What Teachers Love About Micro-credentials
Schools and districts across the country are turning to 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.
Traditional PD Doesn’t Work
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 isn’t actually helping teachers make changes in their classrooms. Recognizing this, the federal 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 professional development.[i]
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 actually impacts teacher practice happens in context: it directly relates to the competencies and skills teachers use every day in class.
Micro-credentials Aren’t 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 growth in professional educators. 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.
Micro-credentials Take 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 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-credentials empower 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.
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.
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. According to the Center for Public Education, “the largest struggle for teachers is not learning new approaches to teaching but implementing them.”[ii] By breaking PD down into bite-sized pieces and requiring proof of competency, 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 rapt attention? Maybe you checked your emails and feeds, dozed off for a minute, or, if you’re that person, 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 new ESSA regulations[iii] describing acceptable PD 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[iv]. 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.
Are you using micro-credentials in your school or district? Tell us about your experience in the comments.
[i] Every Student Succeeds Act, section 1177-295, paragraph 42.B
[ii] Teaching the Teachers: At a Glance. Center for Public Education.org
[iii] Every Student Succeeds Act, section 1177:116-152
[iv] Seven Lessons Learned From Implementing Micro-credentials. The William and Ida Friday Institute for Innovation in Education. https://www.fi.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/microcredentials.pdf