Issues in quality assurance

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are clearly-defined, measurable statements of learning that reflect the scope and depth of performance: what a learner is expected to know, understand, and be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning. In the most technical sense, learning outcomes are action-oriented, measurable skills, abilities, and knowledge that form the basis of the competencies. The content in Canada often uses the terms competencies, graduate capacities, and attributes interchangeably with learning outcomes with the same intent.

Quality-assurance frameworks can establish pan-Canadian or provincial/territorial degree-level program learning outcomes; these frameworks can also sometimes establish learning outcomes for short-cycle non-degree programs. In turn, the quality-assurance agencies and quality frameworks examine how program content and delivery achieve credential-level expectations and discipline norms.

Measurement and assessment

The assessment of student learning, along with curriculum and teaching, is considered one of the three main pillars of education. Like any basic concept, student assessment is defined in a variety of ways. Most broadly, it refers to the definition, mapping, measurement, reporting, and interpretation of knowledge, skill, or attitude. Assessments are designed for a plethora of summative or formative purposes across all levels of education, and within substantial technical and practical constraints. Measurement plays out in a range of ways, from informal observations to essays, papers, and the formal administration of large-scale multiple-choice tests.

Quality-assurance measures in Canada seek to support best practices in measurement and assessment, but are not prescriptive. Rather, quality frameworks support evaluations that are aligned with the targeted content and competency. They also support the overall use of assessments within a program.

Student mobility and credit transfer

Student mobility and credit transfer is a significant topic for governments, institutions, and students alike. Governments have differing involvement in the day-to-day activities of the institutions, which varies by province, territory, and sector. Traditionally, as colleges and institutes are more aligned with labour market needs, governments maintain a stronger role in determining program offerings, establishing program standards, and operating quality-assurance frameworks. On the other hand, universities in Canada are provided with more autonomy in these aspects. The smaller private sector of postsecondary provision in Canada is regulated by provincial governments.

Thus, postsecondary programs are aligned with different accountability frameworks, qualifications frameworks, and quality frameworks. The three frameworks use different terms and have different credit systems for similar programming. The policy coordination of these issues is complex, and there are significant efforts underway to improve the process. The role of quality assurance in supporting increased access and recognition lies with the consistent application of qualifications frameworks, and through recognition of program quality, based on the informal recognition of independent provincial and territorial quality-assurance mechanisms.

Get more information on credit transfer and articulation in Canada.


Micro-credentials are shorter and less comprehensive than traditional credentials (i.e., certificates, diplomas, degrees), and the subject matter often addresses topics or areas in emerging or rapidly changing fields. They exist across a variety of occupational fields, and can be offered by industry and/or educational providers in many different forms, such as continuing education or training related to the needs of an individual company. They can be offered at different educational levels (e.g., diploma, undergraduate, graduate), which can serve to support access to the labour market or to postsecondary education, as well as lifelong learning goals.

There is an increasing amount of provision of micro-credentials from institutions, industry, and the workplace, and most provinces and territories are supportive of programming (e.g., offering student financial assistance); however, at this time, no provinces or territories have formalized micro-credentials in the postsecondary landscape through regulation, accountability, qualifications frameworks, or direction to quality-assurance agencies' quality frameworks.

A commonly perceived challenge is that regulatory procedures and external quality-assurance practices are considered too burdensome to be applied to micro-credentials. Nonetheless, some agencies, such as the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance (OUCQA), have included micro-credentials in their quality framework, and have outlined expectations on how institutions must internally quality-assure these programs.

Comprehensive review of this information: March 2022