Micro-credentials: The Future of Professional Development?

Are you looking for a way to promote professional development for teachers in your district at a time when face-to-face meetings are becoming increasingly complicated, if not impossible?

Micro-credentials may be a strategy you should consider.

What are micro-credentials?

Micro-credentialing is a competency-based approach to professional learning. Through this approach, teachers are recognized for their growth and mastery of a specific, stated goal. The goal is narrow in focus (e.g., using primary sources in the elementary classroom) and measured by the evidence submitted to the certified reviewer. The credential is based on teacher reflection on current practices, a review of literature on best practices, and implementation of those strategies in the classroom and then capped with a written component that allows teachers to reflect on their implementation experiences.

Opportunities are on demand, providing teachers with the flexibility to choose their own topic of interest, progress at their own pace, and determine when and where they wish to learn. Many micro-credentials are now available from a variety of providers. Some focus specifically on topics of concern to a history / social science teacher. For example, they might provide ideas for teachers exploring literacy strategies for grades K–2 students or implementing C3 standards for inquiry, source analysis, or taking informed action. Some providers offer topics of a more general nature, such as developing students with strategies from social and emotional learning, or classroom management skills. Micro-credentials are also used in a different format to create unique learning paths for students that set personal goals and allow them to demonstrate competency in a particular area of study.




Our team has created micro-credentials on a variety of social studies topics. Each topic has several specific sections, each of which can be credentialed separately (see figure A). Let’s follow a specific example to see how it is set up and used in the field. Our Adult Learning Theory credential focuses on training teachers to work with other teachers in a professional development context. It offers a review of best practices for working with adults, whose learning style and expectations are very different from working with K–12 students. It prepares teachers for giving presentations to other educators at local events or state and national conferences. The more teachers in your district who are trained in adult learning theory, the better prepared you will be to use those teachers to support and train other teachers in the district.

Here is how the micro-credential is set up. Each step in the credentialing process involves clearly stated goals, reading, writing, teaching, and reflecting. Time expectations for each step are clearly articulated, and professional feedback for teacher work is part of the mastery process. Other topics also follow the same organization and format.

Adult Learning Theory at a Glance 


Process Step


Action Step


Approximate Duration

Step 1

Initial Reflection


Submit Reflection

1.5 hours

Step 2



Retain student responses for use in the Reflection

1 hour

Step 3

Research and Resources


Evidence will be apparent in Practicum and Reflection

2 hours

Step 4



Agenda and changes in participant evaluations

(3-5 evaluations)

5 hours

Step 5



Submit Reflection

1.5 hours

A Case Study

Houston Independent School District, one of the largest urban districts in the country, has an ongoing challenge to provide strategies for effective teaching with widely diverse groups of students. With limited support for coaches at the central office, the district needed to figure out a way to disseminate and model best practices across the district. They developed a teacher leader corps, made up of a group of self-selected teachers across the district who were interested in developing their ability to work with and mentor their peers. The corps would study and meet regularly during the course of the school year in order to discuss, model, and develop best practices that they could share with their fellow educators. The process involved presenting a content session at one of the district’s professional development conferences. Some teachers would then go on to present at regional, state, and national conferences on their topic of choice.

At Social Studies School Service, we partnered with district leadership to add the micro-credential on adult learning theory to the mix. The goal was to make sure that these teachers would be equipped with the best strategies to engage the adult learners in their conference sessions. They read the literature on how adults learn best, reflected on this in discussions with their peers, and then implemented those ideas in a practical session at the local district conference. Teachers spoke on topics that were of interest to them—for example, strategies to engage geography students with images from around the world or using primary sources for world history. Whatever their topic, all the teachers used ideas from the micro-credential to ensure that their fellow teachers would be interested, engaged in the exploration, and ready to take the ideas back to their classrooms. Teachers were observed in their sessions and then submitted reflections on how adult learning theory had influenced their presentation to their peers. The final certification process involved reviewing the presentations and teacher reflections on how adult learning theory had helped them to structure their presentation and guide their interactions with fellow teachers.



Photo: iStock by Getty Images

Further Research

With micro-credentials being a new addition to the professional learning toolkit, there is not a lot of research available to cite. In a report titled “Seven Lessons Learned from Implementing Micro-credentials,” the authors emphasize:

“Micro-credentials provide an opportunity for educators to engage in rigorous, self-paced, job- embedded professional learning that is connected to the daily skills teachers need in their classrooms…While many questions still exist around micro-credentials, superintendents, principals and teachers with whom we have worked are interested in the possibilities of using them as a catalyst for changing the way we think about and recognize professional learning” (Acree, 2016).

The research also suggests that many teachers are looking for training that is

    • personalized and self-directed;
    • focused on the needs of educators, students, and schools;
    • competency based; and
    • job embedded and practical.

Micro-credentials offer a professional learning solution that meets all these expectations and provides a self-paced format that can be implemented via remote learning platforms. You can provide options for your teachers that are not limited to the two professional development days that your district allocates each year and do not require large groups of individuals to come together in the same place (Younge, 2020). Many states are also now allowing teachers to earn CEU credits and use these credentials toward recertification (Digital Promise).


At a time when professional development days are becoming increasingly difficult to schedule and bringing large groups of teachers together in one place poses serious health risks, micro-credentials offer a professional learning solution which might be just what you need. The credentials are focused on specific topics, allow teachers to choose their own path, pace, and place for learning, and then demonstrate mastery in that domain. Teachers read, write, and reflect on their implementation experiences in a way that connects theory to practice in a meaningful way. The credentials can be part of a district-wide initiative (like with the Houston Independent School District) or allow individual teachers to choose their own path down the road of lifelong learning.

Social Studies School Service offers credentialing services free of charge to districts around the country. Please visit http://www.socialstudies.com/microcredentials for more information.

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Acree, Lauren. “Seven Lessons Learned from Implementing Micro-credentials.” William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. North Carolina State University, January 26, 2016. https://www.fi.ncsu.edu/news/seven-lessons-learned-from-implementing-micro-credentials/.

Digital Promise. “Micro-credentials for Recertification.” Accessed June 2020. https://digitalpromise.org/initiative/educator-micro-credentials/digital-promise-micro-credentials-for-recertification/.

Greene, Peter. “Education Micro-credentials 101: Why Do We Need Badges?” Forbes, February 16, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2019/02/16/education-micro-credentials-101-why-do-we-need-badges/#620587062419.

Schwartz, Katrina. “Can Micro-credentials Create More Meaningful Professional Development for Teachers?” MindShift (blog). KQED, February 15, 2017. https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/47476/can-micro-credentials-create-meaningful-professional-development-for-teachers.

Younge, Odelia. “Micro-credentials and COVID-19: Supporting Professional Learning When Schools Are Closed.” Digital Promise, April 16, 2020. https://digitalpromise.org/2020/04/16/micro-credentials-and-covid-19-supporting-professional-learning-when-schools-are-closed/.

Dr. Aaron Willis is the Chief Learning Officer for Social Studies School Service. He works with districts around the country to provide resources, strategies, and training to help teachers make meaningful connections with their students. He can be reached via email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Dr_Aaron_Willis.

2 thoughts on “Micro-credentials: The Future of Professional Development?

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