Professor Peter Scott
President, Athabasca University
When we gather this September in Calgary, Canada for our tenth Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF10), we will be exploring the theme of innovations for educational resilience, an idea I have been thinking about quite a lot, given the rapidly changing state of our world.
Resilience has been the subject of much discussion over the past two-and-a-half years of life during a global pandemic, in education as in other spheres. Personal resilience is a tall order for people who have every right to feel the pressure and challenge of forced change. But when we talk about educational resilience, what we are really describing is systemic flexibility — the ability and opportunity for institutions to adapt to ongoing disruption. As the world continues to be disrupted, learners demand increased flexibility in their educational options while they personally adjust
to ever-evolving pressures in life and in the workforce.
For too long, we have been locked into thinking of education as the full-time pursuit of a rigidly curated curriculum.
Resilience in education systems is about broadening our view of learning, not only for the constant stream of teenagers heading out of high school to university, but also for people both younger and older who need learning in their lifelong journey.
An example of this flexibility lies in a growing focus on micro-credentials, which offer a stackable, custom alternative to the traditional programme curricula offered by universities and colleges. At Athabasca University, we are offering such micro-courses through our entrepreneurial arm, PowerED™, partnering with external organisations, with government, and with experts from our own faculties. For example, together with the Rick Hansen Foundation, we offer certification in designing and building accessible spaces for people with disabilities. With our own Faculty of Science
and Technology, we are developing micro-credentials in Ethics and Artificial Intelligence, Innovative and Diversified Energy Resources, and Energy Efficiency in Architecture, Engineering and Construction — areas of particular interest to business and industry.
Whilst most world micros are still non-credit, a range of frameworks to leverage the combined or “stacking” value of micros are being developed internationally, for example, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Commission. (See, for instance, this article in University Affairs: https://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/are-microcredentials-thefuture-of-higher-ed/). Some countries, such as New Zealand, have leapt ahead and embraced stackable micro-credentials nationally as part of their regulated education and training system, making them fit smoothly with already recognised credentials and awards.
Looking at micro-credentials and the needs of the workforce moves post-secondary leaders away from curriculum thinking to outcomes thinking — a focus on what we are trying to achieve with and for learners. This work is beginning in pockets throughout the system; but how much more effective would these efforts be if they were supported and recognised for credentials across the broad expanse of Commonwealth universities?
For some of us, the longer-term vision is a fully resilient world system that can respond constantly and quickly to changing individual needs via universal credit. In this world, any programme of study or sub-, micro- or nano-credential can find a common way to fit together under learners’ control, to suit their learning outcome needs rather than the system’s convenience. For our learners, that is resilience worth having.