digiLEARN and New America

State Level: NC




Investments in teacher professional learning in the United States are substantial ($18 billion annually).* However, a recent national survey found that only one-third of teachers were satisfied with the PD offered through their schools because opportunities were too generic and did not provide sufficient time to engage in the work.**


Micro-credentials (MCs) could change the “check-the-box” culture of teacher professional learning. The North Carolina Partnership for Micro-credentials, with support from digiLEARN and New America, is producing policy recommendations for how MCs can improve how NC teachers are developed and rewarded.


digiLEARN is an NC-based non-profit focused on accelerating innovation for teachers and schools, and New America is a Washington, DC-based think tank with research expertise in educator quality. Together with RTI International, they are researching and exploring the best use of MCs for the NC teacher workforce.

Nationally, MCs emerged in 2014 to expand access to high-quality virtual learning. Educator MCs are akin to other credentials, like degrees or diplomas, but focus on demonstrated application of one specific “micro” competency in practice. The number of entities providing offerings labeled “micro-credentials” is growing rapidly.

In January 2021, New America published Harnessing Micro-credentials for Teacher Growth: A National Review of Early Best Practices analyzing the national landscape of educator MCs as part of its work supporting the NC Partnership. The report findings indicate that thousands of teachers across all 50 states have earned at least one MC, mostly on a voluntary basis. Twenty-six states have formal educator MC policies or programs, and at least five states have or are developing programs that use MCs for career pathways.

The report highlights the potential of MCs to improve instruction, if states ensure quality of the MC offerings and thoughtfully integrate them into state and local human capital systems.

“Reaping success from micro-credentials requires more than simply layering them on top of, or next to, policies and processes already in place,” said Melissa Tooley, Director, Educator Quality at New America. “It requires making bigger shifts to professional learning and advancement systems – particularly a culture and mindset shift from compliance to ongoing growth.” In conjunction with its landscape report, New America also released a model state policy guide to aid policy makers and influencers in making these larger systemic shifts.

Building on New America’s research and a MC feasibility study produced by RTI, the North Carolina Partnership for Micro-credentials, led by digiLEARN, will present recommendations for a state-recognized system of MCs to key policy makers, including PEPSC, the NC State Board of Education and the Joint Education Oversight Committee in the General Assembly.

“Our Partnership started with a vision of professional learning that has a direct application to teachers’ classroom practices. MCs are an emerging tool, so the Partners intentionally took a collaborative approach comprised of national and state-level stakeholders, including teachers, administrators and policymakers,” said Myra Best, Executive Director of digiLEARN.

In 2020, The Belk Foundation invested $40,000 in digiLEARN and $35,000 in New America.

*Boston Consulting Group, Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development (Seattle, WA: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014)
**Tyton Partners, “National Teacher Pulse Survey: Reflections on Professional Development” (PowerPoint presentation, October 14, 2020), source