Tuesday, September 26, 2017


If you've been busy with the start of the new school year, you may have missed the Symposium on the Currency of Micro-Credentials earlier this month. Just one more sign of the cool new way to privatize education coming down the pike.

The micro-party was thrown by Digital Promise, and co-hosted by CCSSO and Learning Forward. Digital Promise is an organization that is heavily invested in providing little micro-trainings for fun and profit, serving as a platform for both their own trainings and the offerings of other edu-businesses like the Relay Graduate [sic] School [sic] of Education [sic]. You probably recognize the initials for the Council of Chief State School Officers, since they are one of the fine organizations that gave us the Common Core. Learning Forward is another edubiz conglomerate whose Board of Trustees includes the Senior School Support Strategist from the XQ Institute (Laurene Jobs' pet project).

Micro-credentials, for those of you just becoming acquainted, is the idea of earning a credit or badge or virtual gold star for achieving some sort of mini-competency. Log on and take a one hour webinar on the use of wait time as a classroom strategy, take the quiz at the end, and now you have a micro-credential in wait time. In the wettest dream of micro-credentialists, badges can be earned pretty much anywhere from anybody (here's a particularly full and frightening vision). These digital badges follow you around from cradle to grave, so that employers can come up with a micro-description of the qualifications for their next gig and micro-hire the person with the exact collection of micro-badges they're looking for. At least, that's the idea.

So what cool stuff micro-happened at the symposium?

The gathering had less to do with micro-crede4ntialing students and more with micro-certifying teachers, asking questions like how to do credentialling through collections of micro-credentials. One more ominous session looked at

the mechanisms through which microcredentials can provide educators with access to and progression through new career pathways. Participants will explore what changes or new systems might be required to build meaningful career pathways through micro-credentials and incorporate them into state or district human capital policies.

Teachers will need these new career paths, because micro-credentials do away with any real need for actual teachers. Folks can micro-earn their badges from anyone anywhere at any time. Because that's how we build better human capital (aka meat widgets). And yet, the panel discussion "Insights from the Field" included Ann Coffman, the Senior Program Analyst from NEA.

The gathering was micro-attended by over 100 people (here's the list) including folks from RTI International; the Departments of Education in Delaware, Colorado, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Arkansas; McGraw-Hill, several school systems; Relay GSE, KQED, AIR, ASCD, the NEA, and Apple, as well as the hosting organizations. It tells you something about the intent of the gathering that the spreadsheet heads the column about affiliations "company."

Micro-credentials may seem like a long shot, but in many ways they are a more likely way to privatize education. If you want to get in the ed biz and score some of those sweet public tax dollars, you don't have to develop an entire school-- just position yourself to teach one or two small things. And since folks can gather any credentials in any place at any time, school buildings can be converted to condos, and teachers are completely unnecessary (in fact, some models suggest that once you have earned a credential, you are "qualified" to "teach" it to someone else, like a xerox of a xerox of a xerox, on into blurry infinity).

Your new resume

 And for folks whose ideal is Management By Screen, this is a beautiful vision. You don't even have to talk to your human capital, because every meat widget has a digital file that includes everything from the social skills displayed at age 5 to every micro-credential they've ever earned. You can hire and fire without ever having a conversation ever again.

Of course, such a system requires all knowledge and skills to be broken down into small, simple, easily measurable performance tasks that can be easily standardized. And it requires a huge tolerance on the part of meat widgets everywhere for a gigantic digital Big Brother file to follow them about. And it requires our Data Overlords to get way way WAY better at collecting, correcting, and protecting our data. To prove that they've achieved those three goals, the Data Overlords are going to have to show me something more convincing than their data management micro-credentials.

But the micro-participants were not worried about any of this:

The evening ended with an inspiring conversation on teacher engagement between Hashim Pipkin of Digital Promise and Aneka Stewart, literacy specialist at KIPP DC. Stewart discussed her experience earning the Executive Function micro-credential from the Friday Institute at NC State University. She was able to immediately apply what she learned with her students and appreciated both the research that backed up the micro-credential and the ability to work at her own pace. “I would love to have a micro-credential series on executive function so I can keep the issue up front and put [what I learn] into practice,” she said.

There was also gushing over "rich artifacts" backed by "rigorous research" plus "multi-pronged approaches" and the need for a "common language" while "providing value." Also, since assessment is time intensive, what are the proper "correct incentives to support assessment, such as financial compensation or conference attendance." Yes, please-- when I do work, I want to be compensated in conference attendance.

This is high grade digital micro-baloney, but symposiums like this underline how excited corporate types are about the whole business of micro-credentials. Mind you, nothing I read about the symposium indicated that anyone was worrying about the quality of the actual education provided by this micro-delivery system. But the marketing possibilities for vendors is exciting; these folks are line up and ready to cash in-- and not in a micro-way.


  1. Digital Promise is well connected with supporters like Bill and Melinda Gates; Zuckerberg and Chan; Lauren Powell; Michael and Susan Dell; William and Flora Hewlett. Should we even bother mentioning that Carnegie,Chevron and Verizon are also lining up to give money? No one wants to be left out.

    The list is long with very deep pockets and they are selling technology. Don't need to test it. Never have to prove it. Do it like Microsoft make your coustomers beta testers. Those billionaires should love you when your data comes in but they won't notice. It's all about mo money, mo money and mo money.

  2. I continue to be dumbstruck (or is it gobsmacked?) by the never ending disconnect between ed-tech developers and the classroom dynamic produced by 20+ real children (especially in that 12 to 16) range who are crowded into 8 different rooms in front of 8 different adults, all asking them to do things that they have little interest in doing. The top 5-10% of students do not fall into this path of least resistance set, but by the time the majority of students reach 7th grade they have a more than jaded outlook. What most amateur reformers seem oblivious to is the daily grind that adds up to more than 14,000 class periods by the end of sophomore year. A redundancy filled grind that unavoidably drains enthusiasm and excitement while reducing the number of teachable moments to a mere handful per class.

  3. This report discusses teacher training in CBE and micro-credentials as great impact investment opportunities. http://www.gettingsmart.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Impact-Investing-Final-.pdf

  4. Workforce development is not education that benefits the individual human being, for their own sake and for their own best shot at a great life. Workforce development serves the corporate/governmental machine, forging mindless, obedient cogs to keep corporate overlords flush with cash and politicians drowning in the tax revenue these cogs will be forced to pay. As long as parents keep buying into this model for training human capital for slots in a workforce, they are handing their posterity over to a future as serfs.

  5. Thanks for this post. You aren't wrong about privateers using micro-credentials to profit from education and lower standards. As a teacher educator at a public university who is committed to public education, I refuse to cede what is potentially a very powerful technology to profiteers. So I have created a version of micro-credentials that require high standards and create genuine value for students. Please check out what I've done here: http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/spd/badges/ I'd welcome feedback at kenneth.lindblom@stonybrook.edu.

  6. “I would love to have a micro-credential series on executive function so I can keep the issue up front and put [what I learn] into practice,” she said.

    So...a course? Like, one you could take at a college? For, oh, I don't know, let's say...credit?

    Hey, maybe you could even take some of those "micro-credential series" and put them together in a batch, and call it something like, oh, a "major" and study it for an extended period of time, then come out with something, shall we call it a "degree" at the end of it? That seems nice and organized! We could even simplify the language and instead of "micro-credential" call it "attending a single class"!