Have you ever attended bad professional learning? You know, the ones: irrelevant professional meetings or workshops not aligned with the needs of the teachers or the students we serve, limited opportunities for collaboration, often one-size-fits-none and disconnected from the day-to-day reality of teaching.
I often joke that I would be years (or even decades) younger if I could have the time back from ineffective professional learning sessions I have attended throughout my career!
Quality professional learning experiences are active, collaborative, personalized and embedded into educators’ everyday practice. These experiences result in new knowledge and skills for teachers with observable changes in the classroom and, over time, improve student learning outcomes.
One professional learning approach that has gained popularity in recent years is using microcredentials. Unlike traditional professional learning, where educators earn credit for attendance or seat hours, microcredentials are authentic and competency-based. They require learners to demonstrate what they know and show what they can do, and schools implementing them report meaningful professional development for teachers.
What are microcredentials for educators?
There are many existing definitions. I define microcredentials as short-term, performance-based credentials that allow learners to demonstrate mastery of a specific skill or set of skills.
Educators can earn microcredentials for completing a focused, skills-based learning experience, and they often are designed to be stackable, meaning that learners can earn multiple microcredentials over time to build up a more comprehensive set of skills and knowledge. Schools, educational institutions, professional organizations or industry associations typically issue microcredentials earned online or in person.
Why use microcredentials for professional learning?
Microcredentials offer a flexible and personalized approach to professional learning that can be tailored to individual teachers’ needs and schedules. One of the key benefits of microcredentials is that they provide tangible evidence of a teacher’s learning and achievement.
Microcredentials for educators also provide a personalized approach to professional learning. Teachers can choose the topics and skills they want to learn and earn microcredentials at their own pace. Teachers can focus on their areas of interest and expertise and gain the knowledge and skills they need to improve their teaching practice.
Another benefit of microcredentials is that they are often more affordable and accessible than traditional professional learning. Teachers can earn many microcredentials online, which means that teachers can learn anywhere and at any time and avoid the time and expense of travel and in-person courses.
Microcredentials can also build a community of learners. Teachers who earn them in the same topic or skill can connect in person or online, share resources and ideas, and collaborate. This connection creates a supportive learning environment that can help teachers deepen their understanding of a topic and apply their learning in the classroom.
Misconceptions about microcredentials
There are several common misconceptions about microcredentials for educators:
- Easy to earn. While they are typically shorter in duration than traditional degrees, earning them still requires significant effort and dedication. The design of quality microcredentials is rigorous and challenging, and they often involve practical, hands-on learning experiences.
- Replacement for traditional degrees. Microcredential design provides focused, specific skills or knowledge in a particular area, while traditional degrees offer a more comprehensive education.
- Not recognized by employers. Some people believe employers do not recognize microcredentials and that they therefore have little value in the job market. However, many employers now acknowledge the value of microcredentials and view them as a way for people to demonstrate their expertise in a specific area.
- Must be purchased. You do not have to buy microcredential curricula. It is possible to design it yourself. While there may be nothing wrong with purchasing existing microcredential materials (and it will undoubtedly save you time from creating them yourself), you will want to be sure they target your district’s specific needs or goals. You don’t want them to be compliance-oriented rather than competency-based. Also, no one knows your district and your district’s needs and challenges to personalize that learning better than you!
Designing your own microcredentials
While some schools might purchase pre-made microcredential curricula for their teachers through outside organizations, as an instructional coach, I created microcredential materials for teachers in my building to personalize learning around our unique needs.
Here are some steps to consider when designing your microcredentials for educators.
- Identify the learning objectives. Start by pinpointing the specific learning objectives for the microcredential. They should be competency-based and measurable by authentic tasks. What knowledge and skills do you want teachers to gain? What competencies do they need to demonstrate to earn the microcredential?
- Determine the evidence requirements. What evidence will teachers need to provide to demonstrate their mastery of the learning objectives? This could include lesson plans, student work samples, reflections, videos of classroom instruction and assessments. My teachers leveraged video using time-stamped feedback and discussion through the platform I chose.
- Create the rubric and success criteria. Outline the criteria for earning the microcredential tailored to a specific competency, including the evidence required and the levels of mastery.
- Pilot the microcredential. Test-drive the microcredential curriculum with a group of teachers to gauge effectiveness and gather feedback. Use this feedback to make any necessary revisions before launching the microcredential more broadly.
Microcredentials are beneficial for teachers to acquire new skills and knowledge and provide tangible evidence of a teacher’s learning and achievement. Unlike traditional professional development that may be disconnected from the day-to-day reality of classroom teaching, competency-based microcredentials require teachers to apply what they have learned in their practice and examine its effect on student learning. They are also self-directed, have a personalized component, are job-embedded and often are available on demand.
Districts can purchase pre-made microcredentials from various for-profit organizations, but schools also can create their own to better serve their own unique needs, goals and objectives.
Donna Spangler is the K–12 instructional coach department chair for Derry Township School District in Hershey, Pa. She served as past co-president of the board for the Learning Forward PA, ran a school induction and mentoring program for six years and has co-authored a book. She also provides virtual coaching for Sibme, which offers a webinar with information about microcredentials for professional growth.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.