How Micro-Credentials Boost Career Pathways in Rural Communities

Leveraging Micro-Credentials to Strengthen Equitable Career Pathways in Rural Communities edLeader Panel recording link


Blog post by Stacey Pusey based on this edLeader Panel

What happens when a state has a professional learning mandate for teachers but no funding to offer them? Or taking any professional learning seminar requires hours of travel with no viable substitutes to cover the class? And what about adult learning in general, when the majority of workers in need are low income and marginalized?

During the edLeader Panel, “Leveraging Micro-Credentials to Strengthen Equitable Career Pathways in Rural Communities,” sponsored by Digital Promise, Adult Learning, the presenters discussed the ongoing research from Digital Promise about the impact of micro-credentialing on education and how these programs can benefit students in and out of the classroom.

Micro-credentials are certified recognition for completing a competency-based program focused on a specific skill. They can also be grouped together to form a skill pathway. Key attributes of micro-credentials include personalization (students choose their own path), flexibility (students can take courses on-demand), and they require the candidate to demonstrate evidence of competency. In other words, rather than just attending a seminar where the leader doesn’t know who’s taking notes or who’s on their phone, micro-credentials require evidence of mastery, which is formally assessed.

During its ongoing research, Digital Promise has uncovered several recurring themes:

  • Learners value the clear, consistent pathway as well as the personalization
  • Employers value the concrete evidence of a candidate’s specific skills
  • Professional learning companies value the opportunity to provide students with increased opportunities and to stay relevant as employment needs change

Rosa Redonnett, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Success and Credential Attainment for the University of Maine System, noted some other benefits from her state’s programs:

  • Micro-credentials are a path out of poverty. Initially, they focused on several different marginalized and at-risk communities, but they discovered a common factor was poverty. The adult learners couldn’t afford to take months-long certification programs, much less go back to school. Micro-credentials allowed them to work at their own pace and demonstrate their employability, helping them move up in the job market.
  • The program also helps the state’s economy. As more citizens take advantage of the program, they attain better jobs and contribute to the economy.
  • Having a statewide system provides consistency. Two of the best attributes of micro-credentials are that they are portable and shareable. However, if employers don’t understand the credentials or can’t trust their source, then they don’t have value. By having the state develop and support the system, employers feel confident when they see the credentials.

Dr. Jennifer Carroll, Personalized Professional Learning Lead for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), concurs that micro-credentials are an excellent way for employees to demonstrate competency and can also be used to advance employment even when someone already has a degree. In her area, teachers don’t have the time or money to travel for professional learning, even though it’s required. By using micro-credential programs, they’ve been able to offer cost-effective opportunities tailored to their specific needs.

For example, KVEC built a stack of micro-credentials based on teaching rural students, which has positively impacted student performance. Another example is a series of credentials for special education, a definite need in their area. In addition, teachers often work together on their credentials, strengthening their community. Also, due to the success of their program, they’ve hosted five national summits on micro-credentials.

Of course, there are challenges with micro-credentials. First, program leaders are still working on getting employers to recognize the value of the credentials. And Digital Promise sees a need for data interoperability across institutions to help connect micro-credentials with college credit. Finally, Redonnett and her team learned not every student is ready for the foundational badge, so they’re adding in more contextualized learning as part of the opportunity.

Overall, though, micro-credentials have shown how they can impact communities in need and provide learning opportunities that students would otherwise not have access to.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Digital Promise, Adult Learning.

Watch the Recording Listen to the Podcast

About the Presenters

Rosa Redonnett is the associate vice chancellor for student success and credential attainment for the University of Maine System. In collaboration with the vice chancellor for academic affairs, the associate vice chancellor provides system-wide leadership to enhance and promote student success through collaborative efforts within the University of Maine System, with other higher education institutions, and within the PreK-20 education community. This position provides system-wide leadership and support on furthering campus efforts specific to adult credential and degree attainment and the development and implementation of a system-wide approach to micro-credentials. Rosa is a member of the core team of MaineSpark, Maine’s statewide attainment initiative, specifically the Adult Promise (adult degree and credential completion) component of that work and serves as the UMS representative to the State Workforce Board.

A former teacher and district administrator, Dr. Jennifer Carroll currently is the personalized professional learning lead for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), which is a non-regulatory service agency in rural southeastern Kentucky. Dr. Carroll provides curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional learning support to 25 rural school districts in the service region.  She is the lead on KVEC’s work around micro-credentials which includes the development of over 20 micro-credentials as well as supporting districts in including micro-credentials as a component of clinical, competency-based professional learning.

Antonio Mabiala is a University of Maine System Micro-Credentials earner. He works in access control with a focus on IP video surveillance, enterprise networking, unified communications, virtualization, and storage. He also manages IT services and audio/visual. Antonio has lived in Lewiston, ME for the last three years.

About the Moderator

Brian Tinsley is a senior research and communications associate on the Adult Learning team at Digital Promise. He is also a developmental psychologist committed to the pursuit of educational equity across the life course. He has a particular interest in the impact of social and educational contexts on the socioeconomic plight of marginalized populations. Brian currently co-leads research on the implementation and use of micro-credentialing programs in rural communities, as well as the development of Learning and Employment Records (LERs). Brian earned his Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies in human development from the University of Pennsylvania.

Join the Community

Research and Evidence in Edtech is a free professional learning community on that brings together researchers, educators, and product developers to share best practices related to edtech research and evaluation.

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.

Digital Promise