Micro-credentials:
Three lessons, three opportunities

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I’d like to share what I’ve learned about my work.

I could fill libraries with all the lessons I’ve learned since joining the staff at CTQ, but I’d like to focus on the lessons I’ve learned from my work with micro-credentials. Although micro-credentials have been a part of my daily work life for more than five years, I have to remind myself that some educators are unfamiliar with them. Thus, before continuing, let’s be sure you’ve been properly introduced.

What the heck are micro-credentials?

Micro-credentials aim to recognize a discrete skill of educators related to their practice and based on evidence that demonstrates competency of that specific skill. They can be leveraged to create a system of personalized professional learning for educators and are designed to be job-embedded and practical. They provide the opportunity for educators to experience and model personalized learning for the benefit of their students and colleagues.

Reflecting on my work with such a promising strategy for recognizing skill and expertise, I discovered three interesting lessons. Personalization is embedded in the very nature of the micro-credential concept, so it’s no surprise to me that working with such a concept led me to three very personal lessons. Let me share those now.

Lesson #1:  Work is rewarding when it becomes personal.

It is not my sole responsibility to ensure the micro-credential ecosystem maximizes its full potential in all 50 states; 13,588 districts; and 132,183 schools across the nation. But most days, it feels as if it is. Because CTQ helped create a system for personalizing learning for educators, its viability matters to us. A lot.

A partner and pioneer in micro-credential landscape development for more than five years, CTQ has been on the job from the start. We’ve worked with Digital Promise and dozens of other organizations, states, and school districts to develop, assess, and pilot micro-credentials as well as processes for redesigning systems to include this new form of personalized learning. Since dedicating ourselves to this bold vision, we’ve developed a deep portfolio of micro-credential knowledge and experiences. (See infographic for more information.)

Micro-credentials are personal for me. When Digital Promise needed classroom teachers to test its initial design in May 2014, I recruited volunteers from our CTQ community. Nearly a dozen teachers completed the micro-credentials and provided crucial feedback to Digital Promise, which led to a more effective design.

But what made the micro-credential journey so personal for me wasn’t that I coordinated this review process. It became personal to me when a request was made by Renee Moore, one of our Collaboratory members (and a current CTQ Board member), in a phone conversation shortly after the May review.

“Jennifer, make this happen. Once these micro-credentials are revised and high-quality stacks are created, this whole thing could be a game-changer. Stick with it. Make it happen.”

I’m not sure I know an educator I respect more than Renee Moore. I agreed with Renee then, and I agree now. To make micro-credentials a game-changer for personalized learning for educators, I had to get close. I had to make it personal.

Lesson #2:  Wear the mantle.

One of my favorite lines from the Harry Potter books is “Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”

To honor Renee’s request and take up the mantle, I had work to do. When I came to CTQ in January 2014, I had no idea I’d be spending a portion of every day researching, studying, and serving one of the most promising developments in personalized professional learning I’d seen in my career.

The 22 years I spent as a classroom teacher helped me connect the promise of micro-credentials to the reality of practice. But to really make this happen, I had to do more. With CTQ’s all-star staff and the most amazing community of practitioners in America, I got busy developing micro-credentials and processes and protocols for assessing and piloting them. Then we began asking and addressing two Herculean-sized questions:  How do we construct a fully functioning system for personalized learning? How do we develop and test the integration of such a system into already existing systems?

While these systems must be tested in reality, the process of creating a new system for personalized learning requires creative thinking. Leading requires imagination. Guiding others in the discovery of what is possible is all about imagination.

And nothing sparks imagination like listening and asking questions.

Lesson #3:  Listen. Ask. Then listen some more.

The early phase of the first micro-credential pilot I managed was a hot mess. Sure, we were hitting targets for the project but I was certain we’d have 100% participation. (I know. A bit crazy, right?) I was trying so hard to make it happen I didn’t stop to ask questions or listen to what was needed before I launched into the work. If I had, I would have discovered my plan didn’t fit teachers’ needs or expectations. Luckily, I’m a quick study and made the changes needed to finish strong.

True story: I told a group of teacher leaders why, when, and how they should pilot micro-credentials. And, get this, I told them which ones they should pilot!

Rather than creating structures for dialogue and protocols of support so teacher leaders might discover the power of micro-credentials for themselves, I stripped all of the personalization from an experience I proclaimed would be personalized.

Luckily, nothing motivates me like disappointment in myself.

By the time I began supporting several states, school districts, and state and local associations with designing pilot programs and implementation plans, I’d learned the absolute necessity of asking questions and listening to answers first.  Make no assumptions. That’s my new #1 rule now. Ask. Ask. Ask. Start from where they are, not where you think they are.

Through our micro-credential work with dozens of states, districts, and organizations, we’ve developed an entire suite of tools and resources to guide those curious about the power the micro-credential ecosystem might hold for them. I love what I do at CTQ. I especially love our steadfast commitment to sharing what we’ve learned with our community. It’s in that spirit I’d like to share three opportunities for you to explore micro-credentials further.

Three opportunities for further exploration

  • Access a valuable resource.
    Complete this Readiness Survey and access our field-tested resource, Developing a micro-credential strategy: A framework, which will guide you and your team through the decisions and tasks associated with planning, launching, and implementing a micro-credential pilot or initiative with a group of educators.
  • Join our micro-credential community network.
    Maintaining a supportive network of leaders engaged in building the micro-credential ecosystem is important to CTQ. Join this closed Facebook group and share the valuable lessons you are learning along your micro-credentials journey.
  • Attend micro-credential webinar series.
    Over the coming months, CTQ will be offering opportunities to learn more about the entire micro-credential process. Sign up here to receive invitations for these sessions.

Questions really do spark the imagination. Have you imagined what role micro-credentials might play in your context? If you haven’t, choose a question below and open yourself to new possibilities. And contact me if I can help you along the way.

  • What priorities or pressing needs are you wrestling with right now? How are you currently addressing them? In what ways are these strategies working?
  • What is your currently identified problem of practice? Have you considered micro-credentials as a support? Have you submitted a micro-credential? How might that help you understand the process?