When folks find out you are from Arizona, inevitably you will be asked whether one can, indeed, fry an egg on the sidewalk.* You don’t need a full course of study to make this happen: merely some ingredients, a little science know-how, and a chance to apply your skills. In this light, the ability to make meals using nature’s cook stove is an ersatz microcredential for those who grew up in the desert southwest.
Microcredentials, sometimes looped in with badging, are a trending change to professional development in education and other industries. Rather than a full degree program or a course of standardized length, microcredentials are designed to be relatively bite-sized and encapsulated opportunities to learn something new and useful, usually with a demonstration of learning as part of completion. You can earn microcredentials in everything from digital citizenship to instructional models to walking while talking. Yes, you can get recognized for ambulatory lesson delivery, and this is just one of the issues at hand. Microcredentials have the potential to solve many of the issues with standardized professional development yet educators want to be certain they dedicate their limited time to meaningful work.
Can we redefine PD with microcredentials? Can educators get behind the change in PD format? Musings from #mcsummit17
— Follett Learning (@FollettLearning) January 10, 2017
Many are quick to tout microcredentials as a method that ostensibly personalizes educator learning, highlighting an ability to customize interests into manageable, efficient access. Professionals can select from a bevy of specialized courses and a variety of delivery methods, engage with current materials, network with peers, and often receive a digital image to tack under their email signature, tuck in a portfolio, or list on a resume. Educators can likely find something of value and providers can reach folks who want to learn. It sounds like a solution for some professional development woes in which large groups are subject to a one-size-fits-all delivery.
While cursory studies suggest that microcredentials are valued by educators for a host of reasons, the continued influx of options somewhat dilutes the playing field. Adult learners are generally equipped to select meaningful coursework to support their careers, yet as this trend shifts into schools, some concerns come to light. While many adults can distinguish between the array of offerings, here are a few questions teachers can ask themselves as they sift through choices:
- Who (or which company) is behind the microcredential? While more reputable companies may provide more quality experiences, educators may be trading their contact information, time, and hard-earned cash to be a willing (or unwilling?) marketing number for large corporations to sell more products. If a big name company is offering you a credential for little to nothing in return, consider number two.
- What does it cost and why that amount? As stewards of our salaries, it can be tempting to take on all the free or cheap microcredentials to add lots of feathers to our hats. That said, in some cases you may get what you paid for as developing coursework that is meaningful and providing feedback to participants takes some of someone’s time. If something seems off, either too little or too much, take a look at where the funds are going before you spend them.
- What is required of you? Some of the biggest names in microcredentials ask you to watch videos and then earn microdentials through multiple choice quizzes, others require extensive writing assignments, even for non-communication coursework. While most classes may fall somewhere in between, make sure you find out whether what is needed to complete the course fits in with your schedule and workload expectations — and that there are no last minute additions.
- What other courses are provided? The aforementioned course on walking and talking is not a joke. While it can be appreciated that professional development includes 101, 201, and 301 opportunities, double check that a provider isn’t masking weaknesses in its offerings through extending materials over too many classes. On the flip side, if you do start at 101, you may appreciate taking 201 from the same provider.
- What do you want out of the course? We set agendas to keep us on track; these plans can be paired up with syllabi to ensure you will get what you want out of the class. Some microcredentials may use terminology that either matches your needs or fails to deliver. Further, while some completions may bring you badges or other recognition you want for your career, the popularity of certain achievements may dilute the affect. If your goal is attention, make sure you’ll send the message you intend.
- How are you modeling career and/or college-oriented activities for your students? We often hear the phrase “lifelong learner” batted about in education though I’ve yet to find an educator who doesn’t claim that title. When we take action toward that status, we have an opportunity to model for students realistic career investment, moves, in-action learning, and professional communication. When educators articulate their learning experiences with students and name (and better yet, show) evidence of their coursework, continued personal development becomes an accepted norm.
— ISTE (@iste) February 20, 2017
In the market for microcredentials? The following have passed the test of my educator friends and may provide the professional development experiences you want this year:
Whether fixing a gourmet meal atop cement or learning to code, courses exist to fit the user, and word-of-mouth from a fellow educator may be the best determinant of what might be worth your resources. What experiences have you had with microcredentialing? Which courses do you think are needed?