Online Learning Portfolios and Micro-credentials

Technology and Learning Colleagues,

Beginning on Monday, July 13th, we will have a week-long discussion in the Technology and Learning CoP about Online Learning Portfolios (Electronic Portfolios/ePortfolios) and Micro-credentials. In preparation for the discussion, below are descriptions of online learning portfolios, micro-credentials, and career pathways, as well as links to other background readings that may be of interest.

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning Community of Practice


Background on Online Learning Portfolios

Online learning portfolios (sometimes called electronic portfolios or ePortfolios) are useful to adult learners as a way to see learning growth and progress, and also as a way to demonstrate accomplishment to their friends and families, prospective employers, or college admission officers. Online portfolios are useful to teachers or tutors as a way to observe and measure learning progress, and to help both teachers or tutors and learners make decisions that ensure learning progress.

There are two kinds of learning portfolios:

1) A formative assessment (learning progress, e.g. writing) portfolio, and

2) A summative assessment (showcase, product or presentation) portfolio, often a refined formative assessment portfolio that through best examples of a student’s evidence of learning (e.g. writings, photos, video and audio files, slide presentations) and credentials, including micro-credentials, demonstrates what s/he knows and can do.

The summative (showcase, product or presentation) portfolio is a gleaned collection of student learning evidence designed for prospective employers, college admissions officers, or possibly as part of a competency-based secondary education credential such as the National External Diploma Program. Summative portfolios can be useful to employers, for example as authentic evidence of how an applicant writes, how s/he solves problems, and, in the case of an online portfolio, the learner’s digital literacy skills (that are also now included across the WIOA titles) and how s/he solves problems in a technology-rich environment. As with an artist’s portfolio, students collect and curate the best evidence of what they have learned and can do.

An online portfolio can take many forms, but it should be more than a collection of test results. The formative assessment/learning progress portfolio typically includes everything, or nearly everything, that the student writes or makes. Often the student(s) and teacher periodically review and reflect on the portfolio in one-on-one or small group meetings in which, based on their review, they may together outline next steps in the student’s individual learning plan. The learner generally participates in selecting the contents, especially of the summative portfolio.

Background on Micro-credentials

In the past few years, interest has grown in a new way to recognize online learning, called micro-credentials or sometimes, digital badges. These are online badges, not like ones worn on clothing, so they are ideal for including in a student’s online learning portfolio. Digital badges can be issued for adult learners’ small increments of learning, in WIOA performance metrics language small “measurable skills gains.”  Learners at beginning literacy levels, and their teachers or tutors, may see learning progress measured and recognized more frequently. At higher levels, digital badges can be “stacked” in collections that add up to certificates or other credentials that are recognized by employers, occupational training programs, or education institutions.

Digital badges typically store information about the meaning of the badge, for example: who issued it, the credentials of the issuing authority, what learning or competencies the badge stands for, and what it says about the person who holds it. If employers or education institutions want to know what the badge stands for, or want to know about the issuing organization, they can easily click on the digital badge to find out. Adult learners could provide a link to a portfolio with the digital badges they have earned, or could provide a link to a “badges backpack” (a learner’s private webpage where digital badges are stored) to prospective employers, or to a human resource department where s/he is employed, as evidence of qualifications for job advancement.

Digital badges were launched by the Mozilla foundation in 2011 with “An Open Badge System Framework,” a paper authored by Peer 2 Peer University and The Mozilla Foundation. The paper describes badges as digital images or symbols that indicate an accomplishment, skill, quality, or interest. Later that year, the Mozilla Foundation announced a plan to develop Mozilla Open Badges, a system for issuing, collecting, and displaying digital badges on instructional sites. (Also see the Mozilla Open Badges Wiki, To see who is already issuing Open Badges, go to To learn more about the Mozilla Foundation Open Badges project, watch this MacArthur Foundation Video, “What is a Badge?” at

Digital badges are web-based micro-credentials that in some circumstances can also lead to larger, widely recognized education or occupational credentials. One example of digital badges in adult basic education that can lead to an employment credential is the free, Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment  (See their FAQ section items: “About Badging.” A good short introduction to digital badges will be found in a Digital Life and Learning article, “Finding Bilbo Badgins” at

Background on Career Pathways

Electronic portfolios and micro-credentials can be used to demonstrate academic preparation, as well as specific career preparation.  While their use in career pathways programs is relatively new, it has quickly gained traction through social media and professional networking websites, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Mozilla Backpack.

Former military personnel transitioning to the civilian sector are also using micro-credentials, sometimes called badges, to demonstrate their technical skills to potential employers through an initiative called Badges for Vets,

In urban, youth development programs across the U.S., in St. Paul, Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles, students are developing micro-credentials through participation in out-of-school time programs, in order to demonstrate professional competencies. Cities of Learning ( supports youth in these cities to create portfolios that are used to showcase earned micro-credentials, examples of work, and peer assessments.  These micro-credentials are part of a larger career pathways program, which focuses on financial and digital literacy, employability skills and technical skills, such as CPR certification.

Micro-credentials and electronic portfolios are also making their way into post-secondary education.  A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education ( reports that Pell Grants may become available to students enrolled in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The U.S. Department of Education is considering a pilot project to allow post-secondary institutions to contract with educational technology providers for coursework while maintaining their institutional eligibility for federal grants and loans. Depending on the outcome of the pilot, students pursuing alternatives to traditional degrees, such as micro-credentials made available by ed-tech companies, may be eligible for federal student aid.  While questions of who would validate these partnerships have yet to be figured out, popular MOOC developers, such as edX and Udacity, could conceivably enter the post-secondary education market under such an arrangement. 

In each of these contexts, electronic portfolios and micro-credentials are being used to develop and expand career pathways for an ever-widening segment of the population. 

Other Background Readings to Help you Prepare for the Discussion


Online Portfolios

Career Pathways, Micro-credentials, and Online Portfolios



Thanks Mike for calling attention to how higher education is beginning to use "Nanodegrees" and micro credentials. In this article from Inside Higher Education, "Establishment Goes Alternative," I found some of these aspects interesting:

  • "The idea is to create an 'alternative credentialing process that would provide students with credentials that are much shorter and cheaper than conventional degrees' ”
  • "The microcredentials could be in job-related soft skills, such as in communication, working with other people and customer relations, or in critical reasoning, logic and problem identification" or "They also could be more technical, such content or assessments on climate science, geographic information systems, or agriculture."
  • "The platform would be aimed at entry-level employees and students, as well as midcareer and senior employees" and  "That means it would seek to attract both bachelor’s degree holders and students who have not earned an associate degree."
  • "MOOC providers also [already] issue microcredentials. Coursera offers what it calls Specializations, which are sequences of related courses with a capstone project -- all created by professors at partner universities -- in topics such as cybersecurity, data mining and entrepreneurship. Successful completion leads to a certificate from Coursera."
  • "The project will feature 'authentic' assessments...that in many ways build on Wisconsin’s work on competency-based education. Wisconsin Extension is one [of] a handful of institutions to receive approval from the Education Department and its regional accreditor to offer direct-assessment degrees, which do not rely on the credit hour."

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning Community of Practice

Hi, Colleagues -

Our conversation on micro-credentials discussed their benefit for adult learners and educators.  I want to share a resource for educators that offers stacks of micro-credentials to develop educator's teaching practice.  This portal, a collaboration between Digital Promise and Bloom Board, offers stacks in the following areas:  

  • Checking for Understanding;
  • Collaborating;
  • Communicating;
  • Creative Thinking & Innovating; Critical Thinking;
  • Data Literacy;
  • Digital Fluency;
  • Executive Function; Global Graduates;
  • Learner Motivation;
  • Learning Practices;
  • Learning to Learn;
  • Learning to Teach;
  • Managing Projects;
  • Media Literacy;
  • Performance Mindsets;
  • Personal Mindsets;
  • Social Mindsets; 
  • Social & Cross-cultural Interactions; 
  • STEM; 
  • Teacher Protocols;
  • Understanding;
  • Working Memory

These credentials are targeted towards educators working in K-12 settings, but all appear applicable to adult educators. Check out these micro-credential learning opportunities, and let us know about your experience. What was it like to earn this credential? Once earned, how will you share it with your networks and social media?


Technology and Learning Colleagues,

Since our discussion last year about micro-credentials (digital badges), have you learned about new micro-credential efforts, projects, innovations or other useful information? 

For example, have you seen a new graphic called “What Are Micro-Credentials?”   What do you think of this? Is it accurate, helpful, attractive? Could you use it as you advocate for the use of micro-credentials with employers, community college administrators, adult literacy coalitions, state adult education administrators, professional developers, nonformal education groups, and others?

 Do you know about  Badge Chain, a new micro-credentials group led by Badge Alliance’s Carla Casili, Doug Belshaw and others. The new effort is fueled by a technology called block chain They hope to bring micro-credentials to a new level of excellence and use. Perhaps someone who knows more about this could provide some details.

Tell us about micro-credentials news that you are aware of in your work and world.

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning CoP


The following article - Normalizing Certificates and Certifications for Today’s Learners - provides an interview with Monty Sullivan, the President of Louisiana Community and Technical College System. In it, Mr. Sullivan says that he asks college presidents to "go to their own college websites and do a very simple search: I want them to identify how many programs their institution offers that will get a student to a $15/hr job in 26 weeks. Why is 26 weeks important? Because that’s how long unemployment benefits last.  However, that wage is not going to get a single mother with two kids to a place of comfort. Once students are in that first well-paying, secure job, they start to look around and figure out what’s next. As such, this conversation around credentials becomes much more of a career pathway discussion."

Does the 26 week credential mirror what is available to learners in your communities?  If so, are these credential programs aligned with further training and education programs that together make up a true career pathway for learners?  What are some examples?  This is your opportunity to highlight what's working in your programs and communities!


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator


Integrating Technology colleagues,

In July 2015, I launched a discussion in the LINCS Integrating Technology group on online learning portfolios and micro-credentials (badges) in education. It's time to re-visit that discussion. Is your adult basic skills (including ESOL/ESL)program or school using micro-credentials (badges)? If so, how? In your view is this working well for students, for employers, and for your program or school?

Apparently in Colorado the community college system is now offering more than 85 badges and, from this article in eCAMPUS NEWS, it appears to be working well. The article offers four takeaways for developing a strong higher-ed badging initiative that might apply to any badging initiative:

1. Start by developing a robust (badging) infrastructure.

2. Bring everyone to the table at the onset.

3. Identify the industry’s needs and competencies.

4. Determine the best way to assess learning.

It also offers two tips:

1. Don’t over analyze or over think the development of the structure.

2. Keep the learner at the center of any development. Both the employer and learner must embrace and pursue the credential.

What are your thoughts about, and experiences with, badging at your school or program?

David J. Rosen. Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group