Developing Partnerships to Support Microcredentials in Higher Education

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

In this discovery session we will present our current work on developing multiple partnership opportunities between a higher education institution and nonprofit organizations around the use of microcredentials. We will also look broadly at the promises and pitfalls  that microcredentials hold for both entities. This session will focus on generating discussions that focus on solutions and identify gaps. Key issues that will be the focus of this session will include revenue sharing, content ownership and management, and evaluation. The format for the session's activities will be based on a "gap filling" protocol to facilitate the generation of innovative solutions.

Sponsored By


Dr. Kathryn Dirkin is an Assistant Professor in the Teacher Education and Professional Development Department at Central Michigan University. She holds a Ph.D in Educational Technology/ Educational Psychology. She has multiple conference presentations and publications focusing on the role of an instructor’s pedagogical beliefs and values in online teaching. Dr. Dirkin has also presented or published on such topics as helping faculty integrate technology in methods courses and using authentic and collaborative projects in an educational technology course. She is a former elementary teacher and technology coordinator. Her current research interests focus integrating technology for systemic change.

Additional Authors

Extended Abstract

     As the professional learning space starts to embrace more competency-based professional development models “Education will tip into a new future because of the cumulative weight of all of these factors--new consumer practice, evolving technological capabilities and increasing economic incentives” (De Rosa, 2014, p.3) higher education institutions could play a significant leadership role in this evolving space through strategic partnerships. According to Fong, Janzow, & Keck (2016), “The greatest number of institutions award credentials through their brand or system of credentialing (36%) while over a quarter (29%) use a professional association. Because brand recognition is a primary driver of trust in digital credentials, significant opportunities for university-industry co-branding around partnered programs are expected to emerge” (p.10).

     Partnering with organizations to enhance their professional development models with a competency emphasis, universities will be able to keep up to date on shifting workforce needs while helping training providers move their practice from an instructional model to a competency focus. Universities will play a significant role in defining the research basis of professional competencies, creating the standards and assessments that will be the benchmarks for content providers to design learning modules.

      This is not without pitfalls. Higher education programs that rely on advanced degrees such as Masters or PhDs may find some of their enrollments drop as individuals seek out smaller, specialized credentials such as certificates, badges, or microcredentials at the postbaccalaureate level. Institutions are seeing a rise in offerings of alternative credentialing programs and certificates (Fong, Janzow, & Keck, 2016). A recent NCES report (2018) noted that the largest number of certificates and degrees conferred at postsecondary institutions happened at the certification (70%) and associate’s level (74%). However, enrollment in graduate programs has increased between 2000 and 2016.

     Faculty roles may require redefinition as they are engaged in evaluating competencies and shifting the focus of assessments. Breaking down professions into competencies may not capture the complexity of professional activity. New revenue models will need to be thought through to sustain programs at universities. More importantly, individual partners will need to create new models to assess the effectiveness of their organizational investment. Technological issues will also create barriers, such as the increased emphasis on self-paced education places constraints on student-to-student collaborative interactions. Done poorly these collaborations could weaken brand identity for universities as they struggle to implement these new models.

     The benefits of a competency-based professional learning model will create more transparency on workforce needs and educator readiness. With partnerships between professional associations and higher education, the talent pipeline will be increasingly more transparent and flexible through degree granting programs and professional certifications. Portability will allow learners to transfer and apply their recognition of competency throughout an integrated ecosystem. With tools like IMS Global’s Competency and Academic Standards Exchange™ outcomes of trainings can be machine evaluated for how they stack with other competencies, allowing providers to easily determine alignment for competencies that are taught in a course, module or topic throughout the system.

     In our own state educators and legislators are grappling with the issue of expectations for teacher candidates, especially at the elementary level, that expect candidates to develop competency in all subject matter areas. Educators and administrators are looking at the “non-negotiables” and what specializations can be added on. Microcredentials can allow teachers to create their own specializations that target district needs or their own professional development needs.

      Professional associations in Michigan are actively engaged in moving the needle forward with competency-based professional learning, but have been focused on the practical application of research, thus lack the deep experience in research and evaluation. Associations partnering with higher education institutions is a clear direction that is a way to create more rigor in their shift towards competency-based training. Progress will create similar challenges for the professional organizations as it will for higher education, including change in revenue structures, trainer roles, and technological infrastructure.

     In this discovery session participants can expect to engage in a thoughtful interactive activity designed to generate innovative ideas targeting partnership potential around microcredentials. Using a “gap filling” protocol, the presenters will present a set of current state and future state statements to encourage participants to respond with a wide array of ideas to address the opportunity gap. Opportunity gaps will be recorded through a text messaging application and shared with interested participants who attend the discovery session. Key issues that will be represented include revenue sharing, content ownership and management, and evaluation.


DeMonte, J. (2017). Micro-credentials for Teachers: What Three Early Adopter States Have Learned so Far. Retrieved from .

Fong, J., Janzow, P., & Keck, K. (2016) Demographic Shifts in Educational Demand and the Rise of Alternative Credentialing, Changes from 2016 to 2017. Retrieved from .

Johnson, D. (2014, July 10). 7 Things You Should Know About CBE Tools. Retrieved from

McFarland, J., Hussar, B., Wang, X., Zhang, J., Wang, K., Rathbun, A., Barmer, A., Forrest Cataldi, E., and Bullock Mann, F. (2018). The Condition of Education 2018 (NCES 2018-144). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved [date] from .

Rosa, C., & Cantrell, J. (2014). At a tipping point: Education, learning & libraries : A report to the OCLC membership. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Online Computer Library Center.