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Rod Lastra, Associate Dean (Academic), University of Manitoba Extended Education

Rod Lastra

Associate Dean (Academic), University of Manitoba Extended Education

The growth of the digital economy is changing the way we work, learn, and communicate. But instead of having the next five to ten years for business to transition and bridge the skills gap, the COVID-19 pandemic has shrunk that timeline. Post-secondary institutions, especially continuing education programs, play a key role in supporting this transition.

“Continuing education has a strong history of responding to economic downturns,” says Rod Lastra, Associate Dean (Academic), University of Manitoba Extended Education. “The pandemic has created a lot of unemployment and underemployment, so the challenge for industry is how to upskill professionals so they can be part of the digital economy, which has arrived sooner than expected.”

Spring webinars to explore advanced learning and the need for upskilling

To support professionals wanting to develop new skills and competencies, and the businesses who have had to pivot given the changing digital environment, University of Manitoba Extended Education is hosting four webinars in May and June. The webinars will provide a snapshot of the current landscape for business and advanced learning and will provide some context for the critical need to upskill.

An image of skills and goals in thought bubbles

“The webinar series is a reflection of the opportunities the pandemic has given us,” says Lastra. “We’re seeing a much more inclusive approach between industry, post-secondary institutions, and learners. The accessibility of the digital world brings people together with the click of a button, which is important for groups that haven’t traditionally benefited from some of these opportunities, including Indigenous populations.”

Lastra adds that government has been engaged this past year around supporting upskilling programs and micro-credentialling. Micro-credentials are short programs for learners that are competency-based. The schools work with industry to discover the basic skills and competencies required. An example would be offering one or two programs in artificial intelligence for computer science professionals. This gives them new skills to excel in new or up-and-coming technologies.

“Micro-credentialling is a relatively new concept and doesn’t replace the traditional advanced education programs,” says Lastra. “The beauty is that micro-credentials are done in small packets and can be recognized toward a certificate, diploma, or degree. And we’re seeing the development of funding models, where micro-credentialling can address specific needs for identified skill gaps.”

Micro-credentials and the future of education

Every challenge brings opportunity, and while business is changing to adapt to the new realities brought on by the pandemic, so too is post-secondary education. In the past, schools were very siloed, but what Lastra has seen over the past year is a growing willingness for dialogue and sharing of ideas across the higher learning sector.

“In a way we never did before, we’re now having conversations with universities across the country that are enabling transformative change in post-secondary education,” says Lastra. “We don’t have all the answers to complex problems, but we’re coming around the table and strategizing, which will benefit learners, business, and the schools.”

As business resumes post-pandemic, Lastra believes that traditional degree programs will have to consider blended learning options that include in-person and remote education. And while continuing education has long offered distance learning, he adds that there will be a greater focus on evaluating online learning — the methodology and practice — to make it more effective, inclusive, and engaging.

Webinar Series

State of university continuing education across Canada
Friday, May 7th, 2021 12:00 – 1:15 EDT

May 7th
  • Dr. Sheila LeBlanc – Director, Continuing Education, University of Calgary
  • Ian Allen – Executive Director of the College of Extended
  • Amrit Ahluwalia – Editor in Chief, The EvoLLLution

After the COVID pandemic: The role of universities and colleges in building a stronger Canadian economy
Friday, May 14th, 2021 12:00 – 1:15 PM EDT

May 14th
  • Cynthia Leach – Senior Director, Economic Thought Leadership, RBC
  • Panel discussion to follow

Deciphering the meaning of micro-credentials
Friday, June 11th, 2021 12:00 – 1:15 PM EDT

June 11th
  • Heather McRae – Dean, School of Continuing Education, MacEwan University
  • Jessica Butts Scott – Director, PowerED, Athabasca University
  • Rod Lastra – Associate Dean (Academic), Division of Continuing Education, University of Manitoba

Recognition of alternative digital credentials
Friday, June 18, 2021 12:00 – 1:15 PM EDT

June 18th
  • Julia Denholm – Dean, Lifelong Learning,
  • Simon Fraser University
  • Daniel Piedra – Assistant Director, Continuing Education, McMaster University

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