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Aurora Institute

Making Educator Professional Learning Personalized and Competency-Based through Micro-Credentials

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick, Dale Frost, Maria Worthen

Issue(s): State Policy, Develop Educator Capacity

Transformation of K-12 education systems to student-centered learning will require redesigning educator preparation and development systems to become personalized and competency-based.

What are strategies to consider for building educator capacity? Systems change is a heavy lift under any circumstance, but educators are best positioned to lead the way. We will examine one way that innovative educators are building the capacity to transform education ‒ using micro-credentials to develop and validate the knowledge, skills and abilities of educators.

To fully transform K-12 education systems to student-centered learning, we need to rethink the way we build educator capacity.

Micro-Credentials: A Tool for Transforming Educator Professional Learning

Micro-credentials are a tool to create a new pathway for educator preparation and development systems to become more competency-based, personalized and relevant to systems’ and teachers’ immediate and long-term needs. They hold great potential to help develop educator capacity.

Micro-credentials are modular, competency-based credentials for professional learning that recognize demonstrated mastery of skills and prior knowledge. The concept of micro-credentialing allows for building up a portfolio of certified knowledge and skills for professional educators, challenging some of our notions of traditional licensure and credentialing ‒ and this is a good thing.

Micro-credentials afford more modularity in the design of professional learning experiences (place-based, anytime, anywhere, embedded in the classroom and in collaborative professional learning communities) to build educator capacity in a more flexible way. Some micro-credential strategies are similar to badging (think of, for example, girl scouts and boy scouts) that provide a recognition of mastery of knowledge and skills as they are developed, demonstrated and earned.

According to Digital Promise, micro-credentials are:

  • Competency-Based: They require educators to demonstrate their competence in discrete skills in their practice — either inside or outside the classroom;
  • Personalized: Teachers select micro-credentials to pursue — based on their own needs, their students’ challenges and strengths, school goals, district priorities, or instructional shifts;
  • On-Demand: Educators can opt to explore new competencies or receive recognition for existing ones on their own time, using an agile online system to identify competencies, submit evidence, and earn micro-credentials; and
  • Shareable: Educators can share their micro-credentials across social media platforms, via email, and on blogs and résumés.

Partnering with a host of organizations, Digital Promise and Bloomboard have created an educator micro-credential ecosystem to provide teachers with opportunities to gain and demonstrate mastery of skills critical to creating student-centered learning environments.

Policies to Transform Educator Professional Learning Through Micro-Credentials

Policymakers at the local, regional and state levels might begin to think about how micro-credentials could be used to transform the continuum of teacher professional learning, building capacity to transform learning environments to meet the needs of every student.

States and districts are exploring personalized approaches to offering professional development that provide recognition of new knowledge, skills and abilities through micro-credentials and badging. Future-focused states might consider how to think differently about credentialing and licensure policies to become competency-based, recognizing what educators know and are able to do.

As competency-based education systems evolve and develop, we begin to see specialization and differentiation of teaching roles. Micro-credentials enable accessible pathways for educators to gain the competencies they need in areas ranging from performance assessment, calibration, literacy strategies, equity strategies and others tailored to their specific teaching roles.

States have begun promising work in policy to support micro-credentials, but many additional opportunities for states exist to use micro-credentials.

What States Are Considering

States could use micro-credentials to transform teacher licensure, moving it away from inputs towards demonstrations of mastery. Just as students have personalized learning plans in competency-based systems, with records showing evidence of mastering learning outcomes, so too could adults across the system. This could drive the transformation of educator preparation programs, as they will need to become more personalized and competency-based to effectively prepare teaching candidates to demonstrate the competencies needed for student-centered learning environments.

Additionally, states or school districts could think about alignment to more seamlessly connect evaluation systems, micro-credentials and professional development systems, so that educators can receive relevant, on-demand, job-embedded and competency-based learning opportunities, so they can have the skills needed to help every student succeed.

These are just some of the ways policymakers could harness micro-credentials to make educator preparation and development systems more personalized and competency-based.

These new approaches to educator preparation and development can enable educators to take on new roles as they work individually and collectively to design customized pathways to graduation for every student’s success.


Educators across the K-12 education workforce are the most important element of success in the shift to powerful, personalized, competency-based learning. Educators and practitioners are designing the future of education today. We must build their skills and capacity toward managing the changes coming in the future. Only by raising and building the capacity of educators and school leaders will we realize the bold vision of systemic transformation toward student-centered learning.

The content in this blog article was adapted from sections of the recently released paper Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education. This paper is one of five draft papers prepared in advance of the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education and will be revised based on attendees’ input. CompetencyWorks is hosting the Summit in Denver, Colorado on June 21-23, 2017. The Summit is an invitation-only event — convening 100 leading innovators in the field of competency-based education — to tackle six issues: equity, policy, quality, meeting kids where they are, identifying emerging issues and revising the working definition of competency education.

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