Incremental steps towards a competency-based post-secondary education system in Ontario

  • Mary Catharine Lennon Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada
Keywords: Learning outcomes, competency-based education, system design, quality assurance, credit transfer, Canada, Ontario.


As one of Canada’s 13 distinct jurisdictions, Ontario is a national leader in developing a competency-based postsecondary education system. Hindered by challenges of a disaggregated system of policy actors in system design, quality assurance and credit transfer, sweeping change has not occurred. Instead, various bodies with operational powers over university, college, or private-provider quality assurance have slowly incorporated concepts of competency-based education into frameworks by introducing learning outcomes. This paper outlines the challenges facing Canadian and Ontario postsecondary education, discusses the roles and responsibilities of agencies involved in quality assurance, and actions made towards developing and implementing learning outcomes at the system level. The research highlights the ad-hoc and unaligned activities, but also demonstrates the commitment to move towards a competency-based education system.

Published online: 20 December 2014


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Mary Catharine Lennon, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada

Mary Catharine Lennon is a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto. She has led projects on establishing and measuring learning outcomes including a ‘Tuning’ project with three sectors of academic disciplines, and was the Canadian National Expert and National Project Manager for the OECD’s AHELO Feasibility Study. Mary Catharine is also co-editor of ’Measuring the Value of Postsecondary Education’, a collection of international examples of learning outcome activities published by McGill-Queens University Press. She has been involved in higher education policy development, advice and research in provincial, inter-provincial and international educational agencies including the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, and the Association of Commonwealth Universities. The majority of her work extends towards international and comparative system level policy issues in postsecondary education including system design, quality assurance, learning outcomes, governance and assessment.


Association of Community Colleges and Universities. “Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP).” Accessed February 26, 2014,

Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. The Revitalization of Undergraduate Education in Canada. Ottawa, Ontario: Association of Universities and Colleges, Canada, 2011.

Canadian Bureau for International Education. “About IE: Tuning.” Accessed February 26, 2014,

Clark, Ian, Greg Moran, Michael Skolnik, and David Trick. Academic Transformation: The Forces Reshaping Higher Education in Ontario. Kingston, ON: McGill- Queen’s University Press, 2009.

Colleges Ontario. “Key Performance Indicators.” Accessed January 26, 2014,

Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, Ministerial Statement on Quality Assurance of Degree Education in Canada. Toronto, Ontario: Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, 2007.

European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training. The Shift to Learning Outcomes: Conceptual, Political and Practical Developments in Europe. Luxemburg: European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 2008.

Haskel, Barbara. “Where there’s a Will …: Reforming Postsecondary Education in Canada’s and the European Union’s Decentralized Systems.” Canadian Public Administration 56, no. 2 (2013): 304-321.

Hatchette, Virginia. “The Value of Learning Outcomes: The Canadian Perspective.” In Measuring the Value of a Postsecondary Education, edited by Norrie, Ken and Mary Catharine Lennon, 87-101. Kingston-Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012.

Heath, Nick. Student Mobility in Canada across Canadian Jurisdictions. Windsor, Ontario: Pan-Canadian Consortium on Admissions and Transfer, 2012.

_____. Student Mobility within the Province of Ontario: Supplement to the Report on the Pan-Canadian Survey of Student Mobility. Windsor, Ontario: Pan- Canadian Consortium on Admissions and Transfer, 2012.

Higher Education Strategy Associates. Changing Times, Changing Places: The Global Evolution of the Bachelor’s Degree and the Implications for Ontario. Toronto, Ontario: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, 2012.

Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. Annual Report 2010/2011. Toronto, Ontario: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, 2010.

Jankowski, Natasha and David Marshall. DQP Road Map to Enhanced Student Learning: Implementing the DOP and Tuning. Urbana, IL: National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC), 2014.

Jones, Glen A., ed., Higher Education in Canada: Different Systems, Different Perspectives, edited by New York: Garland Pub., 1997.

Junor, Sean and Alex Usher. Student Mobility and Credit Transfer a National and Global Survey: Educational Policy Institute, 2008.

Kennedy, Declan, Aine Hyland and Nora Ryan, “Writing and using Learning Outcomes”, In Bologna Handbook, Implementing Bologna in your Institution, C3.4-1, (2006): 1-30.

Klein-Collins, Rebecca. Competency-Based Degree Programs in the U.S.: Postsecondary Credentials for Measurable Student Learning and Performance. USA: Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, 2012.

Lennon, Mary Catharine. Piloting the CLA in Ontario. Toronto, Ontario: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, 2014.

Lennon, Mary Catharine and Linda Jonker. AHELO: The Ontario Experience. Toronto, Ontario: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, 2014.

Lennon, Mary Catharine and Brian Frank, “Learning outcomes assessments in a decentralized environment: The Canadian Case.” In Higher Education Learning Outcomes Assessments: International Perspectives, edited by Hamish Coates, 89-112. Frankfurt; Peter Lang, 2014.

Lennon, Mary Catharine, Brian Frank, Rhonda Lenton, Kirsten Madsen, Abdelwahab Omri, and Roddy Turner. Tuning: Identifying and Measuring Sector-Based Learning Outcomes in Postsecondary Education. Toronto, Ontario: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, 2014.

Lumina Foundation. The Degree Quali fi cations Pro fi le. USA: Lumina Foundation, nd.

Miller, Margaret A. From Denial to Acceptance: The Stages of Assessment. USA: National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, 2012.

Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. “Essential Employability Skills.” Accessed January 26, 2014,

_____. “Ontario Qualifications Framework (OQF).” Accessed February 26, 2014, 2014,

Mitchel, Amy, Lane Trotter, Wendy Wilson, and Ryan Walmsley. Facilitating College to University Transfer in the European Higher Education Area and Beyond: Opportunities for Ontario’s College of Applied Arts and Technology. London, Ontario: ONTransfer and College University Consortium Council, 2013.

Mulder, Martin, Tanja Weigel, and Kate Collins. “The Concept of Competence in the Development of Vocational Education and Training in Selected EU Member States: A Critical Analysis.” Journal of Vocational Education & Training 59, no. 1 (2007): 67-88.

Ontario College Quality Assurance Agency. Colleges Moving to an Accreditation Process. New Model Starts 2015. Toronto, Ontario: Ontario College Quality Assurance Agency, 2013.

Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer. Credit Transfer Saves Ontario’s Postsecondary Students Time and Money. Toronto, Ontario: Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer, 2013.

Ontario Government, Reaching Higher: The McGuinty Government Plan for Postsecondary Education. Ontario: Ontario Government, 2010.

_____. Forging New Pathways to Improve Student Mobility in the Province of Ontario. Toronto, Ontario: Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer, 2013.

_____. ONCAT Project Status Report: Diploma to Degree System Transfer Pathways. Toronto, Ontario: Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer, 2013.

_____. “Public Relations (Ontario College Diploma) Program Standard”. Accessed May 14, 2014.

_____. “Essential Employability Skills”. Accessed May 14, 2014.

Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance. Quality Assurance Framework. Toronto, Ontario: Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance, 2010.

“Quality Assurance in Ontario.” Accessed February 26, 2014,

Rae, Bob. Ontario: A Leader in Learning. Report and Recommendations. Toronto, Ontario: Government of Ontario, 2005.

Shanahan, Theresa and Glen Jones. “Shifting Roles and Approaches: Government Coordination of Post-Secondary Education in Canada, 1995-2006.” Higher Education Research and Development 26, no. 1 (2007): 31-43.

Skolnik, Michael. (How) Do Quality Assurance Systems Accommodate the Differences between Academic and Applied Higher Education? (forthcoming).

Stensaker, Bjorn, Liv Langfeldt, Lee Harvey, Jeroen Huisman, and Don Westerheijden. “An in-Depth Study on the Impact of External Quality Assurance.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 36, no. 4 (2011): 465-478.

Trampusch, Christine. “Europeanization and Institutional Change in Vocational Education and Training in Austria and Germany.” Governance 22, no. 3 (2009): 369-395.

Tremblay, Karine, Diane Lalancette, and Deborah Roseveare. AHELO: Feasibility Study Report: Volume 1: Design and Implementation. Paris, France: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2012.

Wagenaar, Robert. “Qualifications frameworks, Sectoral Profiles and Degree Programme Profiles in Higher Education.” Tuning Journal for Higher Education: New Profiles for New Societies 1, no. 1 (2013): 71-103.

How to Cite
Lennon, Mary Catharine. 2014. “Incremental Steps towards a Competency-Based Post-Secondary Education System in Ontario”. Tuning Journal for Higher Education 2 (1), 59-89.