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The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University recently scaled access to professional learning content for educators by taking advantage of the Massive Open Online Courses for Educators (MOOC-Eds) format. But there wasn’t a clear path to similarly scale the personalized, job-embedded support needed to transfer that content into practice.

Lauren Acree, Policy and Personalized Learning Lead at the Friday Institute, describes this challenge as the implementation gap. “There are people literally from the other side of the world in our MOOC-Eds. We figured out how to scale providing the content, but not how to support teachers who are instilling that content,” Acree says.

The Friday Institute wanted to find a way to support all educators in the “Learning Differences” MOOC-Ed, which provides educators with strategies for applying effective differentiated instruction in their classrooms. Through the MOOC-Ed format, engaging with this content can happen on an extremely large scale, literally reaching hundreds of educators across the country.

However, reaching educators is only half the mission of the MOOC-Ed. The true goal is for educators to apply what they’ve learned meaningfully in the classroom.

The Friday Institute tried to use online forums to understand how educators were incorporating the content of the course into their classrooms. However, given the volume of geographically dispersed educators and inconsistent participation in the online forums, anticipating and meeting the personalized coaching needs of each educator was a challenge.

Enter micro-credentials.

During the summer of 2015, the Friday Institute, in partnership with Digital Promise, developed three micro-credential stacks – executive function, learner motivation, and working memory – aligned to the three core units of its “Learning Differences” MOOC-Ed. These stacks articulate a series of sequenced skills leading to effective differentiated instruction, and they provide the scalable, coaching on-ramp the Friday Institute needed.

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By aligning micro-credential stacks to the three core units of the “Learning Differences” MOOC-Ed, the Friday Institute provided educators the scaffolded support they needed to develop their classroom practice to one that honored student learning differences.

Even with great professional development, the multiple demands on an educator make it challenging to transfer PD content into action in the classroom.

However, as educators produce evidence of competence through classroom artifacts in the micro-credential process, they are incentivized to apply their learning in their day-to-day work.

The inclusion of micro-credentials in the “Learning Differences” MOOC-Ed provided educators the opportunity to think through how best to integrate the course’s resources in their teaching practice and demonstrate their ability to do so.

Glenn Kleiman, Executive Director of the Friday Institute, articulates the synergy created through the Institute’s implementation of micro-credentials this way:

“Here is a researched best practice. We’re helping you understand it through MOOC-Eds and implement it through micro-credentials. Sure, you may get it conceptually, but what’s more important is whether it shaped your actual teaching with your students – micro-credentials help answer that question.”


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