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5 Reasons Teachers Love Competency-based Learning & Micro-credentials

Professional Learning


Schools and districts across the country are turning to competency-based learning, using tools like micro-credentials for teacher development. As opposed to traditional workshops, micro-credentials allow learners to gain and demonstrate mastery of skills incrementally. They’re changing the way educators think about professional development, and recent research indicates that teachers love them.

Here’s why:

1. Yesterday’s traditional PD model often doesn’t translate to classroom practice.

Studies by the Gates Foundation and others overwhelmingly show that teachers are dissatisfied with traditional professional development. Their data also suggests that the widely used workshop-based model doesn’t help teachers make changes in their classrooms. Recognizing this, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) goes so far as to state that “stand-alone, 1-day, and short-term workshops” do not meet its definition of effective professional development.

Why? For one thing, workshop topics are often too broad and fail to connect with the day-to-day needs of their audiences. They lack the kind of job-embedded learning that leads to long-term success. Professional development that impacts teacher practice happens in context: it directly relates to the competencies and skills teachers use every day in class.

2. Micro-credentials are more than just summative.

Just as summative assessment alone fails to equip students with the tools they need to make lasting gains in learning, professional development models rooted solely in evaluation and compliance fail to help teachers meaningfully improve their practice. Instead, PD that integrates formative learning strategies maximizes educator growth. For example, a traditional approach to teacher evaluation training for new administrators might provide two six-hour days of instruction followed by a single summative exam. As a micro-credential, however, this training could break up the necessary competencies into component skills. Administrators would learn, practice, receive feedback and demonstrate mastery of each skill in sequence, thus preparing them step-by-step to succeed on the final exam.

By shifting the focus from compliance to competency, micro-credentials help teachers master skills and implement them in their classrooms. The micro-credential learning pathway requires reflection and self-evaluation, and it culminates in users selecting and submitting evidence that they feel best demonstrates the target competencies. The emphasis is truly on helping teachers master their classroom practice and reach their full potential.

3. Micro-credentials are a big step toward giving teachers voice and choice in their PD.

One of the clearest takeaways from research on professional development and teacher satisfaction is that teachers want to have a say in their PD. They want learning opportunities that are relevant to their needs and the needs of their students, and since they’re in the best position to know what those needs are, they want a voice in the PD they’re offered. Micro-credentials empower teachers to choose which skills and competencies they’ll pursue, bringing their own goals, needs and interests — as well as those of their students — to the table.

Micro-credentials also let learners schedule their sessions and determine the pace. This adaptability to teachers’ demanding schedules marks a welcome departure from the “one-size-fits-all” PD model.

4. Micro-credentials make mastery manageable.

Granular by nature, micro-credentials build competencies in small, focused steps, making them easy to incorporate into daily practice. This is especially important given the fact that implementation is often the hardest part of PD. The Center for Public Education notes that “the largest struggle for teachers is not learning new approaches to teaching but implementing them.” By breaking PD down into bite-sized pieces and requiring proof of competency, micro-credentials help close the gaps between knowledge acquisition, implementation and mastery.

5. Micro-credentials reinforce accountability.

Be honest: have you ever attended a conference and paid less than rapt attention? Maybe you checked your email and feeds, dozed off for a minute or brought a stack of papers to grade. PD that centers on seat time typically doesn’t require much more than attendance, and unfortunately, attendance is a poor measure of mastery.

Micro-credentials make the case for a competency-based learning model over one primarily based on seat time, and they require demonstration of skills and abilities. In other words, they require evidence — and the words “evidence-based” appear 27 times in the ESSA regulations describing acceptable professional development for Title II funding.

Teachers love micro-credentials.

In contrast with the current widespread dissatisfaction around traditional PD, the most exciting thing about micro-credentials is that teachers love them. In fact, a recent survey of micro-credential users showed that 97% of respondents who had completed at least one micro-credential indicated that they wanted to pursue another micro-credential in the future. That’s because micro-credentials are more than mandatory continuing education—they’re formative learning opportunities that personalize professional development, make mastery manageable, and reinforce accountability—all of which helps teachers improve their practice and apply what they’ve learned in their classrooms.

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