The evolution of formal learning

We know that there are many ways of learning – both formal and informal. Choosing the most appropriate method of learning for a given situation is important, because it will influence the speed and effectiveness with which you learn. Often, when we think about taking a course as a formal means of learning, it is associated with a rather lengthy process requiring weeks, months or even years. Of course, this is true in some cases – particularly for traditional post-secondary studies. However, the world of formal learning is now changing, thanks to a new approach called “micro-credentials”.

Simply put, a micro-credential confirms that a particular skill or competency has been acquired by an individual. A micro-credential will typically consist of a small number of short courses developed in conjunction with industry (to ensure relevance). Assessment is a core component of any micro-credential – the learner must be able to demonstrate that they have achieved a prescribed level of competency in the defined area. While most micro-credentials are usually delivered online (making them very convenient for the learner), this is not an essential trait.

Micro-credentials are frequently “stackable”, which means that multiple micro-credentials can “add up” to a specified higher-level credential. To illustrate, Durham College offers two short micro-credentials for Construction Jobsite Readiness. Students who complete both will also receive a Recognition of Achievement credential.

Upon successfully completing a micro-credential, the student will be awarded with a digital badge instead of a paper credential. The digital badge is owned by the student and can be shared with anyone they choose at any time. It can be added to a LinkedIn page or other social media sites, so that prospective employers can see what an individual has done to advance their skills. When the viewer clicks on the micro-credential name, they are presented with a description of the skills or competencies that were developed and (in some cases) even see evidence of those abilities via a student-posted video, paper, etc.

Going forward, it will become increasingly common to see micro-credentials that can be earned by providing evidence of real-world application of the skill or competency. This will be similar to the Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) process that exists today. By finding opportunities to get recognition for skills you’ve already built, it will be possible to expand your list of formal learning credentials quickly and easily.

Micro-credentials offer a great approach to building specific competencies and skills needed for current or future positions. Be sure to keep watching for new micro-credentials going forward, so you can use them to help advance your career.

To learn more about the dynamic programs offered through the Centre for Professional and Part-time Learning, please visit