The age of flexibility and inclusivity in higher education through alternative credentials and lifelong learning
UM Extended Education continues to provide alternative credentials and lifelong learning
As the higher education landscape undergoes significant transformation, universities, particularly the University of Manitoba, are increasingly adopting alternative credential frameworks. These frameworks cater to the growing demand for diverse and flexible higher education programs. The University of Manitoba, a pioneer in this field, with its Division of Extended Education, has been at the forefront. In an era marked by rapid technological advancements and shifting economic landscapes, learners require adaptable, accessible education aligned with their personal and professional goals.
The University of Manitoba, a leader in Canadian education, was an early adopter of this trend. In 2001, it developed a non-degree taxonomy, updated in 2021 into the Certificate and Diploma framework, encompassing short-cycle learning programs, such as micro-credentials and other non-degree offers, known as Alternative Credentials.
For nearly 80 years, starting as the Evening Institute in 1936, the Division has been essential in emphasizing flexible learning options. These alternative credential programs, based on flexibility and adaptability, accommodate a broad range of learners’ needs, offering diverse formats from modular courses to extensive, lifelong educational pathways. The objective is to meet the demand for upskilling and reskilling, providing tailored options for individuals and organizations.
Alternative credentials, known for their adaptability, are available in various formats, from short-term courses to long-term learning pathways, offered through online, in-person, and hybrid modalities. This focus on creating flexible, inclusive, and equitable programming options is vital in an era where learners and organizations face constraints on time and resources.
These credentials, designed to authenticate a learner’s attainment of specific skills and competencies, are recognized by educational institutions, employers, and professional organizations. They encompass workshops, seminars, open enrollment courses, and more comprehensive programs, serving multiple purposes, including workforce development and civic education.
Alternative credentials encompass various forms of formal recognition of learning that are not associated with traditional degree programs. At universities, this category includes a diversity of credentials such as letters of accomplishment, micro-certificates, certificates, micro-diplomas, graduate micro-diplomas.
While the Division of Extended Education’s expertise lies in the development and delivery of open enrollment courses, letters of accomplishment, micro-certificates, and certificate programs, other faculties, schools, and colleges within the university are also actively developing alternative credential programs – with a greater emphasis on diploma-type programming. This reflects the university’s commitment to diverse learner needs. By embracing a broad spectrum of educational offerings, the university enhances its ability to provide flexible, tailored learning experiences, catering to both the specific needs of UM students and a broader community of learners. By adopting these frameworks, universities address critical accessibility issues in higher education, providing avenues for individuals with greater diversity of lifelong education options.
A commitment to lifelong learning
Lifelong learning, as advocated by UNESCO, is essential for overcoming global challenges and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It involves creating lifelong learning opportunities for individual fulfillment, social cohesion, and economic prosperity. UNESCO emphasizes inclusive lifelong learning policies and systems, developing learning ecosystems benefiting everyone. The University of Manitoba’s approach aligns with UNESCO’s focus on citizenship education within lifelong learning, inspiring citizens of all ages to become critical thinkers, actively shaping a democratic, peaceful, sustainable, and just society, contributing to social and knowledge mobility.
The alternative credential programs developed by the Division Extended Education, dating back to the early 1900s, embody lifelong learning and inclusivity principles, enabling individuals and organizations to unlock their potential through relevant and accessible education. As demand for varied educational paths grows, this progressive approach will likely inspire more institutions to adopt similar institution wide strategies.
As seen in the Winnipeg Free Press