How to Make Micro-Credentials Matter

column | Events

How to Make Micro-Credentials Matter

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Feb 2, 2015

How to Make Micro-Credentials Matter
From left to right: Connie Yowell (MacArthur Foundation), LaVerne Srinivasan (Carnegie Corporation), Brent Madden (Relay Graduate School of Education), and Jennifer Kabaker (Digital Promise) share thoughts on a micro-credential panel.

Badges, certifications, skill identifiers--you’ve probably seen micro-credentials in one digital form or another. But how do we know whether they actually matter in the real world?

At the Digital Promise Educator and Workforce Micro-credentials Summit on January 30, about 100 teachers, administrators, entrepreneurs and nonprofit representatives, both from K-12 and higher-ed, came together to discuss exactly that: how to get micro-credentials to the point where they’re valued as evidence of what adults have learned and can do.

“Can we get to a place where we value learning for the adults in education?” asked panelist LaVerne Srinivasan of the Carnegie Corporation.

Throughout the day’s panels, workshops, and casual conversations, several themes arose around ways to ensure that micro-credentials like badges eventually do count for how and what educators are learning, as well as ultimately scale.

Keep time and autonomy sacred

A problematic assumption about professional development is that a person must sit in a class for X days a week, Y hours per day to develop a skill. According to Srinivasan, this “seat time” requirement hinders the development and adoption of micro-credentials.

In the real world, learning can happen anytime, anywhere. And it often takes place outside the confines of a classroom, and at the learner’s own initiative.

Rebecca Weintraub, an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, shared her own interests in helping her medical students abroad gather skills and certification without needing to be present in school.

“In medical schools, everything is case-based, meaning in-person simulations. But that doesn’t scale,” she said. “Medical students are gathering informations--technically skills, procedure-based skills--in a variety of ways.”

Badging platforms need to talk to one another

But with an increasing number of organizations now offering digital badges (including CoSN, Pearson and Digital Promise), how does one badge relate or transfer to another?

There’s no denying that micro-credentialing platforms will need some way to “talk to each other,” as “micro-credentials should be able to travel between contexts,” according to Digital Promise’s Karen Cator.

However, whether there needs to be a universal standard across various platforms and geographic locations was a more contentious topic.

Carla Casilli, Director of Design and Practice at Badge Alliance, shared that localized systems of badging were valuable and meaningful to the communities they operated in, citing Bernard Bull’s Concordia University badging practices as an example. “An overarching standard would be successful, but a better badging system would be diverse” amongst varying communities, Casilli said. “There are so many different forms of success when that happens.”

Micro-credentialing should target the process, not just the end

Are micro-credentials simply a validation of skills and competencies--much like a driver’s license? Or can they also be used to support learning that is actively in progress?

Randy Depew of KQED shared his experiences in generating media literacy badges, saying, “people will work towards their strength,” and that “it has always been about competency, not learning.” But John Foster, CEO of NOCTI (the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute) wondered whether micro-credentialing should be more than that. “How do you make sure that micro-credentials aren’t disconnected from the learning?” he asked.

Steven Dunlap, Director of Innovation and Learner Engagement at Riverside Unified School District, shared why it can be both: “In the central office, we’re not always aware of what teachers are learning, but we’d like to be able to tap into their skill sets. You can show learning and expertise at the same time through competency-based assessment.”

Whatever steps are taken to achieve a level of legitimacy, the Digital Promise Summit showed that micro-credentials are here to stay--and in some minds, could potentially save the world of teaching. Brent Maddin spoke to this, referring to the importance of using micro-credentials to bolster teacher professional development.

“I see [teacher] turnover and it petrifies me,” he said. “If [micro-credentials] are about feeling competent, I wonder if teachers would stick around longer.”

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