Industry Insights

Building a Canadian Skills Market Through Improved Credit Transfer

03/21/22   |  
Graeme Owens, EVP & Country Manager at Keypath Education Canada

Today’s working learners have a lot of choices when it comes to getting the training they need to advance, upskill, or reskill. Colleges and universities are no longer the only avenues available for quality post-secondary education - and traditional degrees and diplomas are only one way to demonstrate competency.

We have all seen the investments governments across the country are making in this area; micro-credentials and non-traditional programs are in demand because they’re short, flexible, and stackable. From the perspective of the learner, investing time, money and energy into a new qualification or credential is much simpler to justify if it’s a means to a greater end, rather than an endpoint. Keeping the door open to continued advancement means we need a system to recognize quality learning and what constitutes a credential.

And of course, the learner’s perspective is often of someone with a mortgage, family responsibilities and an established career already; so, adding a degree or diploma to the wall by attending a full-time multi-year program on campus is no longer realistic. This demand for flexible, online learning is creating opportunities for post-secondary institutions, employers, and workers. But there’s something missing.

Student Pathways

Traditionally, colleges and universities don’t always recognize the credits of other colleges and universities. How could they? There has not been a standard way to assess a course, and the result is that students end up needing to repeat courses when they transfer from one institution to another, costing them valuable time and tuition fees. 

Ontario has taken some steps to remedy this for students transferring from College to University or vice versa. has developed a qualifications framework and transfer guide to outline the knowledge and skills expected of holders of each qualification and how to apply them to their goals. For example, an Ontario Certificate of Qualification could be awarded to someone qualified to work in a specific trade or occupation in Ontario. They may be able to use this certificate towards transfer credits for related college diploma programs. However, there is still more to do: as ONCAT has recently reported, we still need better data sources and systems to see the patterns in student mobility and, therefore better understand their needs, which are linked to the needs of the labour market. The project includes three briefs covering regional disparities, socio-economic pathways, and prior student grades.

Prior Learning Assessment

One way to remove the doubt when it comes to recognizing and giving credit for prior learning is through Prior Learning Assessment & Recognition (PLAR). PLAR helps validate informal learning, such as knowledge gained through work experience. In her article “Prior Learning: Unlocking A Little-Known Career Superpower,” Susan Forseille, PLAR Director, Thompson Rivers University, defines PLAR as “… processes that allow individuals to identify, document, have assessed and gain recognition for their learning done outside of a formal classroom.”

Competency-based learning is all about allowing a student to proceed through a curriculum at their own pace, progressing as competencies, or skills, are proven. It’s related to PLAR, but we can think about their differences in terms of timing: PLAR helps a student bypass certain courses by demonstrating what they already know, whereas a program designed around competency-based learning requires a student to demonstrate their skills before they can proceed. This makes individual competencies recognizable and marketable to employers, in addition to the whole-course approach to certification. 

As we shift out of the COVID-induced economic disturbances, filling workplace and productivity gaps is the booster shot our economy needs. Competency-based learning and recognition of transferable credits can help speed things up so working learners can put their skills into action even as they continue their certification. According to the BC Prior Learning Action Network, “the benefits of PLAR include credential completion, cost-savings and enhanced career opportunities within considerably shorter time frames. From an employer perspective, PLAR makes the organizational succession planning process smoother, requiring less time and financial resources to help both existing and potential employees fill labour gaps. In times of economic turmoil, PLAR can help job seekers upskill and reskill to advance or change their careers. Of note, PLAR can bring up as much as $31 million dollars to BC’s economy.”

What’s Ahead?

Now that colleges and universities have more competition for the hearts and minds of working learners, they need to be able to offer quality courses and make them transferable and stackable to meet the needs of today’s learners—something Keypath can help with.

The world we live in values—and demands—speed and efficiency, as well as quality. We encourage and enable our partners to launch programs with a high degree of complexity to meet the changing workplace needs of high-demand sectors and by empowering learners to overcome long-standing barriers to entry.

When we make it easier for learners to transfer their learning and previous credits from other institutions, informal, and non-formal learning, we can help people get on their way to their goals faster.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

Contact us today to learn more about how Keypath Education can help your institution offer quality online degree programs to meet the needs of today's learners.