They May Be Little, But They’re Making A Lot of Noise: Five Reasons Why Everyone’s Talking About Micro-Credentials
Micro-credentials may be small, but don’t let their size fool you: this tiny take on professional development is making big waves in education.
If you haven’t heard of them yet, we’re certain you will. Micro-credentials enable learners to gain and demonstrate mastery of skills incrementally, earning recognition from their workplaces along the way. Given the new PD guidelines set forth in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, micro-credentials will likely play a defining role in educator professional learning in the near future.
Traditional PD Doesn’t Work
It’s no secret that professional development is a sore spot for educators. Studies by the Gates Foundation and others overwhelmingly show that teachers are dissatisfied with it, and that the traditional, workshop-based model just doesn’t work. In fact, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) goes so far as to exclude “stand-alone, 1-day, and short-term workshops” from its definition of professional development.
Why? For one thing, generic workshop topics are often too broad or simply irrelevant to many teachers and fail to account for the range of skills and diverse needs of the audience. Take a first-year middle school math teacher and a thirty-year veteran with classroom management dialed in. No question, they’re in very different places. Thus, a workshop on effective classroom management may be exactly what a new teacher needs and no more than a paid day off for teachers with time and experience. Professional development that actually impacts teacher practice and student learning happens in context—it directly relates to the teacher’s subject area and focuses on specific skills and concepts within that discipline.
Micro-Credentials Are Disruptive
We tend to think of disruption as bad—especially in the classroom—but we can thank disruptive innovation for some of the most commonly used technologies today—laptops, cell phones, cars, calculators, flash drives, even the ubiquitous plastic bag. Disruptive technologies change market landscapes, and micro-credentials are quickly changing the landscape of professional development.
Micro-credentials make the case for a competency-based learning model over one primarily based on seat time. They require demonstration of skills and abilities. In other words, they require evidence. With regard to Title II spending on professional development, the words “evidence-based” appear 27 times in the new ESSA regulations.
Micro-Credentials Take a Huge Step Toward Giving Teachers “A Voice and a Choice”
One of the clearest takeaways from the research done on professional development and teacher satisfaction is that teachers want to have a say in their PD. They want PD that is 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-credentialing allows teachers to choose the skills and competencies they’ll pursue, bringing their own goals, needs, and interests, as well as those of their students, to the table.
To boot, micro-credentials let the user determine the pace. Because they utilize an on-demand, online system, micro-credentials are responsive to schedules and constraints on a teacher’s time. This kind of adaptability marks a clear shift away from the decontextualized, “one-size-fits-all” PD model and is a significant step toward truly personalized professional development.
Micro-Credentials Make Mastery Manageable
Granular by nature, micro-credentials build competencies in small, focused steps, which facilitates incorporation into daily practice. This is especially important given the fact that implementation is often the hardest part of PD. According to the Center for Public Education, “the largest struggle for teachers is not learning new approaches to teaching but implementing them.” By breaking down PD into bite-sized pieces and requiring proof of competence, micro-credentials are closing the gaps between knowledge acquisition, implementation, and mastery.
Micro-Credentials Reinforce Accountability
Be honest: have you ever attended a conference and paid less than stellar attention? Maybe you dozed off for a second, maybe you brought a book, or, if you’re that guy, maybe you brought a stack of papers to grade. Among other problems, PD that centers on seat time typically doesn’t require much more than just sitting there, and, unfortunately, attendance is a poor measure of competence.
Recognizing that the most common forms of PD in use today require very little proof of competence, the new federal law’s emphasis on “evidence-based” PD is a clear call for accountability—for teachers and for the PD they’re using. Goodbye, grading papers in conferences, or pressing play on that video and tuning out! ESSA wants to see proof that what educators are being offered—and what they’re doing—works. Micro-credentials bolster accountability by requiring educators to do more than “sit and get” and by providing demonstrable evidence of competencies and accomplishments.
As the need for personalization, evidence, and accountability continues to inform the conversation around PD, micro-credentials are making their case loud and clear. Disruptive and digestible, they’re a major step forward in improving professional development for teachers.
 Every Student Succeeds Act, section 1177-295, paragraph 42.B
 Teaching the Teachers: At a Glance. centerforpubliceducation.org
 Teaching the Teachers: At a Glance. Center for Public Education.org