With its heavy focus on offering practical courses that help learners gain job-ready skills, Bow Valley College knew its industry partners were struggling with a skills gap. Sure, they were hiring people with the right credentials, but they often found those learners didn’t have the skills or competencies they needed to actually do the job. So, the Calgary, Alberta-based college decided to address the challenge head-on by starting Pivot-Ed, an upskilling and reskilling program that uses competency-based learning and stacked micro-credentials to fill the skills gaps that their industry partners had urgently identified.
Hellbent on finding a tech solution that would simultaneously serve learners and industry partners while also driving revenue, BVC spent three years trying to stand up Pivot-Ed with a variety of vendors. Nothing worked. When the school’s administrators turned to D2L and tapped into Course Merchant, they found a solution to their challenge in three months’ time.
We sat down with Michael Crowe, vice president, academic, at BVC, who told us in his own words about Pivot-Ed, the hunt for a viable tech solution and why he thinks a competency-based approach to upskilling learners could be the next big wave in higher ed.
Identifying the Need for Pivot-Ed
Pivot-Ed is an upskilling and reskilling initiative that Bow Valley College launched earlier this year. Our industry partners [BVC has partners in the health care, business, and technology space, among others] were looking to fill a talent gap and were struggling to find the skills they needed to advance their work. Through those discussions, we realized there was an opportunity for us to step in with a continuing education program that could provide a pipeline of talent to those organizations. We created an upskilling and reskilling platform called Pivot-Ed. It’s competency-based, and so learners come in and we assess them on the skills or competencies they already have. If they have the competency, we issue the credential; if there are gaps in their competencies, we develop a personalized learning path for each learner so they can close them.
When we’re talking about upskilling and reskilling, we’re often working with learners who have other credentials, experiences or skills that they bring with them. We wanted to really validate that. We felt—and feel—that if we can work with a learner so there’s no need to repeat learning or to develop skills or competencies that they already have, then everybody wins. Their time to employment can be reduced and they’re spending less on course content.
The Hunt for a Tech Solution That Could Launch Pivot-Ed
We spent three years trying to figure out the technology that could support Pivot-Ed, without much success. It was disappointment after disappointment. Initially we were looking at other vendors, in spite of the fact that we’ve been working with D2L for over 10 years and have a pretty good understanding of what functionality Brightspace offers. And one day one of our team members says, “Hey, we need to have another conversation with D2L.”
So, we talked to the D2L developers and to our customer service support people, and right away we started to realize that a lot of the functionality we were looking for was available right out of the box. We were missing some of the business solution components of what we were trying to build—things like course registration and paying tuition—and that’s where Course Merchant came into play. [Editor’s note: In May 2023, D2L acquired Connected Shopping Ltd., a SaaS e-commerce and course catalog company and maker of Course Merchant.] This relationship between D2L and Course Merchant has been critical to our success. Now we have a platform with all the capabilities we need to run Pivot-Ed.
The team at Course Merchant (now part of D2L) were great to work with and built out exactly what we wanted. They were even able to incorporate all of the Pivot-Ed branding that we were hoping to see. And so it’s a very personalized, aligned-to-brand experience for our customers, with all the functionality that we needed for them to get registered, pay their tuition and get going in the course. It’s easy-peasy and that’s exactly what we were looking for.
How Course Merchant Facilitates a Business Relationship
Course Merchant allows us to engage and facilitate a business relationship with our customers. So, a learner could come onto Course Merchant and they can see the course catalog that we offer within Pivot-Ed. All the micro-credentials that are available are listed there along with pricing information. Those learners are then able to select and process their registration, pay for the course, and then gain access to the course right through Course Merchant. And since D2L Brightspace is the back end of that shop, it holds all the assessment tools that we use, and all the micro-credentialing is available to the learners through Brightspace. So, between those two technologies, we’re able to meet the needs of anybody who’s involved with Pivot-Ed.
How Pivot-Ed Allows Learners To Stack Micro-Credentials
So, the very first thing that a Pivot-Ed learner will do is take an assessment. Then we work with them on filling any gaps in their learning that might exist. Because many of these learners already have a lot of experience and, often, training from a postsecondary institution, we’re focusing our efforts on micro-credentialing. We’re just looking for that extra bit of training that qualifies people to take on a new job role or function.
We work very closely with industry to develop those competencies that are required for those job roles. And then we build all our assessments and curriculum around those competency profiles. And so, what can happen is this: Learners come in and they have a lot of knowledge already. We fill any gaps that relate to that specific job role or function, and they’re employable really quickly through a micro-credential. If a learner wants to take multiple micro-credentials that are connected within a discipline, they can stack those, and if they complete them all, they’re eligible for a credit credential. We’re running Pivot-Ed out of our noncredit space, so each micro-credential on its own would be a noncredit credential, but if a learner stacks those micro-credentials together so that they have the equivalent of a certificate or a diploma, we’ll just issue the credit credential.
Are Upskilling and Stacking Micro-Credentials the Wave of the Future for Higher Ed Institutions?
We certainly believe that they can be. We think a competency-based approach is just the best way to teach and learn. The CBE approach addresses some of the feedback that we’ve been getting from our industry partners—they’re hiring people with credentials, but these people don’t have the skills or the competencies that they need to actually do the job. The more we can focus on the competencies themselves and ensuring that learners can master those by upskilling, the more employable and valuable they are to our employer partners.
I do think this could be a big wave. It addresses some of the talent gaps that we continuously hear about and some of the disconnect that can exist between industry and postsecondary. So, by focusing on competencies, working with industry directly to build out those competency profiles, acknowledging what people bring with them already in terms of skills and experience, and focusing in on the gaps, we can get people into new careers really quickly. Everybody wins when we do that.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Pat Lynch is a former journalist and editor who’s been telling stories in the Ed Tech sector for close to ten years now. He is currently the Director of Content and Creative at D2L.
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