Macro Benefits from Micro-Credentials

Supporting Early Childhood Education Pathways with Micro-Credentials edLeader Panel recording link

Blog post by Michele Israel based on this edLeader Panel

People typically develop new skills while working, seeking recognition for their professional growth. But research shows that traditional ways of acknowledging employee advancement and providing professional advancement don’t always meet the needs of today’s workers.

Micro-credentials are the solution, said educational experts in the recent edLeader Panel “Supporting Early Childhood Education Pathways with Micro-Credentials,” Micro-credentialing can build professional competencies, improve workplace performance, and lead to more career opportunities and higher wages.

Dr. Brian Tinsley, Digital Promise Senior Research and Communications Associate for Adult Learning, described micro-credentialing as an evidence-based digital pathway to personalized and on-demand learning, with certification that demonstrates mastery of a specific skill or set of skills. Elements that make for successful programs include:

  • Partnerships among relevant academic institutions to shape appropriate content and business and organizations that can inform workplace skills to target for development and application.
  • Organizational recognition of the value of micro-credentials to professional growth and the hiring and retention of skilled employees.
  • Program flexibility (enabling learners to complete online modules independently within their timeframes) and affordability.
  • Sustainability through stackable, transferrable credentials connected to a specific academic institution to grow learners’ higher education credentials.

ClearPath ECE: A Micro-Credentialing Model

Micro-credentials are ideal for educators who want to close training gaps and upskill self-paced professional development, fulfill licensing requirements and propel their professional growth and advancement.

A look at ClearPath ECE, a pilot micro-credentialing program launched by the Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance (TECTA), housed under the Center of Excellence for Learning Sciences at Tennessee State University, exemplifies how educators can benefit from this innovative learning approach.

Designed to promote college and career pathways for early childhood educators, ClearPath fills the training gap for early childhood educators through an easily accessible online learning community that develops skills required for the field.  

The program addresses the disconnect between licensing requirements for Tennessee childcare providers and relevant training resources, explained Dr. Celeste Brown, Associate Research Director for the Center of Excellence for Learning Sciences at Tennessee State University. “Many of our educators have access to in-person and online training for state licensing or individual childcare program requirements.

 “But the relationship between those requirements and professional growth is unclear, leaving childcare providers unsure how to move ahead to become self-awarded and self-advocating professionals,” Dr. Brown added.

Planning and Implementation: A Model Process

ClearPath’s construct aligns with the elements of an effective micro-credentialing program that Dr. Tinsley described. Paige Holmes, TECTA’s Assistant Program Director for Higher Education, described the development and implementation process that can inform similar initiatives.

Research – To support early childhood educators’ professional growth, TECTA explored professional competencies (which they could not find specific to the childcare profession) to frame the coursework it would develop. It drew on the college and career readiness competencies of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Partners – Project collaborators are integral to industry-appropriate and academically sound micro-credentials. TECTA’s partners included the Tennessee Board of Regents, Tennessee CAREs Early Head Start Program, Digital Promise, NACE, and IMS Global.

Construct – ClearPath’s microlearning courses were built in Articulate RISE, an accessible rapid authoring software (ideal for the modern learner and workplace), and incorporated into a portable LMS that learners can easily enter and navigate, and that the team can readily update.

Navigating Challenges

Taking stock of obstacles is integral to developing effective micro-credentialing programs. ClearPath had its share, all viewed as lessons learned to inform the program’s refinement. Among the challenges (aside from COVID-19, which disrupted learner participation, project management, budget, purchases, etc.) were:

  • Finding SMEs, content creators, and designers from the pool of childhood educators who understood microlearning, micro-credentialing, instructional design and the concept of professional competencies in early childhood education.
  • Establishing a more realistic timeline for creating and launching an online community, mainly because the work required significant collaboration among multiple stakeholders and practitioners.
  • Recruiting people to participate in the learning community as a result of not having sufficient time to thoroughly research the target population’s unique needs and not effectively demystifying microlearning as an innovative, well-rounded way to build competencies and reach mastery.
  • Explaining the purpose and value of digital badges and their importance in competency development.

The Impact: A Testimonial

Do micro-credentials work?

They do, emphasized Tabitha Bass, a teacher and coordinator at Woodmont Christian Preschool in Nashville, TN. She found them easy to access, adaptable to her schedule, informative, a sound reinforcement of past learning, and an excellent way to fulfill childcare providers’ professional development requirements and help others pursue credentials they don’t have when they enter the workforce. 

Mapping Out Next Steps

As they move into the second phase of ClearPath, Holmes and Dr. Brown know they are prepared to remedy program gaps while thinking big about substantial program enhancements. They are primed to:

  • Explore defined professional development pathways—stackable credentials that begin at the high-school-level career lattice to career pathways and lead into university and college courses.
  • Further its collaboration with IMS Global to further develop robust, open, and transferable credentials with the technology to support that.
  • Expand collaborations with the career center and continuing education and global center to invest in open and shareable LMS-friendly type credentials with a robust learning component.
  • Creating opportunities for peer learning.
  • Create an accessible and supportive learning ecosystem that accommodates learners’ work lives to provide them with the professional and academic skill-building development they seek.
  • And most important, over time, establish a self-advocating ECE workforce community that pushes for higher wages, benefits, and better work environments, enabling them to better support the children they serve.

Thinking About Micro-credentials? Tips to Consider

With the program pilot under their belts and exciting future plans in the making, Holmes and Dr. Brown offered tips for those thinking about developing a micro-credential program:

  • Build a team early that understands and buys into microlearning and micro-credentialing, what those look like for adult learners and how they can fit alongside traditional education and training.
  • Develop stackable micro-credentials that are current with industry trends.
  • Create an educational pathway for learners.
  • Develop micro-credentials recognized as prior learning assessment for college credit, which can be easily integrated into existing coursework.
  • Give learners many opportunities to interact and learn from each other—use communication, collaboration, and social media tools to support peer-to-peer interaction and learning.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, “Supporting Early Childhood Education Pathways with Micro-Credentials,” hosted by Digital Promise and sponsored by Ascendium Education Group.

Watch the Recording Listen to the Podcast

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Career, Technical, and Adult Education is a free professional learning community where educators, community leaders, and other stakeholders can share information about helping students and adults acquire the academic and technical skills needed for high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand occupations in the 21st century economy.

Digital PromiseDigital Promise is a nonprofit organization that works at the intersection of researchers, entrepreneurs, and educators. Our vision is that all people, at every stage of their lives, have access to learning experiences that help them acquire the knowledge and skills they need to thrive and continuously learn in an ever-changing world.

AscendiumAscendium Education Group is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization committed to helping people reach the education and career goals that matter to them. Ascendium invests in initiatives designed to increase the number of students from low-income backgrounds who complete postsecondary degrees, certificates, and workforce training programs, with an emphasis on first-generation students, incarcerated adults, rural community members, students of color, and veterans. Ascendium’s work identifies, validates, and expands best practices to promote large-scale change at the institutional, system, and state levels, with the intention of elevating opportunity for all. For more information, visit