How Stackable Courses and Micro-credentials Are Evolving Educator Professional Development


October 31, 2023

Quintin Shepherd

Quintin Shepherd

In an ever-evolving educational landscape, teachers are required to keep their skills sharp and relevant. Traditionally, their professional development opportunities have been orchestrated by schools or districts, which have distinct, albeit essential, agendas. While this method serves its purpose, it often leaves educators at the mercy of an external roadmap. There’s an undeniable paradigm shift happening as we recognize that teachers can benefit from a more self-directed approach through programs that lead to career advancement. Many higher education institutions are working towards a universal systemic framework with options beyond degrees such as individual courses, micro-credentials and certificates. Leading online institution, American College of Education®(ACE) is a great example of offering such opportunities that contribute to an invaluable future for educators.

The Power of Stackable Courses

As previously mentioned, most professional development (PD) opportunities for educators are structured by schools and districts. Although these programs aim to address the collective needs of a learning community, they often lack personalization and don’t contribute to career advancement.

ACE provides an alternative by offering a range of courses and programs designed by educators and for educators who are proactive about their professional development. What sets these pathways apart is their stackable courses, industry-low costs and flexibility.

Courses offered at ACE are stackable. This means students can accumulate credits over time that contribute toward degrees. This is the kind of flexibility busy educators need, and they can also do so fully online and on their own time. For example, a teacher can earn a three-course micro-credential and later apply earned credits toward a master’s or even a doctoral degree. Plus, course quality enables students to routinely pass licensure exams consistently at or above state-average rates.*

This approach allows for an internal locus of autonomy over PD that gives teachers control over what, how and when they learn. It aligns with the teacher’s own career aspirations, rather than just the immediate needs of their educational institution. To be clear, the institutional needs are not less than or more than, just different from.

Upskilling and Micro-credentials

While upskilling and earning micro-credentials both satisfy PD, they serve slightly different needs and appeal to diverse learning styles. Upskilling is often self-initiated and informal, possibly learned on the job or through various external resources. It’s best suited for individuals looking to round out their abilities.

Earning a micro-credential, on the other hand, offers formal recognition of specific skills, usually through a third-party organization that confirms the individual’s competency. They’re generally more structured and may even require an assessment. In the realm of education, upskilling might involve mastering new educational technologies or innovative teaching methods. Micro-credentials could range from special education strategies to digital badges for proficiency in online teaching.

The space between the two continues to shrink as we see an evolution and convergence of upskilling and earning micro-credentials. Both serve the needs of a changing work environment, driven by technological innovations and shifting job roles. Education professionals are sitting at this crossroads. More comprehensive upskilling programs are incorporating micro-credentials to offer verified skill sets, while micro-credential pathways are broadening to include more generalized skills.

By understanding the origins, characteristics and trends of both, we are now in a place where educators can make informed choices about their PD, leveraging the best of both worlds to create a robust, future-proof skill set. Colleges like ACE support such goals.

While there are many institutions venturing into this space, programs like those offered by ACE stand on the cutting edge, allowing educators to select from a variety of micro-credentials and degree programs that align with their career goals and the needs of their students. Plus, earning a micro-credential is contributing to future success through ACE’s stackable course model.

What’s Next?

Teachers are the lifeblood of our educational system, and we stand at a crossroads where they can now take a more active role in their PD. While school- and district-led programs serve the collective good, a more personalized, stackable approach is the key to individual career advancement and, by extension, the elevation of our educational standards.

Educators and school leaders should consider, and perhaps demand the integration of self-directed, stackable learning pathways into their PD arsenals. Programs like these provide a robust framework for such a paradigm shift. So, take the reins of your professional journey today. Explore micro-credentials and the benefits of stackable courses and carve your purposeful pathway to tomorrow!


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