Online Learning Portfolios and Micro-credentials

Program Management Colleagues,

Beginning on Monday, July 13th, there will be a week-long discussion in the Technology and Learning CoP about Online Learning Portfolios (Electronic Portfolios/ePortfolios) and Micro-credentials. To join that discussion, go to "Groups" in your LINCS Community page menu and select "Technology and Learning". You may want to also select "immediate"as a way to receive discussion posts. 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. I will also be summarizing the discussion here at least twice this week; however, to participate, you will need to join the Technology and Learning CoP.

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Program Management 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



Program Management Colleagues,

The Online Learning Portfolios and Micro-credentials discussion has begun on the Technology and Learning CoP,  and it lasts through this week. The focus today and tomorrow is on online portfolios. Beginning Wednesday, we will also look at Micro-credentials (e.g. Online Badges).

David J. Rosen

Program Management CoP Moderator


Summary of the ePortfolio discussion in the Technology and Learning Community on Monday and Tuesday, July 13 and 14, 2015

Program Management Colleagues,

In case you are interested, but haven’t had the chance to go the Technology and Learning (T&L) Community, here’s a summary of the discussion on online or electronic portfolios (e-portfolios) and micro-credentials (digital badges), which kicked off on Monday.  I encourage you to join the conversation and learn more about how these technologies are being used by learners and teachers to assess learning progress, and by learners to develop presentation of self , digital technology, career pathways and employability skills.  Please share your questions and comments in the T&L Community, where the discussion is taking place.  I will share a summary here again on Thursday, and a review of the week at the conclusion of the event.

The questions asked appear in bold, followed by a summary of the responses from the experts and LINCS T&L Community members.

From your perspective, what are the most important reasons for adult education teachers and programs to offer learners online portfolios?

Branka Marceta wrote that two important reasons are to build and improve on the adult learner’s digital skills, and to nurture the practice of reflecting on learning experiences.

Debbie Jensen wrote, “Some of my students come to my class fearful of technology.  From the first day I try to make a safe place for them to try, fail, and try again until they succeed with this new online world.”

Jennifer Gagliardi wrote that creating online portfolios helps her ESL students prepare for their USCIS Citizenship interview.

Jackie Taylor added that she introduces her students to LinkedIn, and gets them started using it, because it is an important networking tool for getting a job.

Do you see other advantages of ePortfolios?

Sharon Ram wrote that the greatest advantage she sees with ePortfolios is “organization (for both student and teacher)! Students have work that they can retrieve from Google drive and build upon, modify and/or review. It saves time from having to look through a binder for at-home assignments or yesterday’s classwork. And the soft skill of organization is an important skill to learn for our students. Students also proudly share their work with other students, family members and teachers.” Sharon later wrote about several other important reasons: “Students who do this eventually improve their public speaking skills, their pronunciation, and confidence”, and “Group work is also a component of student ePortfolios. My students create Google slides together and inevitably take a look at each other's slides. Digital portfolios also allow for visual creativity. Group work emulates workplace collaboration, another important soft skill.”

I (David Rosen) summarized as follows some advantages in using online portfolios over paper-based portfolios, from previous LINCS discussions on this topic.

  • “Many millennial adult learners thrive in a digital environment.
  • Many businesses are realizing some efficiency in using technology, especially as part of the hiring process.
  • There are many tools (Wikis, Blogs, Google Drive Tools...) that allow adult learners to store collections of their work and present their accomplishments professionally in a digital environment.
  • Learners don’t have to fear losing their important work if they save it online
  • The digitized evidence of their learning in their collections demonstrates learners’ accomplishments to themselves.
  • Learners find it convenient to upload evidence of learning (images, audio files, videos) from their smartphones. This motivates them to capture their accomplishments.
  • Learners can create work-related portfolios with evidence of learning in job-finding skills such as writing a cover letter and resume and interviewing, and work-ready soft skills, and they can share a link to their portfolios with prospective employers.
  • Employers are finding out much more about learners through these digital portfolios than any transcript might convey. 
  • Employers and admissions people may value demonstrations of accomplishments, and evidence of thinking or learning, when evaluating a potential applicant. "What can you do?" or "How did you do that?" become much more important than "What did you get for a grade?" or "What courses did you take?"
  • Learners adapt to these transitional student portfolios at a much higher rate, with much more engagement than with more traditional paper collections and models.”

Branka added the following as advantages of online portfolios over paper-based portfolios:

  • When stored online, the ePortfolio collections or individual artifacts can be accessed from anywhere with the Internet connection.
  • When stored online, the ePortfolio can be shared publicly, or with certain individuals, or kept private.
  • In a majority of tools, the written work can be edited, elements added or removed. The product does not have to be final and frozen in time.
  • When electronic, the portfolio can contain multimedia such as video and audio.

What do you see as some challenges to overcome if teachers or programs are to use online portfolios well?

I (David) summarized some challenges from previous LINCS discussions on this topic:

  • Teachers’ and learners’ lack of reliable access to Internet technology
  • Lack of support to help teachers become comfortable with the skills and processes available
  • For many learners there is difficulty in transferring skills learned from one platform to another, and as teachers we make it difficult by focusing our teaching of digital tools on only procedures.  “…practice and memorize where each button is and which menus contain what. In contrast, teaching learners about word processing and the basic operations that are in all word processors, then having them experiment with that conceptual understanding in multiple products prepares them to take the core essential understanding of word processing and apply it to any interface much more easily than the procedural instruction.” (Thanks to Ed Latham)

Branka added these challenges:

  • When publishing and storing online, adult learners need to be aware of what is shared publicly and what is private.
  • It may take time and training for both teachers and learners to master the technology tool.

Please give us some examples of how you, as a teacher or program administrator, are using online portfolios or, if you are not using them directly, please describe programs you are familiar with that are using them.

Guest presenters generously provided specific online examples of adult learner portfolios, information that may be helpful to teachers in designing an ePortfolio for their students, specific practices, videos of adult education teachers introducing ePortfolios to their students, and more. To see these examples go to the discussion.

Tell us about the students you work with who are using online portfolios: What are they studying (e.g. English language, preparation for HSE exam, industry, certification prep) and at what level(s)?

Teacher guest experts mentioned: ESL students preparing for U.S. citizenship, ABE students, Career and Technical Education (CTE) students and students who are seeking jobs or pursuing careers.

How are students who have online portfolios using them? Applying for jobs? Applying for job training programs? Applying for post-secondary education? Please tell us about this and, if you can, give us some examples.

Jackie weighed in on the question of e-portfolios vs. platforms like LinkedIn when creating a record of education and work-based competencies, by asking, “Is the purpose to showcase incremental steps in attaining a learning goal? Then I think the ePortfolio wins. But at some point the learner may / will want to create a LinkedIn account for networking and job searching possibilities. So at that point does LinkedIn prevail?”

Victoria Jones highlighted a two-minute video:, where Mai Ackerman answers the question of how students can use their ePortfolios to get employed, or promote their own small businesses.  This is a worthwhile video to check out.

Suzanne Murphy commented that, “as students go through the job search process, most if not all information they are submitting to employers is online and employers are asking for links to their online portfolios like LinkedIn or Facebook.  I am having them create e-portfolios so that they learn how to post their resume, references, and certifications.  They can use this site as way to store all their necessary job search information but also they can e-mail the link to an employer, or network, to help them in the search process”.

What are some examples of how portfolios have been used successfully by students in demonstrating career preparation to post-secondary institutions and/or employers?

Jen shared a new approach to using e-portfolios in Minnesota.  The state has recently launched an alternative to the GED, called the MN Adult Diploma. As part of this portfolio system, learners upload evidence to satisfy each individual sub competency, which may include artifacts from work experiences. The diploma program is currently being piloted, with plans to make it available statewide in the near future. For more information on this work, please see the MN Department of Ed website:

Sharon shared a success story of someone who was applying for a job. “He brought in his laptop to the job interview and pulled up some documents to exemplify his points and skills. He was the only applicant who did that. He got the job! J”.

Another important conversation about employers’ checking of social media sites before hiring job candidates was started by Marshall Bautista, who noted, “Whether employers are asking to see them or not, we know that over a third of employers will do a screening of a potential employee's social media sites. Part of digital literacy is being aware of this while posting, liking, following, etc. This is definitely a topic that needs to be at least touched on in both employability and technology classes.”

Branka and Sharon echoed important concerns about privacy, stating, “How are educators handling student privacy?”

Do teachers need professional development or training in how to help their students use online portfolios? If so, what have you found works best? If you are a professional developer and you do this kind of training, tell us from your experience what you do, what works and what you would recommend for other states that want teachers to implement online portfolios.

Branka and Debbie both agreed that it is important to see more examples of programs “providing teachers and staff with a combination of training and support through webinars, in-house training and peer mentors, including introduction, implementation and evaluation,” for using e-portfolios with learners and job seekers.  Do you know of a program that is leading the way in professional development for working with learners on creating e-portfolios for the workplace?  If so, please share these with the community.

Other Highlights:

Branka and others mentioned students’ use of Google Docs as one step towards building an e-portfolio.  Here are some advantages that Branka has seen from students using Google’s products:

  • Being able to access content from anywhere there is an internet connection and access to technology
  • Writing essay drafts to share with peers and instructors
  • Collecting other records and documents to share with classmates and transition specialists
  • Use the Google calendar function to stay organized

Additionally, Branka noted that “students started using Google Voice to communicate with transition specialists working with them on their career and post-secondary planning.”   She also commented that students “ended with a portfolio as a collection of employment tools and information they can use to transition to college or (post-secondary) training.”

Jen also noted that the suite of applications available through Google Drive is an important tool for students planning to continue their education, “since so many post-secondary institutions use Google apps and email”.

I (David) shared the resource, Learner Web, which was developed at Portland State University, and is used in several states, including California, Texas, New York, Louisiana, and Minnesota. This blended learning model, used in adult education programs, libraries, workforce development programs, career centers has a feature called a Workspace, which is an e-portfolio. It is mostly used by adult basic skills and English language learners pursuing digital and health literacy, and career pathways. 

Again, I encourage you to join the conversation in the Technology and Learning community.  It’s still early in the week, and we have lots more ground to cover as we begin exploring micro-credentials, and how they apply to career pathways programs.

To do so, go to and choose "Groups" from the dark blue menu at the top of the page, then join the Technology and Learning group, and choose “immediate" if you would like emailed posts. 

You can read the discussion posts from your email if you have chosen to get discussion posts by email; however, to reply to a post, it is best to log in to the LINCS website, so keep the email address you used to register and your password in a secure but handy place.

David J. Rosen

Program Management CoP Moderator




Summary of the Second part (through Thursday, July 16) of the LINCS Technology and Learning Discussion on Online Portfolios and Micro-credentials/Digital Badges

Continued Discussion about ePortfolios

On Wednesday, the discussion continued on the use of ePortfolios and micro-credentials/digital badges, and their application to adult education and career pathways programs.

Sharon commented that “Teacher PD is essential for implementing eportfolios” as is direct learning from implementation, and that “implementation definitely has its share of trial and errors”.  She asked if anyone “has any experience implementing [EL Civics assessments] Objectives/assessments in a digital format” and wrote that she sees “great value in an online portfolio for ELC.”

Sharon mentioned other advantages of ePortfolios, that students can:

·      Present their portfolio work orally, using an LCD projector, and in doing so improve their public speaking skills, pronunciation, and confidence

·      Learn to work in a group, for example to create Google slides together, and that group work provides an opportunity to gain skills in collaboration, an important soft skill in the workplace, and

·      Develop their visual creativity.

Susan Gaer commented in the context of using portfolios that almost all of her students have smart phones and that only a few have computers.  Others commented that more of their students now use smartphones.

Discussion about Micro-credentials and Digital Badges


Judy Mortrude began this part of the discussion by cautioning that, “it's important to understand how credential is defined in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that governs our federal resources and performance metrics.” She provided a definition of postsecondary credential from the law:  “RECOGNIZED POSTSECONDARY CREDENTIAL.—The term ‘‘recognized postsecondary credential’’ means a credential consisting of an industry-recognized certificate or certification, a certificate of completion of an apprenticeship, a license recognized by the State involved or Federal Government, or an associate or baccalaureate degree." [Sec 3 (52)]” She also noted that, “A few years ago, DOL Employment and Training Administration issued a guidance document on credentials for the workforce development system.  It is both comprehensive and limiting; for instance, it makes clear that "work readiness' credentials like ACT's National Career Readiness Certificate do NOT count as credentials for performance, and that some third-party validation (industry, educational accreditation, apprenticeship standards, etc.) is necessary: “

She added: “Micro credentials are a new space. In terms of WIOA performance measures, micro-credentials might help adult educators demonstrate skill gain outside of the traditional CASAS/TABE structure. “

I (David) wondered how we should look at what  "micro-credentials" means, for example if they are:

1) Small, stackable, credentials that are designed to (and do in fact) add up to a recognized postsecondary credential,

2) Small recognitions of achievement, perhaps useful to employers, that are not intended to lead to a recognized postsecondary credential, and/or if they are

3) Small, stackable recognitions of achievement, that do not add up to a recognized credential of any kind, but do add up to or approximate a level gain or attainment of competencies that are related to CCR standards.

Jen and Jeff each responded that all three of my definitions reflect ways that digital badges or micro-credentials could be used with ABE learners. Jen suggested that the first one is a top-down approach, and the other two are grassroots/bottom-up, and can be immediately useful. Jeff added, “Put simply, a micro-credential is intended to capture and communicate what an individual knows and can demonstrate at a more granular level than other types of credentials do.”

Jen commented that “the badge is valuable only if the proficiencies it represents are clear and if the issuer is known/respected” and “if the ABE program is known to local employers, then the badge takes on broader significance.” Jeff commented similarly that, “What's important is that they are backed by sources that can validate their issue; provide evidence of the achievements they denote; and are connected to strong and consistent standards.”

Sharon commented that agencies could “collaborate with local employers to come up with criteria and standards for micro-credentials so when they see that a student/prospective employee shares his/her stack-able micro-credentials, it actually means something to the employer.” She said that she also sees badges through teacher eyes, as  “a quick visual of [students’] skills/achievements”

Mike commented that the organization that Judy works with, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP),  “along with the Lumina Foundation and more than 40 other organizations, started a dialogue on how to transform our diverse education and workforce credentialing system into one that is more student-centered.  In support of creating a space for this dialogue, CLASP has created a resource page, "Connecting Credentials to Improve Economic Mobility", which provides information to help understand credentialing in the context of career pathways, and the goal of creating a more interconnected credentialing system to improve economic mobility.”

Carla Casilli, from Badge Alliance, commented about using badges to indicate personal progress that, “There is much to be admired in this use, particularly from a psychological perspective with an eye toward personal agency. Often when we're developing curricula, we're thinking of student outcomes that benefit the student in some way, but not necessarily considering the value of allowing the student to perceive their own progress in some uniquely identifiable way. Badges can help to make this happen, particularly those that are developed or co-created by the learner. Research seems to indicate that participation in the development of a testing measure or outcome encourages higher levels of commitment and persistence—something to consider as you begin to think about how you'd like to use badges in your process.”

Judy encouraged adult educators to join some upcoming conversations on credentialing that she provided links for.

The following were responses to my (David’s) questions about digital badges:

1. How did you get interested in micro-credentials?

Jen wrote that her interest and work with micro-credentials has been specifically with digital badging in support of the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment, that she “was drawn to badging because of the potential for learners to have the means by which they can ‘prove’ their skills, skills earned through either formal or informal learning.” She wrote that they initially decided to try it out “because our learners kept losing the paper certificates earned after having passed an assessment and, due to the structure of Northstar, we needed an easier means by which learners could keep track of the assessments they had passed.”

Sharon mentioned that she first learned about badges in an OTAN Moodle and continues to use the in Moodle courses.

Jeff said he “dived into the world of micro-credentialing” when he was at Digital Promise, which “has an ambitious micro-credentialing project for K-12 teachers.”

2. Tell us about your experience with micro-credentials, for example developing micro-credentials or using them with adult learners.

Jen described in some detail her experience developing badges for Northstar digital literacy assessments.

Sharon said she explored the Mozilla backpack, but didn’t find it easy to figure out, and that she now likes using Credly. She added, “I have started issuing badges that demonstrate student achievement and mastery in small increments of skills. The badges state what the student is able to do as a holder of the badge.” She added that she has assessments for the badges, each assessment specific to the badge skill(s).

Carla added that Credly is “one of the original Digital Media and Learning Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition winners and also one of the most well-known issuing platforms”.  She encouraged us to visit: and explore additional credentialing platforms, some proprietary and others open source. She also noted that credential-issuing platforms are being developed not just in the United States, but throughout Europe and the UK.

3. What do you see as the potential of micro-credentials (e.g. digital badges) for our field? For example, do you think they are a good solution for recognizing learner progress at the lowest literacy levels? Do you like them as small increments of learning that stack up to recognized credentials? Do you think they will appeal to employers, for example as measures of work-related basic skills or “soft skills”?

Jen wrote,badges are ideally situated to prove incremental skills - skills that employers or post secondary institutions may value but which are otherwise difficult to document” and that they may also motivate learners.

Sharon wrote, “I see micro-credentials as a tool for assessing skills in my computer lab.”

Jeff wrote that micro-credentials or digital badges “could be a solution for helping learners measure their progress at the lower levels, but it’s important to remember that a typical micro-credential is not just an indicator of progress towards a skill that has yet to be mastered, but an indicator that a specific (if narrow) skillset has been acquired. There’s a difference between a stackable credential and an indicator of interim (but incomplete) progress. A micro-credential should have some intrinsic value in and of itself.” He added that some micro-credentials appeal to some chief learning officers, HR executives and trainers, but probably not basic skills micro-credentials. He added “If the goal is to provide low-skilled adults with greater power in the labor market, I suspect we have lots of work to do with employers to figure out how to make this happen.”

Carla responded “yes” to my (David’s) question, "Do you think [micro-credentials] will appeal to employers, for example as measures of work-related basic skills or “soft skills”?  She added that when Mozilla “first investigated what sorts of recommendations people were writing on a site like LinkedIn, it turned out that most of them were written specifically about soft skills / noncognitive skills.” She also commented that digital credentials / micro-credentials / open badges is a young and growing field, and that “getting people to understand the value of these objects is something that everyone needs to work at. Social, professional and personal currency do not spring up overnight.” 

4. What do you think is required for micro-credentials to succeed in adult basic education and career pathways programs?

Jen wrote that “educators need to just start using them!” She believes, and Branka agrees, that we are in a “chicken and egg situation” when it comes to creating value and meaning with micro-credentials, that “the more often employers see (micro-credentials) associated with qualified potential employees, the more they will begin looking for (them)”.

Mike agreed with Jen and Branka. He also mentioned that several U.S. universities are joining with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to build a credential registry that will work to "increase the transparency and value of industry credentials..." and he provided information for those who want to learn more about this.

Jeff wrote, “In order to measure success, I think the first step is to be very clear on what problem it is we are trying to solve. If it is to develop stackable, portable credentials for incumbent workers so that they are able to move up and or onto better jobs, then that requires a certain strategy. If it is to provide a more meaningful structure for adults with very low skills to understand and demonstrate the progress they are making, that would involve another strategy. Define success and we’ll go from there…”

5. Could you describe some examples of the use of micro-credentials in adult basic education, adult secondary education, transition to post-secondary education or for underprepared students in post-secondary education? These could be for basic skills/academic skills or other knowledge and skills important to adult learners.

Jeff believes that “traditional credentials still hold tremendous sway as proxies for basic skills, even if most people who hire know that they aren't actually very reliable predictors of job readiness.”  Furthermore, he notes that, “for prospective employees without HS credentials, it's hard to imagine that employers will embrace a stack of basic skills micro-credentials as a substitute”. He also thinks that for employers, micro-credentialing is most likely to play a role in incumbent worker training, over entry-level job requirements. 

Jeff wrote, “ I’m very interested in thinking about niche areas where adult learners with low skills could acquire and demonstrate acquisition of certain skills that could give them at least a modest edge in terms of employability” and gave as an example micro-credentials related to certain digital literacy skills.

6. Later, I (David) asked for ideas about how state and local adult education program administrators, community colleges, occupational training programs, career centers, employers and employer associations, and perhaps libraries could successfully build badge partnerships.

I also asked:

7. Could you describe some examples of the use of micro-credentials in career pathways programs for secondary, or post-secondary learners? 

Judy replied that “Many career pathway programs for adult education participants embed smaller credentials along the way to a larger goal” and gave the ServSafe food safety credential, Northstar Digital Literacy assessments and the National career Readiness Certificate as “motivating milestone” examples that could lead to the achievement of an industry-recognized postsecondary credential. She added, “WIOA performance metrics will retain the big buckets of obtaining a secondary and postsecondary credential, gaining and keeping employment, and showing wage progression.  Perhaps the most anticipated guidance is how the WIOA Measurable Skill Gain will be figured for all programs under WIOA including adult, youth, and dislocated worker.  Of course, ABE is very familiar with academic skill gain as measured through the National Report System, and we all believe that will be part of WIOA as well.  But WIOA expands Measurable Skill Gain to include "technical, employability, and other" documented forms of progression.  This could be a very exciting space for micro-credentials and badges!”

8. What types of micro-credentials (e.g. digital literacy, academic prep, career prep, industry certification) have you seen the greatest demand for, or interest in from students, post-secondary institutions, or employers?  What is your sense of why these types of credentials have created the greatest interest?

9. For those who are using micro-credentials or digital badges now, tell us about how you assess students’ skills, how students feel about the assessments, and if you describe the assessment process in the badge information so that employers and others will know how the skills were assessed?

Branka replied, “For me, what stands out from the discussion so far is the fact that various entities need to first establish themselves as a valid and credible issuer.

The badge I just earned with Credly offers a link to the issuer and has a place where the issuer can provide evidence See the links. 

- About issuer

- Badge interface with a link to evidence

OpenBadges project by Mozilla, has an elaborate process for those who want to issue badges on this platform.

10. In the context of WIOA Title II, what are you thinking about the expansion of the “Measurable skill gain” performance metric.  While there isn’t specific guidance from ED on this yet, there will definitely be more than academic progress measures included (technical, occupational, and other).  Should digital badges be part of this?  If so, what level of rigor and validation of skill should we build into a badge process to make it robust enough to be a kind of NRS system for work preparation skills?

Other Badge Comments:

Sharon cautioned that in issuing badges, “, if you create a badge and issue it to one person and discover an error in the badge, you can't retrieve it to change it,” that you would need to create a whole new badge. She also provided links to three sample badges that she issued in Credly.

We still have today (Friday) for our discussion on micro-credentials and e-portfolios.  If you have an opinion, or knowledge of a program using micro-credentials to share with the community, please join the Technology and Learning Community and chime in now. Thanks.

David J. Rosen 

Program Management CoP Moderator





Program Management Colleagues,

I have posted two summaries so far this week of the discussion taking place in the Technology and Learning CoP about Online Portfolios and Micro-credentials. I had two objectives: to let you know about the discussion because I believe it has important implications for adult basic education program design, and possibly to get a few of you interested enough to join that discussion. I don't have any evidence that I have succeeded with either objective.  As adult education programs in the U.S. are now becoming blended learning programs, with integrated face-to-face and online learning, online portfolios and micro-credentials and digital badges are becoming increasingly useful and important. The discussion about this is providing concrete, program level evidence that both of these innovations are useful and that they increasingly are being adopted. According to the teachers in this discussion there are ways to implement digital badges or online portfolios that are free and relatively easy to learn and use. It is also apparent that many students, in some programs most or all students, now have access to the Internet through their smartphones, often using free wi-fi hotspots, or from low-cost computers and a home Internet service that is available to them and their families for approximately $10/month through new programs such as Everyone On. Now perhaps assisted housing residents in some areas, will have Internet access for free.

As the moderator of this CoP I want to understand why there appears to be no indication of interest in online portfolios or micro-credentials/digital badges from any of the 968 people subscribed to the Program Management Community of Practice. Did I mis-judge your interest? Is there just no room on your busy plate to think about issues involving blended or online learning? Are you actually following the discussion in the Technology and Learning Community? If so, please let me know!  What's going on for you? What do you need from this Community of Practice? If you are not participating in or reading LINCS discussions, why not? Did you join only for the announcements, but not to read or participate in discussion? Are there issues that you hope we will discuss here and that you would like to participate in, just not this one? If so, what are they? To do a good job as moderator of this CoP, I need to know what is happening for you, what you need from this group. I notice that there are a few new members here, and I would also like to hear from you. Please reply to this post here or, if you wish, e-mail me privately. Thank you.

David J. Rosen

Program Management CoP Moderator

Program Management Colleagues,

Here's a summary of our discussion on ePortfolios and Micro-credentials/Digital Badges through Saturday, July 18th.

Continued ePortfolio Comments

Jennifer wrote: “… too many teacher-created resources can overwhelm, instead of help, a student.  The solution: tap students' Civics and technical skills to collaborate and create their own Citizenship materials” and she gave a long description of the Eligibility Project in which she described a problem students had with the revised N-400 Citizenship application for Naturalization and how, to address it, her students created a collaborative Google Slide show about Eligibility. Jennifer also commented that her students access the Internet through smartphones, accessing student-made videos on a YouTube channel that were created as part of their e-Portfolios. She said they also take videos of each other with their phones during practice interviews and share them privately.

Jennifer offered some links to her CASAS summer Institute presentation, and suggested that there should be a badge for the September 17th US Constitution U.S. Citizenship Day for Adult ESL students.

Jane Eguez, from the National External Diploma Program, described the NEDP, including the design of the competency-based NEDP Assessment, and the role of the Assessor.  She wrote that candidates for the NEDP create a final portfolio that “is a tangible record providing evidence of the candidate’s mastery of all the competencies for the NEDP transcript and may be used by employers and colleges as they include extended writing samples, a resume, and demonstration of presentations using technology. All candidate portfolios are reviewed by a certified Assessor and then by a certified Portfolio Reviewer who conducts a ‘cold review’ of the portfolio and ensures inter-rater reliability of the assessment. When the portfolio is determined to be complete and accurate, the candidate’s name is submitted to a school whose school board members have sanctioned the NEDP for eligible candidates in their community. The school board awards a high school diploma to the successful candidate.”

Steve Quann wondered about other portfolio systems that might be in place for English language learners aside from those already mentioned; if, for example, portfolios created via Google or any other system are "accepted" as proof of competency in California or in other states.  He asked if there were other systems and platforms like NEDP’s that enabled adult learners who move within a state, or from state to state, to always have transcripts and e-portfolios with them (and have them recognized wherever they move.) He added, “Even if not yet implemented, does anyone see this as possible with Google or another platform? What are the challenges?”

Continued Digital Badges and Micro-credentials Comments

Jennifer wrote, “For school year 2016-2017, I hope to develop a badge/mini-credential system based on the "leveled" N-400r interview and oral/written assessment based on the USCIS 100 questions.  The badge system would be extremely helpful in monitoring the progress for a highly mobile population.  It would also strengthen the link between classroom practice and CASAS etesting/gains.”  She wrote, “Creating system of badges based on leveled N-400r interviews and civics units will make the task more manageable and fun.  It will also help balance classroom accountability with the very real time/family/work demands of Adult students.  Finally, we can more closely associate Civics/Language gains with CASAS assessment gains.  I'm in.  This is my summer project.” She added, that the key is empowering the students because in the Citizenship interview, unlike in class where students work together, an applicant must speak for her/himself.

Jeff  wholeheartedly agreed with Carla Casilli about the need to help students perceive their own progress. He added, “I'm really excited by the notion of developing or co-creating badges with learners” and asked, “Any good examples of this, in adult education or elsewhere?”

Branka wrote that she really liked these two statements from Carla: ”Social, professional and personal currency do not spring up overnight.” and “Research seems to indicate that participation in the development of a testing measure or outcome encourages higher levels of commitment and persistence—something to consider as you begin to think about how you'd like to use badges in your process.” She asked if she could quote Carla as she raises awareness in California about ePortfolios, digital badges and micro-credentials.

Mike asked if Jeff could provide examples of credentials being used in incumbent worker training, including in basic skills training. He also suggested that we look at Badges For Vets, a free website where veterans register and present their military training in the form of micro-credentials to employers looking specifically to hire veterans.

Jeff replied that he didn’t know of examples of badges in incumbent worker training adding that he didn’t mean to suggest that there aren’t any. Jeff wrote that he has had a lot of discussions with people who are exploring this, “either as a way for employees to show accomplishment of a certain number of continuing education units or ongoing professional study, or as a way to credential an area of skill that is either emerging or not broad enough to merit a traditional credential. “

Jeff added, “For employers, I think the value of a badge will ultimately rest largely on the credibility of the issuer and the badge requirements. I think this poses an additional challenge for adult education institutions that are not well-known to employers that want to issue badges themselves. If currency with employers is a goal (and we've discussed there may be other goals), it might be advantageous for us to work with issuers that have a higher level of visibility/credibility with employers“ and wrote that “It's still too early to tell whether employers will embrace the concept on a widespread basis, which I think will have to happen before I'll have confidence that they would provide a significant labor market advantage to low-skilled adults.”

I (David) posted two last questions for the week:

1. In another LINCS discussion, in the Postsecondary Completion CoP in May this year, Duren Thompson had some interesting thoughts about the advantages of using a smartphone as a gateway to one’s ePortfolio. This might also be true for accessing one’s micro-credentials/digital badges. She mentioned:

  • Input ease – no need for a separate mouse and keyboard
  • More intuitive interface design – this is true of any touchscreen
  • Interface ease – “only a few simple choices on the home screen and each 'button' opens only one thing. You can only be looking at one thing at a time. In addition, most apps are 'simpler' than what you work with on a desktop/laptop.”
  • Ease of access for regular repeated practice. “Phones are more likely to go everywhere and so they are much more likely to be *on the spot* when you want to know something (or want to kill time). This FOSTERS regular, repeated use.  In addition, the interface ease above makes folks MORE likely to use the phone to do things - which also fosters repeated use. In my experience, *regular, repeated practice* makes almost ANYTHING easier to use.”

Do you agree that these observations apply to adult learners using ePortfolios? If so, what kinds and levels of learners?  Do they also apply to learners' use of digital badges and, if so, what kinds and levels of learners?

2. Susan Gaer noted in this discussion that most of her students have smartphones, but not necessarily computers. I would be interested to hear our guests’ thoughts about the need to design online portfolios and digital badge sites so they are optimized for smartphones as well as computers.

Sharon replied, “I use the website to issue badges on Credly, but there is an app for mobile devices so students can can get instant notification of badges. Here is the link which shows how it would appear on a phone. Technology allows us to give/receive instantaneous feedback and most certainly smartphones are the key devices for that. Is that immediate feedback a critical component of student success and motivation? Do students get a great satisfaction from receiving a badge and viewing/sharing them on their smartphones?”  She added, “it does seem plausible that e-portfolios and badges will become more mainstream on smartphones. The only problem is: the screen is so small! But I'm sure this can be resolved as there are even apps that allow one to connect a phone to a computer which is connected to an LCD to room projection.”

Other Comments:

Glenda Rose, in light of this discussion,  urged people to read this article 

Judy mentioned the breaking news, for those who are interested in the PIAAC Education and Skills Online assessment, that it will be available in early August, and that more information is available at  She thinks this could be a valuable online assessment, and that it may “find a way into adult education's National Reporting System or even into use with the WIOA measurable skill gain performance metric.”

I (David) replied about the use of the PIAAC Education and Skills Online assessment that: “Some states have wanted PIACC Survey of Adult Skills (SAS) data reported by state and, so far at least, I do not think this has been possible. An alternative way to get those results would be for a state to administer the assessment itself to a scientifically random sample of adults within the state, although that might be prohibitively expensive for most states.” And “It would be interesting, too, if adult basic skills programs administer this to their students, to know how the results of samples of enrolled adult basic education or adult secondary education, or English language learners compare with the U.S. national results.”


Sharon offered a good summary of our discussion from a teacher perspective: “There is a lot out there. Admittedly, it's hard to decide where to begin and this might be a question some teachers are facing as they take on projects like ePortfolios and badges.” She added that for her the discussion has two very different targeted perspectives: student use; and teacher PD and implementation. She asked, “Are both parties ready to dive into technology? What are the outcomes of using it for teacher and student? How relevant is it to the student?” Answering her question personally, she wrote, “I think at this point I'm just jumping in and trying to learn all about it myself.” And  "In light of this discussion, I think using badges created by agencies and programs [that have] tested and implemented badges might be a good place to start for me. I am hoping to learn more about Northstar and how our school can become a sponsor agency.”

Jeff Carter offered some comments that might be a good summary from a policy perspective:

He wrote, “I just want to touch on one other aspect to the badges/micro-credentials concept that I think holds some promise. “

“Badge enthusiasts often point to badges/micro-credentials as a way to bridge between formal learning and informal learning, and to authenticate learning that happens outside of the classroom. “

“I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions over the last few years about addressing the unmet demand for adult education by helping learners take advantage of online learning resources - this things like Khan Academy, etc... It seem to me that a micro-credential ecosystem that provides adults with a verifiable way to demonstrate mastery of skills obtained through such sources — as well as through traditional classroom learning— might encourage more use of these online learning opportunities. I think that if you could earn a micro-credential online that also has currency within the context of traditional programs, you might see more people mixing and matching online learning opportunities and classroom learning opportunities and that might spur increased use of online learning. In other words, the micro-credential ecosystem serves as a bridge between multiple learning environments, and across programs”

Jeff added, as a strategy for adoption of micro-credentials, “One of the things I'm thinking about in my new role, working with and supporting adult education state directors and state staff, is whether there is a role for micro-credentials in providing state staff with recognition of the skills they have attained in their ongoing professional development and on-the-job skills acquisition."

​"I think this is worth exploring in and of itself, for reason I won't go into here, but I also think it's a potential strategy for promoting the development of micro-credentialling for the learners we are serving. I'm inclined to agree with the suggestion made in the Finkelstein/Knight/Manning paper that came out a couple of years ago that if professionals working in the field bought into the idea of badges for their own professional development, that would encourage them to support the concept with adult learners. I might even take that a step further -- if the professionals in our field aren't embracing them, I wonder if it's reasonable to our learners to do so."

I (David) think that Jennifer and Jeff’s comments are excellent summaries that offer sensible directions for all of us, whatever our roles. I am especially excited about: 1) professional development micro-credentials for state and local adult basic education administrators, and 2) a micro-credential ecosystem that provides adult learners with a verifiable way to demonstrate mastery of skills obtained through pursuit of a wide range of high quality online learning resources and classroom learning. Perhaps the next time we have a discussion here about micro-credentials, we’ll be writing about how these have been implemented!

David J. Rosen

Program Management CoP Moderator