-credentialing offers many advantages for students and employers, without a shared language or standardization, the full potential of these programs is wasted. 

Building an ecosystem with government offices and funding agencies is critical to ensure everyone benefits in the micro-credential sphere. 

As Dr. LeBlanc points out, there’s a “shortening half-life of new knowledge and this need for continuous learning and continuous skills in our workforce to make us a competitive economy.”

Helping people attain new skills is vital as they yearn for more meaningful work. But without a common language, it’s challenging to identify the depth and breadth of what’s being learned. 

In the UK, New Zealand, and continental Europe, higher education institutions and regulators are coming together to codify levels of learning. However, the US and Canada still haven’t created a basic framework that works for both students and educators.


How degrees and micro-credentials can work together

Our guest shares a real-world example from the University where her programs are making a difference. With the oil and gas industry in a downturn, many skilled engineers found themselves unemployed. 

Dr. LeBlanc’s department created a micro-credentialing program in partnership with the School of Computer Science and Engineering in software foundations that served as a jumping-off point to a master’s degree program and a highly valuable skillset. 

She also believes that students pursuing their undergrad degrees should be able to earn credentials such as project management or Microsoft certifications that would boost “their readiness for the world of work.”

Degree programs need to be more relevant these days as the requirements for entry-level workers evolve rapidly. In addition, hyper-specialized credentialing and ongoing education keeps the learning institutions in a student’s life for far longer than the usual four years.

How can we mobilize new knowledge faster?

In this digital transformation era, the workforce constantly needs to stay abreast of new technological developments, no matter the industry. 

Well-rounded citizens are part of a functioning civil society, but a formal degree is no longer any sort of workforce guarantee with the rate of change happening. Building new styles of education can get skilled workers into the economy more quickly.

Dr. LeBlanc and her colleagues are passionate about mobilizing the latest knowledge and making it meaningful for learners, employers, and our society as a whole.

Finding alignment with our credentialing language

If the ultimate goal is to serve our students, embracing a common language and a standard micro-credential framework is extremely important. So what’s the next step?

According to Dr. LeBlanc, it’s time to bring academic leaders together to create transparency and shared understanding. Working with local and regional governments will also be pivotal in stressing the importance of this kind of learning. 

Professional associations and insurance organizations will also play a part in establishing policies and structures for credentialing. But leaders from every industry must serve as advocates for continuing education.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Sheila LeBlanc, Associate Vice President of Continuing Education at The University of Calgary. To hear this episode and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

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