OpenEd Receives $15K Grant from D2L for Micro-Credentials Research Project

Posted on Tuesday February 02, 2021

OpenEd is the proud recipient of a D2L (Desire2Learn) Innovation Guild Research Grant for an emerging research project: 'Closing the Skill Gap: The Value of Micro-Credentials to Canadian Employers'.

The D2L Innovation Guild is made up of four universities, including the University of Guelph, and is currently chaired by Michelle Fach, executive director, OpenEd. 

Micro-credentials have emerged as a promising, flexible educational option focused on industry skills and delivered in shorter frameworks than traditional degrees and diplomas. Leading the research project are OpenEd staff members Natalie Green, associate director, distance and continuing education, and Jennifer Grochocinski, manager, business development and continuing education. 

“We envision that in 2030, learning opportunities will be flexible and authentic, and tailored to the specific needs of the individual,” says Green. “With the number of institutions offering alternative credentials, including micro-credentials, it will be vital for universities to collaborate with industry to ensure training is authentic and meets the needs of employers.” 

The research project focuses on the Canadian job market and the effects of automation. It is estimated that more than 25% of jobs in Canada will be disrupted by technology in the next 10 years, and up to half of existing jobs will require a significant shift in the core skills required to perform them (RBC, 2018; World Economic Forum, 2020). 

Using a mixed methods approach—including online surveys, informant interviews, and focus groups—the main goals of the project are as follows:

  • Gain insight into Canadian employers' familiarity with micro-credentials
  • Determine if micro-credentials are acceptable to employers as a signal of competence and accomplishment
  • Acquire perspective that can inform a post-secondary strategy on micro-credentials 

The data and analysis gathered from this research will serve as foundational knowledge for D2L Guild members to consider when developing and implementing a micro-credential strategy. As well, project findings will be made available to post-secondary institutions across Canada through publications and conference presentations. 

“Employers indicate that they are challenged in finding a workforce that has the relevant skills for their environment,” says Grochocinski. “Innovation in teaching and learning will require universities to reconsider heavily-structured traditional four-year degree programs and semi-structured continuing education programs and put a greater focus on designing programs that are shorter in duration, personalized and stackable, and allow for individuals to flow in and out as their goals change.” 

Dr. Lena Kushnir, associate director, educational technologies at OpenEd, has taken on the role of research partner for 'Exploring Extended Reality (XR) Pedagogical Initiatives at Three Guild Member Universities: An Environmental Scan' submitted by the University of Waterloo. 

“The use of XR technologies in higher education is still quite new,” says Kushnir. “As the need for virtual pedagogies increased with increased needs for online and remote approaches to teaching and learning, XR technologies can meet those needs in the most innovative way, for example, 3D laboratory simulations that allow for life-like scenarios without any of the associated risks.” 

Additional University of Guelph projects receiving funding include:

  • Dr. John Donald, associate professor, as a Co-Principal Investigator with University of Waterloo for 'Leadership skills to support experiential learning for Canadian Engineering Grand Challenges'
  • Dr. Karen Gordon, associate professor, as Lead Principal Investigator, Dr. Julie Vale, associate professor, as Co-Principal Investigator, and Dr. Ryan Clemmer, associate professor, as Co-Principal Investigator with University of Guelph for 'Developing an assessment design tool using a problem analysis framework'