Why micro-credentials will fuel student-centered learning

Micro-credentials can be a more specifiable, verifiable and predictable form of professional development
By: | September 11, 2020
Micro-credentials require teachers to submit evidence to show they've acquired a certain skill, such as supporting students in online and hybrid learning. (GettyImages/Phynart Studio)Micro-credentials require teachers to submit evidence to show they've acquired a certain skill, such as supporting students in online and hybrid learning. (GettyImages/Phynart Studio)

Online and hybrid learning require more student-centered approaches, and micro-credentials for teacher professional development may be the most reliable way to get there, education researchers say in a new report.

The new modes of instruction necessitated by the COVID pandemic have only accelerated the efforts of district leaders who have been shifting to more personalized and competency-based learning in recent years, says Heather Staker, an adjunct researcher for the Christensen Institute think tank who co-authored the report, “Educator competencies for student-centered teaching.”

“Educators realized overnight that they needed more nimble classes to accommodate remote learners, in-person learners, and remote and in-person teachers,” says Staker, who is president of the consultancy Ready to Blend. “We must create more flexible schools.”

Micro-credentials are a powerful tool because they are “modular”—more like a plug-and-play light-bulb than an overly specialized fighter jet, Staker says.

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That means micro-credentials can be more specifiable, verifiable and predictable than workshops, homegrown programs and other traditional methods of professional development.

They also can be more affordable and highly customizable to a district’s specific goals and needs, she adds.

How do micro-credentials work?

Micro-credentials require teachers to submit evidence, to a trusted third-party evaluator, to show they’ve acquired a certain skill, Staker says.

For example, a teacher mastering the task of identifying students’ online learning needs would submit a video showing how they surveyed parents respectfully about whether the family has adequate technology for more instruction.

The teacher could also submit emails or the other tools they use to communicate families’ tech needs to administrators.

Staker’s report details 66 micro-credentials that will guide teachers and administrators through the professional development that leads to student-centered teaching.

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She recommends that administrators, as well as state officials, incentivize micro-credentials by compensating teachers who earn them.

Administrators can also work with the providers of K-12 micro-credentials to ensure that the competencies not only meet educators’ needs, but that they are easy to use and customize.

Tools like micro-credentials should make administrators more confident that they and their teams can meeting the evolving needs of students during and after the COVID pandemic, Staker says.

“There are a lot of overwhelmed administrators right now and it’s heartening to me to see our education community continues to innovate to meet the moment,” she says. “In that sense, I feel encouraged that although there are many barriers to worry about, there are innovations and technology that allow for more a personalized approach to learning.”

DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.