States Partner on Micro-Credentials to Personalize Teacher Learning

Key Points

  • In 2020, more than 2000 educators earned more than 4000 micro-credentials.

  • Schools and systems adopted this new approach to give teachers more voice and choice in their learning.


Ten years ago most teachers suffered through whole group sit-and-get professional development–low engagement, no choice, no personalization.

A pair of startups, one venture backed and one nonprofit, leveraged the digital platform revolution and began offering an array of teacher learning experiences culminating in demonstrations of new capabilities that earned teachers micro-credentials. Schools and systems adopted this new approach to give teachers more voice and choice in their learning, allowing them some choice in what they learn, how they learn, and how they demonstrate their learning.  

In 2020, more than 2000 educators earned more than 4000 micro-credentials. BloomBoard and Digital Promise host over 500 active microcredentials each, and the National Education Association (NEA) offers nearly 200.

Educator micro-credentials are, according to New America, “a verification of a discrete skill or competency that a teacher has demonstrated through the submission of evidence assessed via a validated rubric.”

Teachers view micro-credentials as more difficult than traditional professional development, according to New America research, but those that have engaged in one express interest in engaging in another, indicating positive perceived value.

States have begun encouraging the use of microcredentials. In 2019, nonprofit digiLEARN supported a pilot program in North Carolina that studied micro-credentials as a tool for teacher retention and development.  

Schools and systems adopted this new approach to give teachers more voice and choice in their learning…

Tom Vander Ark

New America reported that more than half the states have formal educator micro-credential policies. Eight states use micro-credentials for specific endorsement. Five states use stacks of micro-credentials as educator career pathways.

“Supporting teachers is the key to supporting students, because we know an effective teacher improves student outcomes,” said North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, who founded and chairs digiLEARN. “Micro-credentials have the ability to provide teachers with an opportunity to learn in small increments while remaining in the classroom. However, for micro-credentials to be meaningful for teacher development, they need to be portable, aligned with effective professional development, and allow teachers to receive credit for them across districts and states.”

This week digiLEARN launched the Micro-Credentials Partnership of States, a collaboration including Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wyoming. The partnership, supported by the NEA, Carnegie Corporation and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, will allow states to share opportunities and challenges and develop recommendations for how micro-credentials can be used to improve how teachers are developed, recognized, and rewarded.

“The future of work requires opportunities to learn new things and signal those skills–that’s what micro-credentials do,” said Arkansas Secretary Johnny Key.

The Arkansas Department of Education plans to use micro-credentials for relevant personalized educator learning. It will complement the licensing system with an alternative route and support career pathways to leadership roles.

South Carolina Superintendent Molly Spearman said hundreds of teachers in her state have earned micro-credentials. They are promoting leadership development via micro-credentials. Through this initiative, Spearman hopes to build a system that is available to all teachers in both large and small districts as well as high performing and struggling districts.

The Wyoming Department of Education, in collaboration with the Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board, University of Wyoming, and district partners, is developing a micro-credentialing system that could provide teachers the opportunity to become credentialed to teach Computer Science through flexible, job-aligned experiences.

This new multi-state collaboration will illustrate the benefits of educator micro-credentials to personalize professional learning, address specific talent gaps, and build leadership development pathways. And, with success at scale in these four states, this partnership will lead to talent portability as micro-credentials become more widely recognized.  

This post was originally published on Forbes.

This post is part of our New Pathways campaign sponsored by ASA, Stand Together and the Walton Family Foundation.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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