Micro-credentials: an update

In this month’s edition, we re-visit the world of micro-credentials. We’re checking in with the experts from our September 2021 issue to learn about recent developments in this quickly-evolving space.

We welcome back our guest editors Michelle Lamberson, Director, Flexible Learning Special Projects in the Office of the Provost, UBC Okanagan, & Larry Bouthillier, Executive Director, UBC Extended Learning.  



In our September 2021 Edubytes article, we introduced the concepts of digital credentials (the technology) and micro-credentials (the educational program). That article provided a number of overview links that demonstrated the dynamic nature of the field, and highlighted a few UBC examples. Below, we provide an update on micro-credentials and dig further into developments in non-credit micro-credentials at UBC.


MAEST publishes micro-credential framework, encourages further development 

In September, 2021 (right after our last article was published!), a Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training (MAEST) news release introduced the new Micro-credential Framework for BC’s Public Post-secondary Education System (PDF). The document includes a definition, a set of guiding principles and a framework intended to promote a shared understanding of micro-credentials among learners, employers and post-secondary institutions.

For the BC post-secondary context, a micro-credential is defined as follows:

“Micro-credentials recognize stand-alone, short-duration learning experiences that are competency-based; align with industry, employer, community and/or Indigenous community needs; and can be assessed and recognized for employment or learning purposes.”

This framework identifies assessment (not necessarily credit status) as a key characteristic of a micro-credential so that the learning accomplishment can be recognized. The framework strongly encourages developers to create pathways among and between micro-credentials in a way that encourages growth and enables learners to progress to higher proficiency levels. Moreover, collaboration is encouraged between educational partners to promote transferability, laddering and stackability.

Drawing upon this new framework, MAEST issued two micro-credential funding calls, one in September 2021 and another in January 2022, which included several successful UBC applications, outlined below.


MAEST-funded UBC micro-credentials: emphasis on brevity, quality and workplace relevance

Since the MAEST’s initial call in Fall 2020, UBC has received over $2 million in funding to develop 14 new non-credit micro-credential programs. These programs, listed below, encompass initiatives at both UBC Okanagan and UBC Vancouver. All are non-credit and are characterized by brevity, quality, and relevance to the workplace in their respective fields.


UBC micro-credential programs that have received MAEST startup funding


Program design

Each UBC Okanagan micro-credential is structured as a Letter of Proficiency (see UBCO’s Senate Policy O-129 (PDF)), meaning that they represent a short-duration (between 25-60 hours) learning experience assessed according to an identified standard; each targeting knowledge, skills and competencies that are workplace-relevant; and are developed for a professional target audience in specific sectors/industries. The micro-credentials developed for delivery in 2022, Performance-Based Design and Lifecycle Cost Analysis of Bridges (June 2022) and Metabolomics (August, 2022), focus at the upper-undergraduate/ graduate-equivalent knowledge level (attained through formal study and/or or work experience) and are both exploring how prior learning assessment approaches can be leveraged to create a credit recognition pathway.

UBC Vancouver's offerings consist of two to four short courses, which combine for a total investment of 50-60 hours of learners’ time. This aligns with the UBCV Senate non-credit Policy V-129 (currently in draft form), which expects UBC micro-certificates to consist of a minimum of 50 expected hours of learning activities, and requires an assessment that demonstrates the student has achieved competency.


Program delivery models

These programs employ both synchronous and asynchronous online delivery in different amounts. Designed to align with the needs of respective professional audiences, the specific instructional models can vary. The two examples below highlight how different approaches are being applied.

Metabolomics comprises 39 hours of expected learning activities. Learners participate in four consecutive real-time, online sessions which include seminars, break-out rooms, expert presentations and feedback. Learners then have ten days to complete an e-portfolio that provides evidence of learning. To manage the specialized computing needs of this data-intensive offering, learners have access to cloud-based virtual computer environments.

The Blockchain Innovation and Implementation micro-credential leverages a different synchronous-asynchronous pattern. This program consists of two four-week courses, with a one-week break in between. Each course combines self-paced independent study with group discussion and instructor-led synchronous classes held in weeks two and four. In their asynchronous activities, students review readings, podcasts and videos and submit assignments where they apply their learning to real-world examples. Finally, students complete a capstone design challenge in which they work in teams to design an original blockchain solution to a societal or business problem. Students present their projects at a two-hour industry networking event.


Non-credit (micro-) credentials: not just for external audiences

Non-credit credentials mapped to a proficiency/micro-credential standard are also being developed to benefit UBC students. For example, in 2021 Winter Term 2, the UBC Okanagan Interdisciplinary Co-op Program, in collaboration with the UBC Wine Research Centre, launched an innovative, cross-campus enhancement to co-op education focusing on a particular industry sector. The UBC Wine Sector Co-op specialization combines specific learning, mentoring and focused work experience within the wine sector. Core to this program is a new non-credit, credentialed online course open to UBCO and UBCV coop students that introduces learners to the BC wine sector in advance of their first work experience. Learners receive a non-credit Letter of Proficiency for successful completion of the course. Future plans are to enhance the experience further by credentialing the entire program as a non-credit certificate.


For more information: micro-credentials continue to grow

In our previous article, we provided some links to illustrate how micro-credentials are being developed and deployed in other regions. Below are four articles that demonstrate the continued growth of micro-credentials, along with some practical deployment advice. Note that the first article provides a nice baseline for the information in the second.


Stay tuned

In this article, we've focused on UBC's official micro-credentials, and lightly touched on additional non-credit credential activity. There are many projects underway, funded in part through UBCO's Aspire-2040 Learning Transformations (ALT-2040) Fund, UBCV's Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF) and each campus's Excellence Fund. These projects are exploring ways to enhance practical learning, document skills and competencies throughout the curriculum, and engage with our diverse community partners. Some of these will result in formal UBC non-credit credentials, whereas others may be showcased through informal digital badges. In future articles we hope to explore more of these examples, and demonstrate how these programs and their associated evolving technologies help learners create a more comprehensive representation of their journey and learning record.

Enjoyed reading about micro-credentials? Learn about other topics we covered in the June 2022 edition by reading the complete Edubytes newsletter. To view past issues, visit the Edubytes archive.

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