20 Ideas for Professional Development in the Digital Age

What is professional development?  It is pretty much anything that helps one develop professionally. At the heart, professional development is about growth and learning.  In the field of education, it seems like many quickly think of educational opportunities that mimic what they see in their schools. As a result, they turn professional learning and education into schooling.  The problem with that is that schooling is too limiting.  In this age, there are many other exciting and high-impact learning opportunities for teachers that extend beyond traditional notions of schooling.  When we hear the phrase “professional development,” certain practices likely come to mind, things like in-services and conferences. In the digital age, there are countless other opportunities for professional development and restricting one’s thoughts to just a few options limits our insight into what is possible for our students.  With that in mind, here is a brainstorm of 20 options available to educators today. This is far from an exhaustive list, but it is enough to start exploring the possibilities.  Feel free to suggest others in a comment to this post.

The In-service Day– For many school leaders, this is still the first thing that comes to mind when you say the phrase “professional development.” It usually involves taking a 1/2 day or full day from school and bringing in a guest speaker to present on an educational topic. Or, it might involve a plenary speaker with other break-out sessions on topics relevant to different groups of teachers.  Whatever the case, many traditional in-service days fall short because they introduce a topic in one day and that is it.  The next day or week, teachers return to their classroom and promptly forget most of what they learned.

The Education Conference – This is essentially an extended in-service day with teachers from multiple schools and usually a bigger budget to bring in well-known keynote presenters followed by breakout sessions.  They have some of the same limitations as the in-service day, but there is the benefit of finding time to network (and fellowship) with teachers from different schools, which can sometimes be the highlight for the event. While some argue that the education conference is a dinosaur of the past, a well-run conference can still be a memorable and powerful learning experience.  There are hundreds such conferences available on most any education topic that interests you.

The Virtual Conference – Built upon the idea of the traditional conference, this type only requires a device and an Internet connection.  It can include presenters and participants from anywhere in the world, and they are often inexpensive or free, giving quick access to amazing ideas from other schools and educators.  There is the added benefit that many of the sessions are recorded for review, reuse and even sharing with colleagues.  One of the best examples of a great free virtual conferences for K-12 educators is still the Global Education Conference, boasting of presenters and participants from around the world, all focused upon education in a global context. The virtual conference has some of the limitations of the traditional conference, but with increased access, the ability to attend on your own schedule, and the capacity to reuse and review content, it has some powerful benefits as well.

The Unconference – This is like a conference, but there is little in terms of pre-scheduled speakers and events.  Instead, people gather and sign up to facilitate sessions on different topics.  It may sound a bit chaotic, but once you attend a good one, you will quickly change your mind and discover the power of peer-to-peer learning.  EdCamp is among the most well-known series of unconferences for teachers. You can find them hosted in throughout the North America, Australia, Europe, a growing number of locations in Asia, and many other parts of the world.

The Student-Led In-Service – I’ve never seen this done, but it sounds like great fun.  Have the students develop and host an in-service day for the teachers.  The students are in charge of the content, planning and everything else.  Give them a budget, a little guidance, and see how they can help educators help them.

The Book Club – Pick a relevant and significant book and gather with colleagues at the same school or other schools to discuss the book and how it can inform your practice. It can be an inexpensive way to build shared ownership, a common vocabulary, and to experience a more collaborative learning environment (and not the standard sage on a stage PD). There is the digital version of this as well, with teachers gathering on Google Hangouts or another similar conferencing tool to discuss a given book.

The Webinar – On any given day, there are thousands of 30-90 minute live online sessions on most any topic.  Some are fee-based while others are free.  It is easy to host them and easy to attend.  They can be a quick way to learn or explore a new topic. They can be attended alone or with a group of fellow teachers in the same room, taking time to debrief and discuss afterward.

Corporate-sponsored Training Programs – By this I am referring to Google Certified Teachers, The Apple Distinguished Educator Program, The Adobe Education Leaders Program, or any number of similar programs.  Acceptance in some of these can be competitive and they often had a sub-text of promoting their products and services, but some find them to be powerful ways to learn and network with other educational innovators.

The School Field Trip – Field trips are great for teachers too.  A trip to one or a few schools that do something really well can be a great PD experience, offering not only knowledge but direct experience with what it is like to put an idea into practice and do it with quality.  I’ve seen this be especially helpful for schools before they move to a 1:1 program, visiting other places that already have such a program in place. However, it can be just as powerful when learning about a new literacy program, a new approach to teaching and learning, or even to explore new ways of designing classrooms and school spaces.

The Mandatory Training Session(s) – Think “blood born pathogens.”  These are often those mandatory training sessions driven by a need for compliance with some regulatory agency more than anything else.  Of course, the topics often have importance, but the training is often dry and run as an exercise in compliance.  They sometimes end with a quiz easy enough to make the least attentive teacher feel like a straight A student. The digital age equivalent is the mandatory computer-based training program, which usually consists of watching one or more videos, reading a few slides and /or case students, and taking short quizzes to show that you were paying attention (and that your short-term memory is till functioning adequately).

Video Tutorials – Atomic Learning is one of the more popular examples, but there are plenty of others as well. These are databases of short video tutorials on how to use new software or how to apply a new teaching and learning strategy. Of course, even a careful curation of YouTube videos can be a valued learning experience for teachers today.

The Faculty Meeting Show and Tell – This is a simple concept, but it has the benefit of extending professional development beyond a single day or a few days. The idea is to set aside 10-20 minutes out of each faculty meeting (weekly or monthly) for one or more teachers to share a strategy, how they did it, and the results.  Others can ask questions, give suggestions and possibly get the courage to try it themselves.  This is a helpful way to start promoting teacher-teacher PD interaction, to extend PD throughout the entire year, and to jumpstart a culture that makes PD talk an integrated part of the workday.

Accountability Partners – This is where two teachers meet often to share, pray with one another, get feedback, and give suggestions and encouragement.  It can also be a place for trusted tough love.  This might include taking the time to observe each other’s classes and give candid but helpful feedback.

The Professional Learning Community / Team Model – Popularized by people like Richard DuFour, this approach seeks to build teams of educators who collaborate around the goal of increased student learning.  DuFour suggests three driving questions: What do we want students to learn? How do we know when they learned it? What do we do if they struggle or don’t learn it?  Teachers gather around these questions, analyze data, explore strategies and interventions, and along they way they develop increased knowledge and skill in improving student learning.

The Twitter Chat – This is a group of people who choose to meet on Twitter at a scheduled time and chat about a topic of interest. Participants use a hash tag like #luthed to share and follow the posts of other participants. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other Twitter chats. There are plenty of sites like Chat Salad that can help you find ones that capture your interest.

The Teaching and Learning Coach – This is the idea of pairing a teacher or small group of teachers with a coach who works individually and collectively with the group to refine the craft of high-impact teaching.  It might involve classroom observations, meetings to review lesson plans, brainstorming sessions to explore options, coaching sessions that pose questions to guide the teacher toward improved practice, and much more.  Sometimes this is attempted by a school administrator.  At other times, it is a fellow teacher in the same school or an external coach.  In the digital age, using a virtual coach is a great option. Even the classroom observations are possible with little more than a computer microphone and webcam.

Graduate Courses and Programs – There are hundreds of excellent options available to educators for graduate study. Whether it is a single course, a 15-credit graduate certificate or a full degree; teachers can participate in challenging and intellectually stimulating learning communities that allow them to grow in knowledge and skill related to any number of education topics.  For Lutheran educators, there is the option of in-person courses and programs, low-residency programs and a growing number of online offerings.  Being at Concordia University Wisconsin, I would be remiss if I did not point out that it is possible to get close to a 50% discount for select online programs (like Educational Design and Technology) and a 25% discount for others. You can check out your options at online.cuw.edu. Many other schools in the Concordia University System offer excellent online or blended courses and programs (Concordia Chicago, Concordia Irvine, Concordia Nebraska, Concordia St. Paul, Concordia Portland, Concordia Texas…). Some of these even allow you to pursue doctoral level work. There are also solid options available beyond the Concordia system. For tips on choosing a graduate degree and reviewing options at Lutheran institutions, check out this guide.

Open Courses (yes, this includes MOOCs) – These are free online courses that are open to all.  Some are small and intimate while others are massive (some with 10,000+ participants). Places like Coursera have a number of courses designed just for K-12 educators. Other options include EdXP2PUCanvas.netUdemy, and Udacity.  There are dozens of other providers available through a simple online search.

Informal Learning – This crosses over with some of the other items mentioned above, but I contend that it is a critical concept for educators.  I suggest that educators should be expert lifelong and self-directed learners.  This sets an example for students and it allows educators to continually grow in their ability to teach and empower students amid a constantly changing world. From the Wikipedia entry on the subject, informal learning includes things beyond teacher-led events, including strategies like reading “books, self-study programs, performance support materials and systems, coaching, communities of practice, and expert directories.” As a quick but strong editorial (I apologize in advance), I struggle with the idea of sending any kid to a classroom with a teacher who doesn’t read at least a few books about education each year. As I see it, this is a minimum for the informal learning of a teacher. If this idea of informal learning captures your interest, I check out Jay Cross’s excellent book on Informal Learning. If you are a school leader, this book might provide you with a vision for what informal learning could look like in your school / learning community.

The Personal Learning Network – The idea behind this one comes in part from a learning theory known as connectivism, which suggest that our knowledge is not just something in our brains.  Our knowledge exists in our connections with other people, resources, and groups. As a result, the PLN is about using any number of tools to make and maintain these connections, using them to learn, grow, get feedback and encouragement, and to use and refine over months, years, even decades.  There are many resources to get started with a PLN. At Etale.org, there is a PLN challenge to help one start a strong PLN and earn a digital badge to prove it. Another great resource is Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education. This short book is a how-to manual for building a PLN. In essence, the PLN is a blend of any or all the items listed above as well as other things that I missed.  This is the ultimate in digital age professional development. If I were a leader of a Lutheran school today, I would start by helping each teacher start to build a vibrant and inspiring PLN.

15 Must Read Non-Education Blogs for the Educational Innovators

Are you an innovator in education? Reading and learning from all the good research and work in education is a given. On the flip side, it often takes going beyond our normal sphere to gain new insights or fresh perspectives on some of the most pressing education problems, challenges and opportunities. That is one of the reasons why I try to read books, articles, and blogs outside of the field of education; that and the fact that I just don’t see any need to limit myself to some arbitrary category, discipline or boundary. Innovators are innovators and entrepreneurs are interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and a-disciplinary by nature. Going beyond education sources is refreshing, inspiring, and often just the push I need to look at something in a new way. With that in mind, here are 15 sources partly or fully outside of typical education blogs that help broaden my perspective, reminding me that education is a piece of the larger world of social innovation and entrepreneurship. Perhaps you’ll find some of them helpful as well.

The Aspen Idea Blog – The Aspen Institute’s mission, “is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues.” Their blog is rich with examples of inspiring social innovations that are tackling some of the most pressing issues in the world. The articles are thoughtful and informed, and they are a great spark for potential new connections or some of your own social innovations in the education sector.

Austin Kleon’s Blog – Maybe you’ve heard of or read his books Steal Like and Artist or Show Your Work. If you’ve read them, then you will love his blog, a connection of thoughtful reflections about the creative life, informed by a mind that delightfully ignores boundaries between genres and disciplines. Maybe I resonate with Kleon’s thinking so much because it parallel’s my own work and thinking in the education space.

Positive Psychology Program – This web site + blog will help you stay current on emerging research related to human flourishing. Positive psychology research is one of the more significant developments for education, and I’m convinced that it will be a huge help in bridging achievement gaps and addressing critical needs in contemporary education.

GapingVoid – This is art meets business, with each article representing a concept in a cartoon followed by a thoughtful written reflection. You’ll learn from how they approach ideas as much as the topic that are exploring.

Creative Mind – This is a fun read, providing insights on the psychology of creativity.

Mashable Tech Section – This is still one of the better online resource to stay current on new technological developments, noting that many technologies find their way into society long before they find their way into education.

TechCrunch – Here is another “go to” source for trends and developments in the tech world, startups, and social media.

Harvard Business Review – The reports of counter-intuitive and myth-busting articles about all aspects of business is informative and often serves as the spark for a new question or way of looking at something in education for me.

Pando – Want to stay up on news in Silicon Valley and startups? This is a great place to start.

LinkedIn Pulse – This one will give you a sense of what is capturing the interest of others, but it is also a modern example of “the daily me”, news curated based on your interests.

Daily Good – Imagine a news source that focuses on good things happening the world. That is daily good, and it is rich with tales of social innovation.

Ashoka – This is a massive community of social entrepreneurs with a frequent updates about what is happening in that world.

Seth Godin’s Blog – You’ve probably read his books. His blog is a near-daily dose of the same. His fresh way of looking at life, business, leadership and marketing is an invitation for readers to produce the same sort of fresh perspectives in the education sector.

Philanthropy News Digest – A resource of the foundation center, this provides thoughtful commentary about philanthropy and social entrepreneurship. Along the way you get fresh perspectives on important aspects of social innovation.

Leadership Wired Blog – This is John Maxwell’s blog. I’ve long appreciated his books and perspectives on leadership. This blog give bite-sized versions of the same practical, principled, forward-thinking ideas about leadership.

Do you Want to Become a More Effective Educator? Be an Open Book

openbookI’ve been an educator for twenty years. As I was participating in a lively Twitter chat recently, the moderator asked what professional development advice we would give to first year educators. I had no problem thinking about my own failures and challenges through the years and listing off a half-dozen tips. However, if I had to rank them, the one that I would put at the top of the list is this. Be an open book.

I’ve written about my first weeks as a middle school educator years ago, when I struggled with classroom management. What made the difference between my success and failure in those early weeks and that first year was one critical decision. Almost everything in me wanted to close my classroom door, hide my limitations as an educator, and hope that it would go away or that I would figure it out on my own. That decision would have ended my career as an educator. Instead, thanks to a wonderfully open and non-judgmental principal, I found the courage to walk into his office, explain my situation, my fears, my limitations as a teacher. I asked for help.

I’d love to say that ever since that time I’ve been completely comfortable opening up about my shortcomings and not trying to hide them, but that would not be the truth. It is true that I’m much more comfortable with being open, however, because I know that it can make me better. It can help me become the type of educator to which I aspire, or at least to get closer to that ideal.

This requires vulnerability, being what I am calling an open book. It means not just letting people look into your classroom and life as an educator, but asking…even begging for as much feedback as you can get from them. I’m talk about being really curious about how you are doing. Ask anyone and everyone to observe and share their thoughts and insights. Learn to use that feedback to grow as an educator. It might be inviting one or more colleagues, asking students to give you frequent feedback, or asking people who might have no direct connection to your teaching but can offer a fresh perspective and different set of insights.

There is good research to show that a key to growing and improving as an educator is what they call reflective practice. This is developing the ability to reflect on your practice as an educator, to review and critically analyze what you did, the results, and how you might adjust future behavior to get better results. Reflective practice is evidence in most or all people of excellence, whether it is a concert pianist, a pro golfer, a dancer, a comedian, a motivational speaker, a small business owner, a researcher, or an educator.

However, simply reflecting is not enough. You also need accurate feedback about what happened. Just asking about how you did and what results ensued might result in self-deception as much as self-discovery. This is where we benefit from getting feedback from multiple sources and perspectives. It doesn’t mean that you have to treat the student’s perception as 100% accurate. Nor do you need to accept without doubt the observations of a colleague. However, they all provide input. Combined, you are likely to get a richer and more accurate understanding of what is taking place. This means setting aside your ego, degrees, titles, and credentials. We can get excellent feedback from almost any source. Even if we don’t agree with their observations, they are giving us insight into how different people perceive your teaching, and that is valuable.

This plus that habit of reflective practice, prepares you to adjust your behaviors, collect more data from multiple sources and see if you are making progress. This simple approach can help you address how to increase student motivation, engagement, improved performance of as many learners as possible, improved positive relationships with students, more accurate and in-depth teaching of certain concepts, an improved classroom ethos, or any other valued aspect of your work as an educator.

It starts with a desire to improve and a willingness to do what it takes to improve, and this is about more than professional reading, attending conferences, and going to professional development days. No presentation, conference session or book will make you a better educator. Head knowledge is never enough. Excellence in teaching comes from practice, reflection, an openness to input from others, rich feedback, and adjusting your behaviors accordingly. Yes, there are many great concepts that can be learned through books and presentations, but it isn’t until you practice them and incorporate these other elements of reflections, feedback and adjustment that you reap the benefits.

Credentials, Trust Networks & the Future of Badges

While serving on a series of panel discussions about micro-credentials for a number of Australian Universities, the topic of trust networks was brought up several times by Sheryl Grant, Director of Social Networking for HASTAC and author of the recently published What Counts as Learning. In her text, Grant makes frequent reference to the importance of building a trust network as part of a badge design (p. 8, 10, 17, 18, 29). The panel discussion, Grant’s comments in the text, as well as other excellent resources like Carla Casilli’s essay on Mozilla Open Badges: Building Trust Networks, Creating Value prompted me to spend more thought and time on the subject. As a result, following is one of what is likely to be a series of posts about trust and credentials.

A friend recently told me about her son coming home with a school progress report full of A’s…and then one F in math. The parent was horrified. “What did you do wrong?” It turns out that the child did nothing. It was an error from the gradebook software. Another friend was listening and quickly shared a similar experience. Why do people have such reactions? It is because they want their children to succeed in school and the letters on the report card signify that they may not be doing well. Of course, a traditional report card or progress report with nothing more than letter grades does not tell us much. Yet, parents generally accept that an F is bad and an A is excellent. What they don’t realize is that there is no standard meaning fro an A or F across schools in the United States, and that there are dozens of factors that might shape the grade of a student (participation, timeliness of submissions, performance of quizzes, etc.). Quite often, the criteria for earning an A, B, or C are built in such a way that the letter grade is not necessarily a straightforward sign of how the student is doing in math, science, or English. It also stands for how well the student is complying with the specific rules, expectations and standards of a given teacher. As such, the letter had largely shared meaning in the public while the actual meaning can be quite varied.

None of this matters to most parents (or students and teachers, for that matter). The letter grade is a trusted symbol. Family members from around the country may gather and talk about the grades of their kids in school. It usually doesn’t matter that an A in one school and class does not mean the same as an A at another school and class. An A is an A. This is because people generally trust and accept the system. They also trust and accept the value of documents like progress reports and report cards.

This trust system builds from there. Progress reports build up to report cards. Report card data is transferred to official school transcripts. Transcripts are reviewed to issue diplomas. Diplomas at one level of schooling very often become prerequisites for entry into the next level of schooling. Finally, one or more of these diplomas become required credentials for entry into the workforce. There are jobs that only accept applicants with a high school diploma or higher, a bachelor’s or higher, etc. People trust that these credentials verify some level of knowledge and/or skill that is desired for a specific job. Does everyone with a high school diploma have a similar knowledge or skill set? Regardless of the answer, most of society accepts it as having value. It is a trusted credential, and it serves as a way to narrow down the applicant pool with little thought or effort from the employer. It is not, however, a guarantee that one will get or keep the job. The diploma gets them in the door to the interview, but at some point, they must demonstrate an ability to do the job at a standard that is satisfying to the employer. This illustrates the trust network built around common credentials like high school and college diplomas.

No Universal Trust Network around Diplomas

This trust is not uniform, even amid the generally strong trust network in the United States around high school diplomas and college degrees. There are jobs that one is unlikely to get without a credential from a certain caliber of college. Unless one has a diploma from an elite higher education institution, regardless of one’s real performance at a lesser known school, some employers will rarely seriously consider such an application. Lauren Rivera’s research on Ivies, Extracurriculars, and Exclusion: Elite Employers’ Use of Educational Credentials indicates as much. Similarly, religious organizations sometimes give precedence to graduates of schools with a similar religious affiliation, noting that a credential from such an establishment is a sign of potential mission fit and aligning with the institutional core values. While this is changing, a 2006 article in the New York Times referenced several surveys indicating that some employers attribute more value (and trust) to diplomas earned from face-to-face compared to online schools. In other words, there are multiple trust networks around diplomas, each of which have different standards.

Trust Networks Around Credentials in Professions

We also have some professions where entry includes both a specific degree from a school within the trust network along with a license or some sort of other credential. The health care industry is a prime example. Medical doctors, dentists, occupational and physical therapists, and others similar professions require not only a diploma from programs that have a special accreditation. There is often an extra exam and/or other application process to become licensed to practice. And while this varies from one medical profession to another, there are requirements to keep up one’s license. In other words, unlike a college diploma, there is a renewal process for maintaining the license or similar credential. These have expiration dates and, without renewal, regardless of the letters behind one’s name, the license is the ultimate credential necessary to practice in many health care professions.

Healthcare is a useful example of credentials and trust networks because of the high regard placed upon the credentials from multiple stakeholders. Doctors and other medical professionals value them and routinely display their multiple credentials and endorsements on their office walls. Patients and other office employees reverently refer to those professionals with terminal degrees as doctor. And these credentials hold high status in almost all of society. In other words, there is a rather strong and expansive trust network around the dual credential of a medical degree and a medical license (which has somewhat varying requirements by state).

Continuing Education and Professional Licensure

There are extensive requirements for earning the initial credential in health care professions. Yet, to maintain the license, the standards are far more modest (As an example, see this list of requirements for jobs that have requirements for license renewal in the state of Wisconsin.). In fact, most that I reviewed use an old continuing education unit as part of the requirement. As I review these continuing education requirements, I learned that many of the states provide a renewed license upon receipt of a fee and some evidence of completed continuing education units. What is interesting is that the units are not usually earned by demonstrating the maintenance of one’s knowledge and skill, or by demonstrating the acquisition of new knowledge and skill. Instead, many (but not all) of them are earned and documented by the number of hours assigned to a continuing education activity that is approved by one or more entities with the power to certify CE provider training. Depending upon the medical profession, one might get CEs for anything from self-verifying completion of a learning activity, attending a conference or sitting through a training event, attending webinars, or going through an online or face-to-face training and completing a requires quiz or assessment. Regardless, in all the examples that I’ve seen so far, the level of rigor related to renewing a credential in many of these fields of minimal, the authentication and verifying processes have limited security checks, and there is a significant trust factor built into the renewal process. This matters very little because there is such a strong trust network built around the initial credentials, so there seems to be little pressure (although I am not fully informed about the trends and developments in health care continuing education) to raise the standards for credential renewal in a way that more rigorously ensures ongoing competence.

Competency-based Micro-Credentials and Digital Badges

Contrast the examples above with the emerging development of micro-credentials and digital badges. As I’ve illustrated elsewhere, leveraging competency-based micro-credentials provides a means of verifying initial or ongoing competence with detail. When it comes to high expectations for competence in a given domain or profession, a competency-based approach that leverages more granular credentials hardly requires a defense, not when compared to credential renewal processes that are often self-reported or measured by clock hours instead of evidence of learning. In addition, as the security and verification processes continue to be enhanced, competency-based badges serve as a robust way to verify continuing education while bypassing less reliable approaches.

However, there is a wignificant limitation. Despite these seeming advantages to leveraging micro-credentials and digital badges, they have yet to develop widespread trust networks. Where diplomas have significant trust networks even in instances where trust may not be warranted, these emerging credentials have very little trust. As such, each new badge provider must build a trust network for the badge to have any perceived value. Given this present reality, the most likely way in which micro-credentials will gain increased acceptance as a valued competency-based credential is through four primary means: profession-specific trust networks, trust networks that rely upon the brand and credibility of a specific badge provider, trust networks that rely upon the certification of certain badge issuers, and/or trust networks that rely upon the shared credibility of a badge issuer and one or more employers.

Profession-Specific Trust Networks

In the instance of different health care industries, there could indeed be rapid and widespread trust networks built around competency-based badges for continuing education. They are unlikely to replace the existing initial credentials, but especially in health care professions that have communities tied to one main professional organization, there is potential for these credential to gain acceptance in a reasonable amount of time. With that said, it is problematic that licensure for many such professions is on a state level in the United States, with each state having different standards. In such instances, a national effort would be necessary, one that manages to gain the adoption and support from at least a collection of initial states. Another option would be to promote the adoption in a country that maintains licensure with a centralized or national entity. This is no small cultural shift within a profession, but there can be strong arguments made for what such a model could do for:

  • increasing public trust in professions where trust is wavering or mixed,
  • helping professions catch up with current best practices in professional development,
  • streamlining the verification of continuing education units,
  • improving patient outcomes through verification of currency in the scientific literacy of a profession, and
  • providing credentials that could serve as marketing tools and differentiators for health-care professionals.

Trust Networks That Reply Upon the Brand and Credibility of a Badge provider

Another option for the establishment of more expansive trust networks around these emerging competency-based micro-credentials is through a respected and trusted organization as a central provider of competency-based badges. This appears to be the plan of Digital Promise, with their implementation of competency-based badges for teacher professional development. Of course, if such a trust network develops, there is concern that it would be at the detriment of other professional development providers in the discipline (including Universities), moving toward monopolistic tendencies. Only time will tell whether such concerns will take on a reality. However, it seems relevant that the presence of previous credentials did not lead to such a monopoly. Yet, one or a few well-respected providers of education through competency-based badges could indeed help expand public profession-specific comfort and trust around such credentials. This could happen, for example, in the field of education around popular educator development programs from Apple, Google, or Discovery education. In essence, the trust and respect of the organization would be transferred to the new credential.

Trust Networks That Reply upon Certification of Badge Issuers

In some ways, this option is a derivation of the previous one. Instead of the trust network being established around the brand of the badge-provider, it would be possible for it to be built upon the trust of central authorizers of badge providers. This might be a state or national government agency, a professional organization, or even a well-respected central corporate partner within a given domain or profession. This allows for more diversified training providers, but leverages the respect of one of these existing entities to communicate that the credential is valuable and trustworthy.

Trust Networks that Rely Upon the Shared Credibility of a Badge Issuer and One or More Employers

This is the model that is being employed by the partnership between Udacity and Salesforce around nano-degrees. One gets the project and competency-based training through Udacity, but it was built in close partnership with a specific (or several) corporate partner, with the explicit goal of preparing people for potential jobs with that employer or similar employers. This is among the fastest ways to build a trust network around an alternate credential, but there are still questions about the transferability of that credential between the single or few corporate partners. So, while it may be among the fastest to build, the extent to which the trust network around the credential can expand remains uncertain. Yet, if the specific corporate partner has adequate respect in an industry, perhaps the trust and credential could be more easily transferable than one might initially expect.

Concluding Thoughts and What About The Criteria?

What about criteria? If you’ve followed my work around badges, I’ve often argued that the trust and credibility of a badge can be built directly into the meta-data. that a person can look at a micro-credential and quickly discover who issued it, what criteria needed to be met to earn the credential, and possibly even see the evidence/artifact/work provided to earn the badge. Isn’t that enough to build trust? While that is my ideal, I’m increasingly convinced that it is not a likely reality, not in the realm of competency-based digital badges. For better or worse, credentials are used as short-hand for competence. We live in a world of brands and trust networks. People do not necessarily place their trust in that which is objectively most trustworthy. As such, badges will need to compete according to many of the existing social norms associated with credentials. Along the way, I still see much hope in progressing toward growing understanding of and value for competency-based assessment and credentialing, but that is unlikely to be the reason that micro-credentials will gain increased trust. Rather, I see more immediate hope and possibility in leveraging the existing social trust within professions or distinct fields.

As always, what I write in this blog represents my developing thoughts amid my reading and research. As such, I especially welcome thoughts, additions, challenges, and questions in the comment area.