Everything You Wanted to Know About Educator Micro-credentials: Fundamentals

Part One of a Three-Part Series
Blog Post
Jan. 20, 2022

As 2021 was wrapping up, the Hunt Institute kicked off a webinar series focused on educator micro-credentials, in partnership with digiLEARN.

Hunt Institute micro-credentials webinar panelists

As my fellow panelists and I answered questions from the audience about micro-credentials during the first webinar, it became clear that the field needs more clarity about using this novel tool to recruit, develop, and retain a strong and diverse set of educators. Below are answers to five of the most fundamental questions for understanding micro-credentials and how to leverage them to strengthen the educator workforce.

Q1: How are micro-credentials similar to other types of credentials?

Micro-credentials can be used to verify, and signal for others, the discrete skills that an educator holds. In this way, micro-credentials are similar to a certificate or a degree that signals that the earner has a specific set of knowledge and skills.

Q2: How are micro-credentials different from other types of credentials?

High-quality micro-credentials differ from most other types of credentials in four distinct ways:

  1. Each micro-credential reflects a very specific “bite-sized” competency, rather than a broad area of knowledge or skill;
  2. Micro-credentials are earned based on demonstration of a specific competency rather than time spent in a course or program or a formal education level (e.g., master’s degree).
  3. Micro-credentials are available for various levels of expertise on a topic or practice (although many early micro-credentials were specifically targeted at more experienced or advanced teachers); and
  4. Micro-credentials are agnostic as to the method by which the candidate has developed the competency represented by that specific micro-credential.

Q3: How does a teacher earn a micro-credential?

In the webinar, I shared how the process for engaging in and earning micro-credentials is what’s most important for promoting teacher growth.

Hunt Institute micro-credentials webinar

Here’s an overview of the five key steps:

  1. The educator first selects a micro-credential to pursue, ideally based on a review of the educator’s individual and school-level professional learning needs and goals. As part of this process, the educator also reviews what evidence of competency is required to earn the micro-credential. See this stack of classroom management micro-credentials from the National Education Association as an example.
  2. The educator then works to implement the selected competency as required by the micro-credential. Depending on their current level of competency in the selected micro-credential area, the educator may first engage in formal learning experiences, such as taking a course or working with their mentor or members of their grade/subject level teams to develop knowledge and skill
  3. The educator then curates the required evidence demonstrating their competency in practice (which are typically artifacts of learning, practice, and/or impact) and submits it to the micro-credential issuer through a digital platform.
  4. An assessor (or several) then reviews the requested evidence relative to a designated rubric.
  5. The assessor then determines whether to award the micro-credential or ask the educator to keep working on it. For high-quality MC offerings, if the educator does not earn the micro-credential, they are provided with feedback about what to improve, and provided another opportunity to submit evidence to earn the micro-credential.

Q4: How can micro-credentials promote teacher development?

In a recent national survey, two-thirds of teachers expressed dissatisfaction with the professional development (PD) opportunities currently offered through their school. One of the most important aspects of micro-credentials is that they offer a stark change from traditional approaches to professional development, which tend to offer passive one-size-fits-all training, and to reward time spent in PD rather than demonstrated professional learning and growth.

Micro-credentials, conversely, align with evidence-based best practices for adult learning that increase the likelihood that teachers will incorporate their new knowledge and skills into their classroom practice. These practices include relevant opportunities for sustained professional learning that are personalized to meet individual needs and focused on learning by doing. These attributes also align with the required elements of professional development outlined in Title II of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now “ESSA”). And because of their “micro” nature, they can help break down ambitious goals into manageable chunks, and provide a sense of accomplishment when each milestone is reached.

Q5: How can micro-credentials promote teacher career advancement?

Unlike other tools for promoting professional development, micro-credentials can also be used to recognize and reward existing competence. Currently a veteran teacher who is an expert on a classroom practice may be required to sit through the same professional development session as novice teachers in their school. With micro-credentials, a teacher with substantive expertise in a specific area can “show what they know” and earn a relevant micro-credential without having to spend more time in development sessions on the topic. By formally assessing previously unrecognized skills and providing opportunities for increased responsibilities and compensation related to those skills, micro-credentials can help state and local education leaders attract and retain highly talented, motivated teachers who might otherwise leave the field.

This post is the first in a three-part series developed to demystify micro-credentials and address common questions and misconceptions. Stay tuned for the next installment, which will dig into more technical questions about micro-credentials for educators.

In the meantime, take a look at the resources available in New America’s Educator Micro-credentials Collection, including our report providing a comprehensive national review of best practices for teacher micro-credentials, and its companion model state policy guide.

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