I recently read a provocative little book from 1976 called Disabling Professions (Illich, Zola, McKnight, Caplan, and Shaiken). The authors caution us about the increased professionalization in American culture. In the chapter by McKnight, he suggests that professions thrive upon labeling other people as having needs that only the professional can meet. A dependence develops, one where a belief emerges that things are best left up to the professionals, that others will do best to have their needs cared for by these experts. One need not agree with all aspects of this text to accept the caution about professionalization or to muse about its implications for education. While professionals do indeed help other people, there is also the reality that professionalization sometimes has a way of defining others by their needs.

In the chapter on “Professionalized Service and Disabling Help,” John McKnight identified a series of assumptions that emerge from the professional and needy dichotomy. While not explicitly applied to education in the book, I will attempt to do so as I outline some of McKnight’s assumptions.

  1. Needs are turned into deficiencies, something that is lacking or missing in the other. As such, there is the risk of defining people by their deficiencies.
  2. This deficiency is then applied to the one who is being served by the professional, and it is often taken out of context. As such, the professional is seen as the one who is best positioned to address the deficiency, even to the point of creating new needs and deficiencies when the professional’s methods are ineffective. So, in the case of education, if a student’s learning deficiencies are not adequately addressed in the school context, then we are often more likely to label that person with a new deficiency and not to consider the possibility that the professionals and their system are ineffective for that learner. The deficiency is persistently placed in the needy one (the student) and not the professional or the system.
  3. Amid this complex situation, we find ourselves creating any number of specializations intended to address the different unmet deficiencies, or the problems that prevent the professional’s methods from being effective for some learners. In he end, McKnight notes that the professionals and their system consistently communicate that: “You are the deficient. You are the problem. You have a collection of problems” (p. 82).
  4. There is rarely the consideration that the needy or the needy’s peers are the answer to the problem. The solutions reside with the professional, securing that professionals authority and position.
  5. The professional is the one who should have the power to define the questions to be asked. In other words, the professional doesn’t just identify some objective need in the the learner. The professional defines and determines the need itself. So, in education, the professionals set the curriculum, set the agenda, decide what is and is not proper behavior of a learner, decides the best learning pathway, decides the assessments, decides what learning and other needs exist, etc.

McKnight summarizes some of these ideas by explaining what the professionals say:

“We are the solution to your problem. We know what problem you have. You can’t understand the problem or the solution. Only we can decide whether the solution has dealt with your problem” (p. 89).

Reading this text, I found myself thinking about the applications to education and modern schooling, but also thinking about the many movements that challenge such a system: open learning, collective knowledge generation, peeragogy, self-organized learning environments, self-directed learning, and other democratizing developments. These argue that solutions often reside in the learn and his/her peers. These do not necessarily discredit the role of a teacher, mentor, or facilitator. However, they do challenge us to reconsider the role of such people, not as ones who exist to define the deficiencies, set the agenda, and meet the needs of the deficient; but to guide and support the process of growing into people who have the competency, confidence and capacity to direct and manage their own learning.

There is education that seeks to meet the needs of learners. Then there is education that helps learners progress toward meeting their own needs. That is the difference between teacher-directed and self-directed learning (SDL). With the former, the teacher is the professional and the student’s role is to submit to the judgement of the professional. While there are times when it is wise and prudent to heed the wisdom of a professional, democratizing movements in education are less about the role of the professional teacher and more about helping students grow into what we might want to call professional learners.

This is not about devaluing the role of the teacher. Teachers most often remain valuable resources in these democratizing contexts. The difference is where we place the emphasis, responsibility and where the authority resides. In the professionalized education system approach, the teacher is the authority and has the primary responsibility for making sure that students are learning. In democratizing environments like the web, this begins to change.

 

What happens to a college or University when almost all the top applicants come to college with 30-60 college credits? Based upon the expansion of dual credit programs in the United States, that day seems to be coming sooner than some might expect. While general education faculty may have mixed opinions, they have limited influence on this broader change. Elite and exclusive colleges can simply refuse to accept such credits, but a very small minority of schools are in that position. For most, refusing dual credits means not welcoming some of the most academically prepared students. Others accept the credits but don’t offer dual credit themselves. That works well for some, but others want students to take those credits from their own school. If that is the case, it seems like the only option is to join the dual credit revolution and start offering quality dual credit courses. In other words, they need to expand their college offerings to high school students. Of course, there is a fourth option of ignoring the movement and/or shouting critiques from the sidelines without taking the time to carefully research the issue. We can be rather confident that this fourth option doesn’t end well.

The fact that college begins in high school has been true for over a decade, but more schools are offering dual credit and more students are taking these courses. A 2013 report from the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that 82% of public high schools had students enrolled in dual credit classes. We are in a context where many of the states in the US have programs to fund college courses for high school students, allowing students to meet the requirements for high school graduation while getting a head start on their college education. I expect to see this expand significantly, with many advanced high school students entering college as a sophomore or even a junior. Consider just a few of the many initiatives related to dual credit over the last fifteen years.

  • The State of Michigan has a 15-year old dual enrollment program that allows high school students to take college courses, and the state pays for it. That is free college credit for high school students.
  • The State of Wisconsin has the course options program, which allows students in Wisconsin public schools to take courses from other school districts as well as college courses from approved higher education institutions, and the state requires that the district pay for it.
  • Many states have free or very inexpensive college credits available to high school students, often trough their community or technical college system.
  • Early College Designs works with high schools across the country to design combined college / high school experiences, and they have a growing body of research to support their work.
  • Since 1990, Washington State has been active with the Running Start program, which allows high school students to take college courses tuition free while in high school, even to the point of earning an associate’s degree upon graduation of high school.

While some high schools are struggling to make it to school each day, others are graduating with associate’s degrees. We can look at this a greater division among students, but others choose to look at it as the expansion of individualized education, allowing students to progress at a pace that fits their distinct profile as a learner, namely starting their college career early. This allows even the smallest rural high school to expand course offerings, meeting the more diverse needs of the student population.

Of course, cost is a factor as well. In a time when more people are critiquing the cost and value of higher education, dual credit offers a partial solution. Come to college needing fewer credits and that means you pay less for the degree. Some can graduate early and start a career, while others may opt to continue with a graduate degree right away, as evidenced by programs like Concorida University Wisconsin’s business scholar’s program, an initiative that helps students graduate with a bachelor’s and MBA in four years.

What does this mean for you? If you are a high school student or parent, this is an invitation to look into your dual credit options. Whether you are homeschooling, in public school, or at a private school, you have choices. In fact, the place where I work, Concordia University Wisconsin / Ann Arbor, just launched what is being called the Concordia Promise. Homeschoolers and students in Christian schools can now take dual credit classes for $50 / credit, and they get that money back if they matriculate to Concordia for their undergraduate degree. If you are a high school administrator or teacher, check your own offerings. Are you taking advantage of the dual credit possibilities for your students? If you work at a University, this is an encouragement or wake-up call.

Yet, this growth also calls for other actions. While there is a growing body of research about the impact of dual credit on student learning, dual credit is an area that could still use greater attention. College does indeed start in high school for a growing number of students. There are concerns about academic rigor and the developmental readiness of high school students. These invite our careful attention and consideration. Yet, the answer is likely not a yes or no to dual credit, but instead an opportunity to find a better how.

There is a good chance that you have at least a couple of them in your school. The question is whether they will soon be leaving your school or if they are helping them make their greatest impact on the students, school, community and world. I’m referring to edupreneurs, the sometimes eccentric, but always passionate and driven teachers who want to create, innovate and conjure the spirit of a startup in education. Many edupreneurs started by identifying a problem, need or opportunity and doing something about it. They are action-oriented and want to see tangible results. Does this sound like the type of educator who might have something to offer to your school and students? Is is the type of person that you might want to keep around? If so, here are ten tips to doing just that.

1. Differentiate

We get the idea of differentiated instruction for students, but what about for teachers, staff and administrators? Sometimes doing the same thing for every person is the least fair, or it is a certain way to make sure you don’t help everyone perform at their maximum capacity. Instead, consider what each teacher and staff member needs to not only survive the day, but to thrive. Make it your goal to offer differentiated leadership.

2. Leave Space for Innovation

Sometimes school leaders establish policies and procedures that verge on micro-managing. Some employees thrive on very detailed and prescribed activities, but many do not, especially not the edupreneurs. They need room to experiment, explore and innovate; and that means finding ways to loosen up on the reigns a bit. In fact, there may even be times when you want to give them the freedom and flexibility to work beyond the standard policies and procedures to launch something new. Just be aware of the impact on the overall culture and be prepared to manage perceptions.

3. Affirm The Innovators

Find ways to affirm the innovative work of the edupreneurs. Make sure they know that you value their contributions and appreciate their distinct gifts and abilities.

4. Help Them Find the Time and Resources

Innovation takes both. When possible and proper, look for creative ways to give a bit of financial support and especially time for them to work on a new project. If that means calling something a pilot and making them the official lead for it, then give it a try.

5. Redefine Failure

A highly risk-averse context is not a place where an edupreneur will thrive. If you want to reap the benefits of such people in your school, then it means celebrating failure as an education that helps with future endeavors. Of course, you want to manage the risk and make sure it doesn’t compromise other organizational priorities, but given that you have those things in check, give them room to fail and don’t treat it like a character flaw. The goal is positive impact more than polished perfectionism.

6. Accept The Value of the Lopsided Edupreneur

Some of the most innovative and entrepreneurial people are wonderfully lopsided. In other words, they don’t necessarily have a perfectly balanced set of skills, knowledge and abilities. However, they may have a few amazing and well-refined skills and abilities, and that is where they can have the greatest impact. Those annual reviews need to happen and it is important to help them work on growth areas that might hurt them (or others) or hold them back from being successful. It is equally or even more important to encourage them to build on their strengths. In other words, if they are excelling in an area, don’t necessarily think that the goal is to then help them excel in an area of weakness. Instead think about how you can help them build on their strengths.

7. Be Open to New Titles, Structures and Processes

Innovation is, by nature, about doing things that are not being done. So, there is unlikely to be a set of policies, rules and job descriptions that fit what an edupreneur may be trying to do. Be open to creating new positions, new job descriptions, and new structures that give them what they need to flourish.

8. Trust Them But Stay True to Your Convictions

You are not going to see or understand everything they are trying or thinking. Some may even seem downright silly. You will need to find a balance between trusting them to innovate in ways that you don’t understand and staying true to your values and convictions for the school. Make your expectations clear, but also be willing to give them the freedom to do things that you don’t get…at least not yet.

9. Keep the Students First

These innovators have wonderful gifts to offer, but your first priority is to the well-being and education of the students. In the frenzy of creating and innovating, some edupreneurs may occasionally lose sight of certain elements that are critical. They may often be willing to take risk that you are not willing to take, not when other key priorities are at stake. With that in mind, you can support them, but do so within the boundaries that you consider important, and communicate those boundaries clearly, explaining why they are important to you. Sometimes you will set boundaries in the wrong place, so be humble enough to see that and change. Other times, the edupreneur may decide that she needs more freedom and flexibility than is possible in your school. That is okay.

10. Let Them Go

Some edupreneurs will be delighted to spend a long career in your school, but that is not necessarily the calling for all of them. Some will benefit your school, develop new skills while there, and then be called to something else. Accept that. Don’t try to guilt them into staying. Make sure they know that they are valued and supported as long as they want to stay, but also be the first to give them your blessing and support as they go to start the next big education business, start a new school, or apply their gifts in a new context.

Faculty are nervous, at least some of them. The higher education headlines highlight questions about online learning, the affordability of higher education, open learning, high school / college dual credit programs, competency-based education, alternate credentials and a growing focus on workforce development and professional programs. Amid such changes, I see a growing number of faulty, especially those in the humanities and liberal arts, speaking up about what is lost with each of these areas, even while others in the liberal arts are among some of the greatest champions for one or more of these developments. I read heartfelt as well as carefully thought-out responses to these movements, and there is much to learn from such texts. I particularly appreciated Martha Nussbaum’s 2012 text, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities.

The case for the liberal arts has not changed over the years. The liberal arts prepare literate and thinking people. They seek to cultivate good citizens who will promote and uphold the principles of a democracy. They equip one to fully embrace the life of a free person. They help one explore the life of truth, beauty, goodness. It is not difficult to agree with such outcomes. However, are we talking about the liberal arts or a formal liberal arts curriculum? Are they the same? Were they the same for people in the past?

Consider some of the texts that will be read in many formal liberal arts curricula. They are texts from antiquity, and often more recent literary works. Among many others, one is likely to read Whitman, Hemingway, Shaw, Salinger, Sandberg, Tolstoy, Faulkner, Frost, Twain, Blake and Austin. Interestingly, what these authors share in common is no formal college liberal arts education. The student of history and government will study US presidents like Washington, Van Buren, Lincoln, Taylor, Cleveland and Truman as well. None of these people had a formal college education either; with Washington, Lincoln and Johnson having only one year of any formal education between the three of them. Yet, many of these people had liberal arts influences. Many read widely and nurtured disciplined habits of the mind that we might associate with a liberally educated person. They were self-directed and lifelong learners who read, wrote, spoke, and lived the principles often identified with a liberal arts education. Is this what we really want, not just people with liberal arts credentials, but people who live with a liberal arts world view?

The liberals arts are about more than courses, credits, degrees and programs. As such, perhaps the debate for a formal liberal arts education is not as critical as one about the importance of the liberal arts in an individual’s life and community. In other words, if one truly wants to defend the value of the liberal arts, then perhaps there is need to think more broadly than formal schooling, instead looking at ways to encourage and nurture a value for the liberal arts in the world beyond school. It is one thing to read Chaucer to pass the quiz, test and class; and yet another to read such a book in evening after a long day of work.

The University does not own the liberal arts, nor does any particular school or department in higher education. By narrowing the debate about the liberal arts to the method of learning…to formal programming, we may risk losing the spirit of the liberal arts. The liberal arts is about knowledge, skill and disposition. The “how” is not as central. It might be for some proponents of formal classical education, but not as much for the broader community of liberal arts advocates.

If the debate is really an economic one, with employees of liberal arts programs fighting for the viability of their jobs and programs, that is one thing. Yet, it is a qualitatively different thing to discuss the value of a liberally educated person. One can shared that value without necessarily advocating that more people should study at liberal arts colleges or pursue liberal arts degrees, or that a formal liberal arts education is worth the cost. In other words, for the sake of the liberal arts in contemporary society, I suggest that it is time to carefully separate the two. Both are worthwhile discussions, but the program is not the only possible route to promoting the liberal arts. In fact, I suspect that investing more time, energy (and resources) into the promotion of the liberal arts in society may well benefit the programs. Just look at what CSI did to criminal justice and forensics programs, or what Indiana Jones did for archeology programs in the past. After all, I’m pretty sure that Shakespeare didn’t get his start in the lecture halls, but rather in the public square (or rather the theater).

Aren’t schools, by their very nature, pro-education? That makes intuitive sense given that they are supposed to be places created to promote learning. However, there are a number of well-intentioned practices that, while implemented to improve education, also have a way of subtly shifting the culture of the school toward one that is anti-educational.

1. Standardized Tests – These are often used to more accurately measure student progress and/or performance. However, once the tests are implemented, it sometimes occurs that teachers and schools are measured by the numbers on the test. Over time, what happens in some schools is that they carry out strategies to improve test scores. Notice the subtle change. The focus is on improving test scores, not more broadly improving the overall education. Test scores may well increase while creating a culture that is more concerned with test performance than student learning and the traits that nurture young people who are curious, disciplined, and increasingly self-directed learners.

2. Honor Roll – I’m not necessarily suggesting that honor roll is fundamentally anti-educational, but here is my concern. In many schools, honor roll is mainly about honoring students with a 3.5 GPA or above. It becomes a goal for some students. The only challenge is that it can place the emphasis upon attainment of a grade-point average instead of something like being deeply engaged in learning. While the person with the 3.5 GPA may be the same person as the deep learner, I’ve seen no sign that this is the case. Instead, for some learners, a practice like honor roll becomes about learning to play the school game, choosing the right classes, playing it safe, and keeping your GPA as high as possible. As I’ve illustrated elsewhere, grades (and thus GPAs) are not simply a measure of what students have or have not learned.

3. Diplomas – “I’m just here to get that piece of paper so that I can get the job I want.” Have you heard something like that before? That is a mindset that is focused upon school as a hoop that one must jump through instead of a place for growth, learning, and maybe even some transformational experiences. It can be about seeing the diploma as a ticket that provides entrance into the desired workplace, instead of a symbol of one’s learning.

4. Letter Grades – I’ve written a bit about this elsewhere, but the basic idea is that, if we are not careful, we create a culture of earning grades instead of a culture of learning new things. This happens quickly when we try to use grades as carrot and stick motivational tools. When we do that, we diminish the notion that school is primarily about learning.

5. Seat Time, Hours and Days – Whenever we try to reduce our concept of quality education to measuring the number of hours that students are in classes or the number of days that schools is in session, we are starting to play a dangerous game of schooling. We are losing sight of our first calling which is student learning, and we all know that learning happens at different rates for different people. So, a 180-day school year may be great for one student but not for another. There is no magic number of hours or days in school that is ideal for all students.

6. Key Performance Indicators – This is business language for measures that we are tracking well, that we are on the way to reach certain school goals or critical targets. There is nothing inherently anti-educational about this. In fact, it can be quite helpful. Yet, we often come up with things to measure that are easy and accessible, but that do not really get at the heart of what we are about. I give one such example here.

7. Keeping Up With the Technological Jonses – This is when we track and adopt the latest educational technology trends because they are trendy, or because the school down the road is doing it. The problem is that we are not thinking about the educational benefit. How will it help or hinder our educational goals? How will it amplify or mute or core values and mission? Who will be the educational winners and losers? What do we gain and give up with it? These are the sorts of questions that we want to ask if we want to maintain a pro-educational school amid technological innovation.

8. Dismiss Reading and Writing as Outdated – I’m one of the first to champion things like project-based learning, inquiry-based learning and game-based learning. Yet, reading and writing remain fundamental parts of cultivating a disciplined mind. Show me a school that minimizes these and you almost always see a school that is dabbling in anti-educational sentiment.

9. Design By Teacher Preference and Comfort – I’ve seen many University faculty and K-12 educators argue for something in the name of academic rigor, when it actually comes down to personal comfort and preference. There is nothing more academic about such a mindset. Making something harder is not the same as keeping high academic standards, nor is being less flexible or accessible. Pro-educational schools keep such claims in check by demanding that the conversation come back to what best supports student learning. There is still plenty of room for disagreement, but at least the debates are keeping first things first.

10. Dismiss Educational Research and Theory – Yes, this happens. I’ve seen it in K-12 schools as well as higher education institutions. They treat the study of education as having little true value, instead arguing that experience and personal opinions about good practices are adequate. There are tons of great teachers with no formal training in education, as they have discovered and applied solid teaching and learning principles. However, not every teacher gets there. In such instances, we can greatly enhance their teaching effectiveness and student learning if we embrace what educational theory and research has to say about good and promising practices.

There are plenty of other practices that could also lead to an anti-educational culture in a school, but these are some of the ones that appear to be more common. Some of them are actually good or promising practices. It is just that they can be used for ill as well. So, how do we create a pro-educational school culture? Simply put, that comes from persistently and relentlessly making student learning the top priority and using that value as a funnel through which we sift everything else.

A recent #Edchat was focused on the topic of homework. Should we use it? What is good homework? What are the benefits and drawbacks? What does the research say about it? Some even wondered what a teacher can do when the school requires that they give a certain amount of homework. My response to that last question was simple. If you are required to give homework, then hack it. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe that hacking homework is a good standard practice.

Homework is simply defined as work that a student is supposed to do at home (or beyond the class session). With that broad of a definition, it is hard to make too many definitive statements about it. For me, that is an invitation to play and experiment with the term. So what does it mean to hack homework? Hacking is about experimentation, exploration, using things in unexpected or even unintended ways. So, if we add hacking to homework, we get the idea of playful, experimental, experiential, exploratory learning. In other words, we get an idea of homework that sets aside the worksheets, drill and practice exercises, and similar activities. We let go of the idea of that performance on homework assignments adds up to be part of a letter grade. Instead, what if we made homework exploratory, playful, and formative. With that in mind, here are ten ways to get you started on your homework hacking journey.

1. Life Experiments

This is can be done prior to or after a lesson. It is where you invite learners to conduct simple experiments related to what they are exploring in class, and then to report their findings back to the class.

2. Find It in the Real World

These are assignments that challenge students to try or test something from class beyond the walls of the school. If it is a math class, have students find examples of where the math is being used, or how it can be used to explain something.

3. Interviews and Observations

This may not work as well for every content area, but having students observe or talk to people can be a rich and powerful learning experience. It doesn’t need to be complex. Even simple conversations with parents or guardians can be enlightening.

4. Don’t Grade It

Think about it. Homework is typically about helping students practice. Practice is not the game. It helps get ready for the game. So, why would we make the practice part of what goes into the final grade for the class? That is confusing formative and summative assessment, and it simply rewards those who need the least amount of practice or help. If grades about what students have or have not learned by the end of the class, why grade homework, which is just progress toward that final goal?

5. Make their Non-Homework Homework

Tell them not to do any homework, but then to make connections between what they learned in class and what happening in the rest of their lives.

6. Mini Service Learning

How about the “Pay it Forward” approach to homework. Give them the challenge of using something they learned in the class to help someone. Then have them report back. This is a great way to help students make the connection between the life of learning and service.

7. Artistic Expressions

Most students have cell phones, iPods or something they can use to snap pictures. Have students take one or more pictures that helps teach or illustrate a concept that was studied or will be studied in class. Once they take the picture, you can have it send to you, ready for a fun and interesting slide show the next day in class. In essence, your students are creating part of the hook for the lesson.

8. Self-Directed and Self-Generated Homework

Your assignment is to give yourself an assignment that will help you learn, reinforce, or refine your understanding of ___________ (a topic learned about in class). You will be amazed at some of the interesting and creative ideas that students develop. This will also help you learn about them as learners, an it helps them learn about themselves. People say that homework teaches responsibility, but this really helps students move toward self-directed learning and the nurturing of human agency, which is hopefully what we want to see in graduates.

9. Homework Games

Your task is to create a game that could be used to help people learn about ________. Then, when you get to class, play some of the games.

10. Lesson Planning

Yes, why not invite students into the lesson planning process. Share all your lessons with students in advance using a Google Doc. Let them use the comment feature to review, revise, suggest alternatives, etc. In other words, invite them into the process of planning their own learning activities.

This is just the beginning. By simply giving ourselves permission to define homework more broadly and combining with the spirit of the hacker, we can come up with some wonderfully rich, engaging, and beneficial “homework” for learners. What are your ideas? Feel free to suggest other ways to hack homework in the comment area.

What is progressive credentialing? It is pretty much what it sounds like. Instead of just getting one massive credential at the end of an extended degree program, this is about issuing smaller credentials along the way. Each credential represents acquisition of new knowledge or skill, building up to that final degree or completion of an overall program. How much this help improve upon the current educational system? Here are ten possibilities.

1. More Immediate Job Opportunities

You go to college, graduate from college, and use the diploma/credential to see if it will open some doors for employment. At least that is how some people think about it. Yet, that is not what happens for most college students. As I’ve referenced elsewhere, 85% of those pursuing a bachelor’s degree don’t follow this recipe. They are post-traditional learners who are already in the workforce, or they are looking for employment before or during pursuit of a college degree. As such, the current academic credentialing system is less helpful. What we need instead is a system that gives out credentials as people make progress in a program. The moment someone demonstrates a new skill or new knowledge, a credential in the form of a digital badge is issued, and the person can update a résumé with the new credential and a new skill.

2. Documented Skills for Potential Promotions or a Chance to Work on a New Project

Similarly, even if someone already has a job, what if we could build a system where that person can share evidence of new knowledge and skills gained to the boss. Perhaps this could be enough for the boss to trust that person with a new project, or it might even be enough to give that person a chance at a promotion in the business.

3. Help Employers in Areas Where There are Employment Shortages

From the employer side, what about jobs where there is a shortage of qualified employees. In some cases, perhaps that is because there is a minimum degree requirement. Instead, what if the employer could increase the type of work that an employee could do once that person demonstrates a new skill as shown by a progressive credentialing system. This is sometimes done with medical interns, allowing them to earn credentials to take on more tasks as they demonstrate competence. In fact, this might even lead employers to consider hiring people without the previously required bachelor’s degree under the condition that the employee earn progressive credentials in a college degree program, eventually culminating in the full degree. This model might even decrease the unemployment rate in specific contexts while giving employers the needed skilled workforce.

4. It Helps to Address Motivation

By using progressive credentials, each new visual symbol becomes a milestone. It breaks mastery or competency into manageable sizes. This provides short and quick wins as one progresses toward a larger and more cumulative credential. These progressive credentials become a sort of progress bar. Each new credential becomes evidence that the learner has what it takes to finish the entire program.

5. It Helps the Learner See and Understand the Big Picture

By providing small and discrete progressive credentials, it can become easier for a learner to understand how knowledge and skills build up to broader levels of competence. Detailing the learning with these micro-credentials may be an effective way for the learner to see how parts of a course or program lead to the entire degree. These can show how everything fits together. This can be enhanced if the progressive credentialing system uses a series of small competency-based badges to lead to a larger badge. Those larger badges lead to yet another level of competence or the entire degree.

6. It Allows Drop Outs to Walk Away With More Than Debt

Yes, our goal is for people to complete a degree, but we know that life doesn’t always play out that way. In such instances, a progressive credentialing system still leaves the drop out with an updated resume, with a set of credentials that did not exist before. This might just be enough to gain new employment and pay off debt that was incurred from the college coursework.

7. It Allows for Individualized Programming

If a college degree program were divided into a progressive credentialing system, it would create new opportunities for personalized or individualized learning plans. Suppose a person arrived with knowledge or skill equal to one of the micro-credentials. Why not let them test out of that credential, earn it, and move on? This could speed up a person’s study or allow that person to focus on those areas that truly need to be mastered instead of “jumping through the hoops” with aspects of the learning that person doesn’t need.

8. It Creates New Opportunities for Nano-Degrees

The Udacity nano-degree experiment involves mastery a set of skills that lead to something like a 1-year certificate, but it also connects directly to the needs of a given employer. Several nano-degrees could potentially lead up to a traditional bachelor’s or master’s degree.

9. It Allows for Easier Revision and Updates to Curricula

I’ve written elsewhere about competency-based badges as curricular building blocks, and this would work well in a progressive credentialing system. Especially in more applied fields, there are new skill sets and there is new knowledge that becomes valuable over time in a given domain. By having the program broken into distinct competency-based badges in a progressive credentialing system, it becomes easier to see where updates and revisions need to take place. Updates are often just a matter of revising one or two competency-based badges or adding a couple more layers/levels of competency-based badges.

Consider how this also helps with analyzing learning progressions. Most educators recognize the importance of scaffolded learning. Some skills are better mastered after other skills are learned. Breaking up a program into a progressive credentialing system allows one to explore and experiment with such scaffolding. While one option would be to establish a set and required sequence of micro-credentials, another option would be to leave some flexibility, but to analyze the results from students. Over time, this data could drive important advising or revisions to the curricula (like suggesting that certain credentials be pursued and earned before others. This would not be based on hunches, but real data about past learner success).

10. It keeps everyone focused on progress.

Each new credential is a step in the right direction. As noted in some of the previous points, this provides understanding and potential motivation for some learners, but it also keeps the instructors/advisors/facilitators focused on student progress.

Progressive credentialing is a largely unfamiliar term among most, but as noted in these ten points, it has some promise to help learners, instructors, learning organizations and current/future employers. This requires significant groundwork in many contexts, but given the building of an adequate trust network and a carefully planned system, it has promise to offer interesting improvements to many current systems leading to an academic credential.