For Jennifer Vandiver, a secondary science teacher at Collinwood High School in Wayne County, Tennessee, personalized learning is important for the development of educators and the students they teach.
“In many districts, teachers are provided the same professional development regardless of their subject area, grade level or personal goals,” Vandiver wrote in a blog for Digital Promise, a US nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve learning opportunities through technology and research. “The irony of this is that many of us educators have been successfully navigating the waters of personalized learning for our students, but haven’t been given the opportunity to transition that same approach to our own professional learning.”
Micro-credentials – short, focused, certified courses to develop individual skills – provided a path for Vandiver to achieve personalized learning. Having searched online for professional development opportunities, she joined the Tennessee Department of Education’s Micro-credential Pilot Program.
“I successfully completed three micro-credentials during the first phase: Wait Time, Idea Generating, and Design Thinking and Doing,” Vandiver wrote. “I then agreed to become a virtual community facilitator for the second phase, which allows me to support Tennessee educators who are beginning their micro-credential journey.”
“BY 2020, MORE THAN A THIRD OF THE DESIRED CORE SKILL SETS OF MOST OCCUPATIONS WILL BE SKILLS THAT AREN’T CONSIDERED CRUCIAL TO THE JOB TODAY.”WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM
THE FUTURE OF JOBS REPORT, 2016
In an era when work and the educational requirements for doing it are changing so rapidly, experts in both education and business agree that micro-credentialing is a promising way to help workers remain employable for the long run by continuously updating their skills.
Micro-credentials provide an answer to the need for rapid reskilling, certified by digital badges that embed evidence of the skills each individual has mastered.
“Micro-credentials are ideal for enabling learners to master discrete sets of desired skills,” said Mark Leuba, vice president of product management at US-based nonprofit learning consortium IMS Global, which oversees the Open Badges micro-credential standard OBv2.
“For learners and educators, OBv2 provides definition and communication of verifiable achievements and skills,” Leuba said. “For employers, it provides ways to match candidates’ skills to available opportunities. And for administrators, it provides better recording, planning and management of credentials for individuals. Crucially, the standard ensures interoperability, so learners can transfer their badges to different forums as they search for jobs, change employers or apply to educational institutions.”
Leading global companies have been quick to recognize the standard’s value. “Microsoft Worldwide Learning is using OBv2 for its unified framework for credentialing and certification,” Leuba said. “IBM has issued micro-credentials to hundreds of thousands of learners worldwide who have demonstrated skills, often in IBM-related products and services. Now it is locating qualified staff and contractors for projects over the internet based on micro-credentials incorporated in Open Badges. This new service, called IBM Talent Match, is an excellent example of what’s possible.”
ENABLING LIFELONG LEARNING
“Micro-credentials provide students with ways to learn, and to keep learning while they go out and apply what they’ve learned,” said Cali Morrison, assistant dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at American Public University System (APUS). “Technology gives us the opportunity to tie evidence to the micro-credential, so employers can see what the students did to earn it. As a result, learners feel the micro-credential makes them more marketable, and we are seeing growing acceptance of these sub-degree credentials among employers.”
APUS, founded in 2017, is designing credit-bearing micro-credential stacks that allow learners to earn career-relevant, cross-disciplinary certifications alongside their degree studies. In addition, it offers non-credit-bearing micro-credentials in skills such as coaching and mentoring.
“We want to extend the institution’s offerings to reach more lifelong learners so they continue to build their skills and knowledge through everything from webcasts to micro-credential certificate programs,” Morrison said.
STACKING UP SKILLS
Micro-credentials play a key role in enabling workers to build stacks of skills that meet the changing needs of industry. Businesses and educators are embracing this flexible and focused learning. As momentum builds, more widespread recognition is sure to follow.
“We need recognition that there is value in all types of post-secondary education, whether it’s vocational, academic or practical,” Morrison said. “Stackable credentials are what’s next. They will reduce the traditional dependence on credit hours, enabling learning in smaller chunks that can add up to something much bigger.”
That is certainly the case for Vandiver, who finds micro-credentials a continually empowering experience.
“I’ve always believed the best professional learning for any teacher takes place in the classroom – a belief foundational to micro-credentials,” she wrote. “By doing so, my students become a critical part of my micro-credential journey. And what I’ve found is that they love having a role in my learning. They enjoyed seeing me ‘in their shoes’ as a learner, watching me adjust my practice ‘on my feet’ and make my learning visible.
“87% of US workers believe training and skills development throughout their work life will be essential or important to career success.”WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM
THE FUTURE OF JOBS REPORT, 2016
“I’m excited for the continued growth I’ll get to share with my students through micro-credentials,” Vandiver said. “As is the case with any form of professional learning, micro-credentials may not be the path for everyone, but they have been an invaluable partner on mine.”
STRENGTHENING TOMORROW’S WORKFORCE
Millions of unfilled jobs worldwide attest to the fact that people are leaving school without the skills businesses need, including problem-solving, adaptability, collaboration, leadership, creativity and innovation – or without any way to prove that they have acquired them in the workplace.
As advances in technology transform the way people do business, new skills, including micro-credential and micro-learning programs, and as yet undiscovered needs will continue to emerge.
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