Research coming out of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA confirms what many educators have believed for a long while — that learning by doing rather than by watching, reading, or listening alone results in the richest and deepest learning. In fact, in the study of more than 12,500 participants (across various disciplines), “doers” learned six times as much by actively completing course activities as opposed to just reading. In U.S. schools, in particular, we’re seeing evidence of this with our students as we try different things in our classrooms. The growing popularity of project-based learning and other experiential forms of activity underscores this belief.

In “The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development,” The New Teacher Project (TNTP) posits that traditional professional development, including “sit and get” workshops, has not been producing the results we need. (Click here to view our webinar discussing the report) The majority of teachers surveyed are unhappy with the state of PD in their districts but haven’t yet found a good alternative to help them grow and develop as educators. Districts, while exceptionally well-meaning and supportive, are unsure how they can help teachers grow at scale.

Enter the concept of the micro-credential. Micro-credentials provide competency-based recognition for skills educators learn throughout their careers in a variety of settings. Educators earn micro-credentials by uploading a digital portfolio of evidence demonstrating their successful implementation of a skill to a qualified third-party for evaluation. Once earned, a micro-credential is a permanent part of an educator’s record and is portable from organization to organization as educators build their careers.

Micro-credentials, which emphasize hands-on engagement and personalizing the learning journey, are gaining traction across the education system. This is particularly the case in educator professional development (PD), where the historical driver of PD has been seat-time-based credit hours. Several widely-respected educational organizations are creating and issuing micro-credentials for educators, such as the Relay Graduate School of Education, the Friday Institute for Innovation at North Carolina State University, and the Center for Teaching Quality. In several states, these micro-credentials can be translated into formal credit hours which count towards various forms of recognition such as relicensure and salary increases. This allows districts to move away from their seat-time approach to a more effective competency-based approach.

Given the research we’re reading, and the evidence we see in the field, it only makes sense to begin putting the power of personalized, competency-based PD into the hands of educators themselves. It empowers them to learn by doing and get recognized for it. Ultimately everyone benefits, most especially our students. We believe passionately in this approach, and we’d like to help our colleagues implement it in their districts.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can make a shift to this approach in your district, download our ebook, Moving PD from Seat-Time to Demonstrated Competency Using Micro-credentials.

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Jason Lange

Cofounder and President at BlooomBoard