The term “professional development” is well known in the education world. When a teacher or principal thinks of professional development, they may be quick to envision a conference room where they sit and learn about a certain topic for a specific amount of time. The result is supposed to be the attainment of a new skill or a mastery of a particular topic. Although professional development experiences may vary, this description fits the majority of learning opportunities that would qualify as enrichment for educators.
Learning can occur anywhere. The most meaningful professional learning is often self-initiated, yet this type of training can go uncredited. While traditional professional development is currently under fire for failing to provide the type of teaching improvement that warrants the amount of time and money spent, a new movement known as micro-credentials is beginning to gain momentum.
Make way for micro-credentials
Micro-credentials, sometimes represented by digital badges, are structured ways of providing recognition for skill development that occurs over the course of a career. In its purest sense, micro-credentials allow an educator to receive credit for learning that occurs in different ways, but result in effectiveness. Through the process of earning digital badges, an educator could gain recognition for acquired skills, enhance their resume, or establish themselves as a resource for their colleagues.
A high school counselor wants to make college and career readiness a bigger part of her school culture. Rather than searching for a workshop to attend, she begins reading articles related to the topic on the Hot Chalk Education Network. Based on what she learns, she develops a strategy to address this need at her school. If this counselor’s district used micro-credentials, she could submit this strategy to a review panel and potentially receive credit for the work she completed independently. Not only is she improving her professional resume, she is directing her own professional growth.
Validating the process
Receiving credit for traditional professional development often equates to signing your name on a roll sheet.
With micro-credentials, the pathways can vary by the learning opportunity. Although evidence should always be a requirement, this can range from student work samples to video reflections. Qualitative or quantitative data can be equally acceptable, but an expert reviewer — this may be an educator who has already received the same micro-credential — should be used to determine whether learning has been established and offer feedback. A well-organized process can lead to a strong evaluation process where roles are shared and interchanged among colleagues.
A work in progress
Like any new idea, the largest hurdle is establishing value. Educators are among the largest group of professionals to have new initiatives constantly thrown at them. This has led to a great amount of skepticism when a new idea is proposed. Educators will want to know how micro-credentials will benefit them in the long run.
If a digital badge is attached to a LinkedIn profile or added to a resume, will a potential employer care? If a teacher earns a certain amount of micro-credentials, will that lead to a salary increase? Could micro-credentials interchange with college credits?
Micro-credentials, or competency-based learning, is a new innovation based on a fluid method of learning. For those who are used to a very rigid system of professional development or are wary of change, this concept can seem frightening.
However, as a new generation of educators enters the classrooms, there is a need for continued education reform and empowerment. Through digital badges, there is an opportunity to bring more control and individualization into professional learning. It could be a matter of whether you want to get involved at the beginning or play catchup once the process is fully formed.
Dr. Jason Perez is the executive director of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness for the Oklahoma State Department of Education with 14 years of educational and administrative experience at the elementary level. He also serves as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.Learn More: Click to view related resources.
- "Developing a System of Micro-Credentials: Supporting Deeper Learning in the Classroom," Digital Promise
- Krista Moroder, "Micro-Credentials: Empowering Lifelong Learners," Edutopia
- Mary Jo Madda, "How to Make Micro-Credentials Matter," EdSurge
- Stephen Sawchuk, "Can Micro-Credentialing Salvage PD?," EdWeek