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7 Things You Should Know About Micro-credentials

Professional Growth

Micro-credentials are picking up steam in the professional learning world. From what you’ve heard, you might think of them as merely a series of badges learners can earn (more on that later). But there is far more to micro-credentials than that.

Micro-credentials are in fact an incredibly effective way to implement a competency-based learning model. Here’s how they work: Learners like teachers, paraprofessionals, principals and others can select a micro-credential to pursue. As they learn, they submit specific evidence to demonstrate mastery of the subject at hand — whether that be content knowledge, specific pedagogical techniques, skills like classroom management, procedures like dealing with bloodborne pathogens, or many others. Then, this evidence is weighed by an assessor, who determines whether to award the micro-credential or ask the learner to keep working on it.

Intrigued? Here are a few more things you should know about what micro-credentials can bring to your professional learning program.

1. Micro-credentials measure the demonstration of skill and knowledge, not time spent learning.

Time spent on professional development is not a good indicator of the value of that learning — that’s not news. Simply spending time isn’t the goal — in fact, most of us would probably say that if increased knowledge and skill in teaching can be achieved in less time, it would be a good thing. Still, time tends to be the most-measured factor in professional learning.

Wouldn’t it be better to measure the growth demonstrated, the skills learned, the knowledge acquired? Micro-credentials require evidence of knowledge and growth in order to be completed.

2. Micro-credentials honor existing competence and respect learners’ time.

We all know what it’s like to sit through unnecessary training, the litany of “better things to do” running through our heads when a seminar covers the same material we’ve conquered long ago. A veteran teacher who’s an expert in formative assessments may not need to sit through a course that a first-year educator finds helpful. With competency-based learning, she won’t have to. She can simply demonstrate her skill and knowledge in this area and earn the micro-credential, while the new teacher takes a course or other learning experience to gain that knowledge.

This means that teachers can spend their professional learning time focusing on learning opportunities that are meaningful and relevant to them.

3. Micro-credentials are a tremendous way to meet ESSA’s professional learning requirements.

The Every Student Succeeds Act sets a high bar when it comes to professional learning, and micro-credentials can help to meet each of the criteria specified in the law. ESSA calls for professional learning to be:

Sustained. Developing a set of skills requires more than going to a one-time workshop, and with micro-credentials, the timeline can flex to meet the needs of each individual learner.

Intensive. Professional learning that is focused on a discrete concept, practice or program is exactly what competency-based learning brings: a particular area of focus and the steps needed to achieve it.

Job-embedded. While some learning elements of a micro-credential may be offered online, skills are mastered and demonstrated within the context of the job.

Collaborative. One of the best ways to learn within a competency-based model is from experts: colleagues, coaches, mentors. And when submitting evidence, an in-district assessor weighs evidence and provides feedback to the learner.

Data-driven. While time is often viewed as a data point, the most important data at an individual level is whether or not the participant can show he has learned the required skills.

Classroom-focused. Micro-credentials allow learners to truly focus on the skills that will make the most difference to teaching and learning.

4. Micro-credentials break down learning into manageable chunks.

Meaningful learning needs to focus on discrete units that can be practiced. This kind of “microlearning” often involves a series of sessions that take 45-90 minutes each and are delivered over time. Not only does this put ambitious projects within reach, it provides a sense of accomplishment when each unit is practiced and implemented.

5. Micro-credentials ≠ badges.

As we look at what micro-credentials are, it’s helpful to also look at what they are not. By now, you can hopefully see that micro-credentials are way more than just badges. Badges are simply a way to incentivize (or even gamify) learning with micro-credentials. While the micro-credential codifies how competence must be demonstrated through the submission and assessment of evidence, a badge signifies that competence has been demonstrated.

It comes down to rigor. Looking at whether an individual attended a workshop, put a certain number of hours into a learning experience or watched a series of videos doesn’t have the same level of rigor as determining whether they can effectively put a skill into practice in the classroom. High-quality micro-credentials may award badges, but only when a participant can show mastery.

6. Micro-credentials can help build a district’s brand.

A challenge many school systems face today is when good teachers leave — either the school itself or the profession entirely. The job market is competitive, and building a solid brand can give your district an edge in attracting and retaining high-quality teachers.

One way to do this is by providing meaningful professional development for teachers, including micro-credentials. Competency-based learning honors what teachers already know, is flexible, and is an effective way to acquire critical skills – and that can all add up to a big differentiator for your district.

7. Micro-credentials can provide leadership pathways.

Beyond offering effective learning, micro-credentials can also provide a way for teachers to advance in their careers. At a certain point, the next logical step for a teacher is to leave the classroom and become an administrator. But what about those who don’t aspire to the principalship and want to remain in teaching?

One of the unexpected benefits of micro-credentials is opening a door to leadership. Imagine a master teacher who’s highly skilled at formative assessment. You might ask that teacher to become an assessor: someone who looks at the evidence other teachers submit in order to earn micro-credentials. This puts that master teacher in a position of leadership, where they can provide feedback, collaborate with peers, share expertise and be seen as an expert by colleagues. Better yet, this leadership opportunity doesn’t remove that teacher from the classroom. It’s a fantastic way to build internal capacity in your district for a rich set of skills and create a culture of collaboration and sharing.

To learn more about micro-credentials and why teachers love them, visit our page “It’s All About the Outcome: Unraveling the Confusion Around Micro-credentials.

Ryan Estes

Ryan is part of the global award-winning content team at Frontline Education as recognized by Content Marketing World 2017. He spends his time writing, podcasting and creating content in the area of K-12 professional growth.