When many schools across the nation moved online in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were new online learning programs to master, different methods needed to engage and assess students, and important access and equity considerations that education leaders needed to address. Most educators recognized they needed new skills to effectively teach in a digital environment, but were often left alone to figure out how to attain them, as most school districts were scrambling to keep their students and staff connected and safe.
Unfortunately, this trend continued into the fall semester of 2020. An Educators for Excellence survey found that only 37% of teachers received training that enabled them to implement curricula effectively, and teachers voiced a significant need for more tools to help them with online instruction.
As teachers continue delivering remote instruction, state policymakers can support ongoing professional development policies. Recent research from the Center on Reinventing Public Education outlines effective approaches that some districts have taken to help teachers adapt to remote instruction, including “setting aside time for planning, creating structures for collaboration, and developing remote coaching programs.” Other effective approaches include building learning modules that are individualized and self-paced that can be connected to micro-credentials.
High-quality micro-credentials verify a small, discrete and evidence-based competency that a teacher demonstrates by submitting evidence of application from their practice (as assessed by a validated rubric). The associated resources and assessment are offered digitally in an asynchronous, self-paced format, which is crucial for schools forced into remote learning.
While many states and districts experimented with micro-credentials prior to COVID-19, the pandemic sped up interest and adoption. Between February and April 2020, Digital Promise observed a 135% increase in registered users and a 20% increase in submissions on its platform, attributed in part to the COVID-19 pandemic changing teachers’ needs and available learning options.
Not only are high-quality micro-credentials more responsive to the moment at hand, but New America’s recent research finds they have the potential to drive more authentic, effective professional learning by catalyzing a “cycle of inquiry” — a stark contrast to the largely ineffective “sit-and-get” professional development teachers are typically offered. Micro-credentials can also help identify whether teachers already have the skills to meet today’s unique challenges, enabling schools to better leverage teachers that do, and provide more targeted support to those who are still developing their skills.
For the average teacher to be successful with micro-credentials, states will need to consider investing in their broader systems of professional learning as well as policies that incentivize a culture of ongoing professional growth.
Below are six considerations for state education leaders to support the elements of high-quality professional development and the integration of micro-credentials into an effective professional learning system based on New America’s recent research:
- Align professional development opportunities with professional learning standards and the federal definition of high-quality professional development, whether connected to micro-credentials or not.
- Adjust how micro-credentials are incorporated into various policies (e.g., to drive ongoing professional learning, to meet license renewal requirements or to determine opportunities for advancement).
- Develop a system to rigorously vet the quality of micro-credential offerings.
- Communicate the benefits of high-quality micro-credentials to educators and seek their input throughout the development and implementation processes.
- Curate micro-credential options to address pressing educator and student needs.
- Support educators with the necessary resources and guidance to successfully earn micro-credentials, including opportunities for personalized coaching and collaborative learning communities.
Micro-credentials could change how teachers incorporate new competencies into their practice, and states can help put structures in place to fully leverage this promising new tool. For more guidance on how state education leaders can do this, see New America’s model state policy guide.