Digital Portfolios + Micro-credentials = Massive Impact for Students & Teachers – Digital Promise

Digital Portfolios + Micro-credentials = Massive Impact for Students & Teachers

October 25, 2017 | By

Assessment. Evaluation. Judgement. Research reveals that students ubiquitously perceive assessment as something that is “done to them [sic] by someone else — and is out of their control.”1

…very little of the work we give students in school provides them with a sense that they are making a contribution to anything other than their own educational progress toward graduation. Indeed, once the grade is recorded, a huge amount of student work is thrown away. It has no more value. Now that we have powerful, easy-to-use design tools and a capacity for worldwide publishing, we have an opportunity to restore the dignity and integrity of a work ethic by redefining the role of the learner as a contributor to the learning culture. — Alan November, Who Owns the Learning

Despite the good intentions of targeted policies and increased attention to equity and accessibility initiatives, the achievement gap persists2. School districts across the nation3 are determined to reinvigorate student involvement by moving to a more personalized environment that is multimodal in mastery demonstration.

Measuring Progress that Matters

Empowered by choice and agency, students use digital portfolios to reflect and foster repeated self-evaluation of their own progress — in both success and struggle — on specific tasks4 with specific and global audiences. Powered by ever-changing technology advances, digital portfolios serve as hubs for a variety of media to more fully illustrate the learning cycle.

This, in turn, repositions students in the drivers’ seats of their learning journeys, allowing them to uniquely express themselves and establish their personal pathways for solving problems and overcoming challenges. Fashioned as progress narratives, students chronicle movement from research to incubation, prototyping to testing, and ultimately, to the finalized “proven” end product. This hands-on, authentic process re-establishes learners as active contributors of their learning environment by providing true agency through the connection of interest with impact.

What’s Good for the Goose…

If we are compelling our teachers to transform their classrooms into personalized learning environments that require “students to take ownership of their own learning…[and] taught them [sic] how to learn, not so much the content, because content changes constantly, but how to do learning on their own”5, shouldn’t we provide our lifelong, life-wide learners — our teachers — with the same environment?

With very little first-hand experience with personalized learning, many teachers and education administrators have difficulty fathoming its power. This disconnect can be a death knell for implementation. Simply put, giving teachers choice in their own learning—and making it relevant to their individual classrooms—is an effective way to spread personalized learning across a district6.

Micro-credentials can serve as a scaffolded approach to personalizing professional learning for educators. Digital Promise’s micro-credential platform houses more than 300 micro-credentials on skills teachers can develop in real-time, job-embedded contexts. Each micro-credential leverages research-backed methods and provides a clear path for educators to explore, develop, and understand best practices.

What distinguishes micro-credentials from traditional PD workshops is the way in which teachers and educational leaders provide evidence of learning.

Traditional PD uses an attendance sheet as the primary measurement of “learning”. With the best of intentions, teachers rarely have the immediate opportunity for practice and/or application. Moreover, traditional PD may ask teachers to hypothesize applications, but seldom does it ask teachers to think evaluatively or, better yet, metacognitively by connecting personal experience with rationale. Building upon the foundation of experiential learning, carefully crafted micro-credentials can support educators in the pursuit of transforming their classrooms and campuses.

Competency-based by their very nature, micro-credentials require learners to provide authentic artifacts (videos, photos, and/or text) that clearly showcase active and situation-specific evidence of implementation. This job-embedded practice cements learning7. Similarly, they ask educators to reflect on their practice, reinforcing the shift or change.

The Learning Is In The Struggle

Most often, our greatest lessons learned are those which stemmed from initial failure. Not all submitted applications for micro-credentials are granted. Intentionally designed to model the learning cycle, the review process includes specific feedback. Should an application be deemed insufficient, the applicant is encouraged to revise their submission and resubmit it.

The opportunity for revisions unequivocally encourages educators to more deeply consider their practice, articulate stronger details, and extrapolate concrete applications to the applicant’s life and teaching practice.

Mirror Training

Have you been in a gym and watched someone lifting weights while checking their form in the mirror? It’s not vanity that drives this athlete; studies show that the mirror provides in-time feedback that actually enhances muscle development8.

In this way, digital portfolios can enhance micro-credentialing. Micro-credentialing has a unique power to solidify impact through authentic job-embedded practice for educators. Digital portfolios have the exclusive power to make visible these transformations, as they provide a tangible location for an authentic recounting of the full experience. Implementing the practice of reflection with the act of learning creates a cycle of metacognition. Furthermore, teachers can demonstrate competency and mastery in a variety of ways on a digital portfolio. From documenting professional development instances and illustrating proficiency of unique state standards to providing parents a window into their classrooms and students a window into their personal lives, a digital portfolio is a living testament to the great variety of components that make up an exceptional educator.

Learning is one of the most personal experiences in which we participate. The more that we engage in and model lifelong and lifewide learning, the greater the impact of true transformation and continuous innovation.

[1] Education Consumer Guide. (1993, November). Student portfolios: Classroom uses.
Retrieved October 1, 2017:

[2] Darling-Hammond, L., Zielezinski, M., & Goldman, S. (2014). Using technology to support at-risk students’ learning. Stanford, CA: The Alliance for Excellent Education and Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.
Gershenson, S,, Holt, S,. & Papageorge, N. (2015) Who believes in me? The effect of student-teacher demographic match on teacher expectations. Upjohn Institute Working Paper 15-231. Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. Retrieved from

[3] Patrick, S., Worthen, M., Frost, D., & Gentz, S. (2016, May). Promising State Policies for Personalized Learning. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).
[4] Stiggins, R.J. (2005, September). New Assessment Beliefs for a New School Mission, Phi Delta Kappan, p.22-27.
[5] Burke, Billy. “Personalizing Student and Educator Learning through Micro-Credentials.”Digital Promise, Digital Promise, 1 Dec. 2016,
[6] “Learner‐Centered Professional Development.” etools4Education.‐distance‐learning‐‐centered.html
[7] Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R. C., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession. Washington, DC: National Staff Development Council; Desimone, L. M. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational researcher, 38(3), 181–199.
[8] Zult, Tjerk, et al. “Mirror Training Augments the Cross-Education of Strength and Affects Inhibitory Paths.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, vol. 48, no. 6, 2016, pp. 1001–1013., doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000000871.

Sign Up For Updates! Email icon

Sign up for updates!