Micro-Credentials: New Horizons for Professional Learning

20 Jan 2021 10 min read
Matt Jacobson
Matt Jacobson
Online Learning Coordinator, Learning Technology Center

There’s no two ways around it – the old “sit-and-get” method of professional development isn’t suited to the needs of today’s educators. Not only does that format tend to result in passive learning, but it also doesn’t offer teachers enough agency in their professional learning journey.

Fortunately, a new trend in professional learning is making it easier for teachers to hone their skills and meet their own personal goals at the same time. Micro-credentials have gained traction over the past several years, and they may become your go-to method for acquiring new professional skills in the near future.

But what exactly is a “micro-credential”? More importantly, how can a micro-credential help you master a new classroom-ready skill?

With micro-credentialing on the horizon for Illinois educators, now’s the right time to learn what this innovative professional learning method has to offer.

What is a Micro-credential?

At a basic level, a micro-credential is a condensed course of study that allows a participant to narrowly focus on a skill or set of skills within a chosen field. As their name suggests, a micro-credential typically allows a participant to attain a certifiable credential, often in the form of a badge or transcript notation.

However, there’s more to a micro-credential’s DNA than just a badge and a few hours of learning. Here are just a few factors that set micro-credentials apart from other methods of professional learning:

Focused on Specific, Observable Skills

“Sit-and-get” professional development typically focuses on sharing knowledge with participants. Rarely do they offer participants the opportunity to actually apply what they are learning in real time.

Micro-credentials, on the other hand, offer participants a chance to practice the skills they are learning almost immediately. Micro-credential stacks typically last for several weeks, allowing participants time to implement what they’ve learned in the classroom and ask questions of their instructor as they go along.

At the same time, micro-credentials tend to focus on a specific skill or set of skills. This allows them to dig deep and offer participants a chance to gain an adaptable understanding of the subject at hand. In turn, participants walk away with a greater capacity to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom without any delay.


Along the same lines, micro-credentials don’t take a participant’s understanding of the central topic as a given. Instead, a micro-credential provides participants an opportunity to demonstrate their mastery before walking out of the digital classroom door.

For example, a micro-credential instructor may ask a participant to supply artifacts of their skill implementation before the stack concludes. This ensures that the instructor is able to offer feedback and suggestions to the participant while they are still in the process of solidifying their competency.

Job-Embedded and Research-Based

Due to their focused nature, micro-credentials often offer an opportunity to master a skill that you can actually use on the job. Most micro-credential stacks offered by education organizations relate directly to classroom practices. So, you won’t be left guessing how you’ll use what you learned when it comes time to step back into the classroom.

Most micro-credentials are also focused on well-researched skills and concepts. As a result, they typically have a demonstrable impact in the classroom, based upon prior implementation by other educators. Your participation in a micro-credential will allow you to harness that research in the short-term, potentially leading to better outcomes for your students.

Personalized and Self-directed

One of the most marked trends in education right now centers around offering students agency and choice in the ways they learn. So, why shouldn’t educators be offered a similar level of agency when it comes time to hone their craft?

Micro-credentials do just that by providing educators clear choices about which knowledge and skills they attain. Participants are often encouraged to work through an entire stack, but they also have the option of participating in only the segments that pique their interest. Either way, educators will be engaging in a personalized professional learning experience like no other.

Along the same lines, micro-credentials offer participants more flexibility when it comes to actually sitting down and engaging with course content. That’s because many micro-credential stacks offer a mix of synchronous and asynchronous participation options. As a result, teachers are able to more effectively pursue professional learning on their own schedule.

What is a Micro-credential “Stack”?

On the surface, a micro-credential may look like an online course you’ve participated in before. However, there are several noteworthy differences that allow micro-credentials to be more flexible when it comes to their facilitation.

Generally speaking, a micro-credential is much shorter in length. Many education-related micro-credentials can be completed over the course of several weeks, rather than several months.

Also, micro-credentials are arranged into “stacks.” A stack is usually made up of three or more modules that are united by a common thread or goal. When a participant completes every module in a stack satisfactorily, they become eligible for the badge associated with that micro-credential.

This chart provides a closer look at how a micro-credential stack breaks down to its essential elements:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Microcredentials.RemoteLearning21.png

Who is using Micro-credentials?

Micro-credentials have become increasingly popular over the past several years, particularly in the education field. Numerous professional development providers have jumped on this trend and added micro-credentialing options to their catalogue of offerings.

Some of the most popular micro-credential providers currently include:

·  Digital Promise

·  BloomBoard

·  Future Learn

·  The Friday Institute

·  National Education Association

Micro-credentials and the LTC

Here at the LTC, we are constantly working to stay on the forefront of professional learning in the education field. That’s why we’re currently working on a micro-credentialing program of our own that can serve the needs of Illinois’ PK-12 educators.

Our first micro-credential stack is nearly complete, with an anticipated launch in Spring 2021. This first stack will focus on remote learning and will cover the following topics:

  • Understanding Remote Learning
  • Teaching Digital Citizenship & Internet Safety
  • Importance of Social-Emotional Learning during Remote Learning
  • Designing Remote Learning Experiences
  • Managing Remote Learning Experiences
  • Supporting Special Needs in Remote Learning
  • Remote Feedback and Assessment

This remote learning stack’s components will last roughly 6 hours each and will feature equal amounts of synchronous and asynchronous learning. All elements of this stack are aligned to ISTE and Learning Forward standards and will offer opportunities for virtual coaching and feedback.

Currently, we are recruiting educators who would like to participate in a pilot edition of this remote learning micro-credential stack. If you are interested in participating and receiving full credit for this micro-credential, let us know by filling out this form.

Further Readings on Micro-credentials

Interested in learning more about micro-credentials and the research supporting their efficacy? Be sure to check out these further readings and research:

·  How Microcredentials Help Educators Develop New Tech Skills

·  Who’s Completing Microcredentials?

·  Micro-Credentials and Education Policy in the United States

·  Developing a Student-Centered Workforce through Micro-Credentials

I’ve also recently hosted a webinar all about micro-credential basics and the LTC’s pilot program. You can view that webinar on demand here.

Matt Jacobson
Matt Jacobson
Online Learning Coordinator, Learning Technology Center

Matt designs, develops, and evaluates the LTC’s digital professional learning, including working with subject matter experts to create learning objectives, conducting needs assessments, and delivering interactive online PD opportunities.