Friday, May 15, 2015

Elementary, My Dear Microcredential Provider

Based on presentation March 20, 2015 to
Certification Network Group (CNG,
), Washington, DC.

The world of credentials traditionally includes certificates, certifications, degrees, and accreditations. This world acknowledges that there are also awards, recognitions, and endorsements.  In fact, Wikipedia describes credentials to include security clearances, identification papers, badges, keys, pass codes, scientific papers (e.g., peer-reviewed), letters of credence, and powers of attorney.  In the computer world, credentials are the bits of code that computers use to track information as it is moved around and to ensure that a given code segment is allowed to do certain types of cyber work.

More importantly, the work world and the world of education-to-work workforce pipeline are seeing microcredentials as promising tools.  So, what exactly is a "micro" credential, my dear Watson?

What is a microcredential, exactly?  

Essentially, microcredentials are small credentials… valid and important subsets of a larger credential or field.

We all bring some experience with the kinds of microcredentials used in youth programs where badging is a high-frequency form of recognition.  Other recognitions are more in paraphernalia line– trinkets, jewelry, medals, trophies, and clothing.

We also have some experience with this in the adult program world where first place is a prized microcredential as are awards in juried in shows of one kind or another.  In the sports arena, we value medals and cups as awards.  We recognize special patches on jackets and uniforms of first responders, special t-shirts for entertainment production stage crews.  In some businesses, in-house badges are used to define skill sets that can be tapped for special projects.

To some extent, we know what microcredentials are, but let’s formalize the details.

Microcredentials are:

  • Subset of a field or area – The ‘micro’ nature of a microcredential allows it to focus on subsets of a field or area; the imagery and naming of the microcredential highlights the key performances in the sub-area.  
  • Discrete (bite-sized) chunks  -- Each microcredential is sized for audience’s needs and is large enough to require that the individual work for it but small enough to be do-able
  • Subject-adaptable –Typically, microcredentials are given out for a variety of topics or areas of expertise and there are multiple microcredentials available in related topics and areas.
  • Performance-based – Every microcredential requires demonstrated performance against documented against standards or requirements.  
  • Developmental – Each microcredential’s performance requirements expect the performer to “reach” or “stretch” to grow into the microcredential. 
  • Portable – Microcredentials are built to be shared either physically (trophy, patch, beads, ribbons, badges) or digitally (digital badges). 
  • Associated – Each individual microcredential has relationship with other microcredentials. Frequently microcredentials are used in combination to allow leveling-up to a higher level credential, as well.
  • Staged for increasing skill – Microcredentials show growth and development.  They might start basic and show advancement over time (e.g., swimming patches) or they may accumulate to show advancement (e.g., dog show or county fair ribbons).
  • Transparent --  The purpose and value of each microcredential is known to community that uses it.  The imagery and naming used evoke the performances required and often show developmental staging (e.g., minnow swimming patch vs the dolphin patch.)
  • Bestows a credibility to recipient – Like any other credential, the microcredentials bestows to the earner; however, the credibility has limits & concomitant responsibilities.  Owning multiple microcredentials increases the individual’s credibility and the breadth and reach of their responsibilities.  
  • Cycle of Honor – Like other credentials, microcredentials need to be bestowed by a credible organization that honors recipients who honor and value the credential and the organization that bestows it. 

Relationships between microcredentials

Relationships between microcredentials create or enhance their respective  meanings.  If the series of microcredentials moves skill levels from basic to advanced, they should be built into the imagery, naming, and performance requirements. If they are parallel in weighting but different in performances, the imagery and naming should make that clear as well.

Relationship must “make sense” to the credential holder audience and stakeholders.  As such, they must be transparent, or at least apparent, to the uninitiated.  That is, a microcredential with Level 1 in the name is probably more basic than one with Level 5 in the name – basic and sensible to even an uninitiated viewer.  Anyone looking at the microcredential would guess this.  Likewise, anyone looking at the symbol of minnow and that of a dolphin will see implied skill difference.  However, it gets more complex with work skills where badges may simply have a skill set name like ‘diesel motor – automobile class’ or ‘diesel motor – marine class’ or ‘diesel motor – big rig class’.  Still, even the uninitiated can tell that there will be different skills required for diesel motors build for different purposes.

The value of ‘like’ microcredentials and levels of microcredentials should be easily recognized.  As
with the diesel motors example, we can see both the similarities and the differences.

The weighting of higher-level microcredentials (those received through ‘leveling up’) must be obvious.  In some way, higher-level microcredentials may become equivalent to the full-credential. This should be clear in imagery and naming as well as defined in the meta-data for the advanced credential.   With leveling-up clearly defined, we can clearly see individual’s advancement.  This advancing imagery is classic to the military insignia of stripes, bars, chevrons, and stars.

Relationships also take into account that some individuals’ are not motivated to advance beyond a certain point and, therefore, those who do advance receive a significantly different level of recognition.  The Eagle Scout and WoHeLo Awards for youth are key examples of the difference that more advanced microcredentials have as individual’s skill levels mature.  The military are masters of this, as well.  However, the workplace and pre-workplace pipelines (e.g., literacy, work readiness) are still struggling with how to structure this stopping point or how to deal with the impact of an individual who does not advanced.    Many credentialing programs provide for this with the renewal or maintenance process that defines requirements to minimally hold onto the certification level attained.  The TIfPI ID certifications with badges, provides one option for IDs who work in one specialty area (e.g., asynchronous/authored elearning modules or in instructor-led training or in video), while recognizing that others will want to advance through experience with many different learning solutions.


George A. Miller formulated the concept of chunking information for learning in 1956, as he presented evidence that working memory is limited in capacity. Scaling builds on previous knowledge and experience. The zone of proximal development is that learner experience, which lies between the tasks that a learner can do independently and the ones that still require support of a knowledgeable peer or instructor.

Scaling refers to the organization of chunks to allow learners access to the next skill with appropriate support in the zone of proximal development.  Scaling increases confidences by building on previous knowledge and making each new skill attractive and motivational – a stretch, but not impossible.
Scaling is essential in:
Creating bite-sized yet meaningful chunks
Creating the progression of chunks
Defining associated relationships between chunks

The organization of chunks is the scale:
Easiest to hardest
Basic to advanced
Concrete to abstract
Novice to master

The source of a scale for microcredentials would be found in a job/task analysis (when done within a work place), a practice analysis (a variation of the job/task analysis which is done across a field of practice with multiple venues and significant difference in work tasks based on venue -- see the TIFPI Practice Analysis for Instructional Designers and Developers), or a cognitive analysis (work place or core skills, such as education or supplemental education).


Scaffolding or instructional scaffolding is used to provide appropriate levels of support as the individual advances.  Early activities may require more guidance, instruction, tools, and coaching.  Later activities may require less support but more access to information and tools.
A scaffold is a temporary framework that is put up for support and access to meaning
The scaffold is taken away as the learner builds success and confidence.
Eventually, decreasing support create shifts in level and readiness for ‘leveling up’

Scaling and Scaffolding Microcredentials 

Scaling and scaffolding of microcredentials is what makes them attractive to potential credential-holders.  They want the next one, and the next one and the next.  Each is challenging.  Each is very do-able, with effort.  Together they increase skills and draw the individual forward.
In workforce development scaled and scaffolded microcredentials demonstrate skill development over time.  The path of development becomes obvious via the imagery of the microcredentials completed.

Type of Scaling and Scaffolding

The Mastery Ladder Model

  • Each microcredential must be completed in specified order with proof of mastery required for advancement.
  • Microcredentials stack with the advancement strategy clearly defined (e.g., swimming patches, SRA reading levels, Level 1-5, etc.) 
  • Direct access to a higher level may require proof of previous level skills (e.g., a pre-test)

Example:  Khan Academy uses mastery learning and stacked mastery skills well.

The Patchwork Model

  • Microcredentials are all equivalent in level 
  • Individuals start with their area of interest and add on additional areas 

Example:  Youth program’s patches and badges; businesses that use skill badges to choose special project members.

The Pyramid Mastery Stacking Model

  • Completion or mastery of all items at lower levels combine to ‘level up’ with ladders adding up to advanced skill levels  
  • Advanced levels may or may not require completion of all lower levels, but may require pre-test or test-out in order to start "in the middle". 

Example:  Degree programs where course completions (a form of a microcredential) result in leveling up to a higher-level credential – the degree.  Here one must complete 101, 102 and 103 in order to be admitted to 201 and 202 and so forth.

The Stacked Patchwork Model

  • Early level starts as a patchwork
  • Levels up based on number and, perhaps, types of microcredentials completed.

Example:  Youth programs use this model to advance participants to higher level programs.  However, they may not require completion of any previous level (e.g., “cub” level) microcredentials when working at an advanced level.  For these programs, advance is also age related.  However, workforce development uses this to build a common skill set before allow individuals to be promoted (e.g., call center representatives must complete microcredentials A – E  plus at least one from F-G, where each is call center skill specific).

The Institute for Performance Improvement ( uses this model with its instructional designer (ID) certifications.  IDs may start by demonstrating skill in various learning solution types and then uses their unique skill set to level up.

The Stair-step Model

  • Different approaches
  • Add advance to the same level
  • Many levels & continued advancement

Example:  Military advancement is based on demonstrated skills.  Many of those skill sets result in ribbons and awards.  Over time, those ribbons and awards lead to advancement opportunities.  Different individuals may bring different sets of ribbons and awards as indicators of advancement readiness, but they will all advance to the same next level.

Th Add-ons Model
Supplemental credentials

Example:  Medical practitioners and educators often acquire add-on credentials in related, but not required, areas.  A medical practitioner, who has acquired skills in business management, may be endorsed as a clinic manager.  An educator, who has acquired skills in teaching reading and working with English Language Learners (ELL), may acquire an endorsement in two additional areas – reading and ELL.

Quick Recap

Yes, microcredentials have a long and illustrious history.  We know them and love them for their unique characteristics that recognize performances in a developmental/growth-oriented way.

  • Bite-sized small chunks  -- sized for audience’s needs
    • Source of chunks is JTA, a Practice Analysis, or a cognitive analysis
  • Subject-adaptable—multiple topics or areas of expertise
    • Source of chunks is JTA, a Practice Analysis, or a cognitive analysis
  • Performance-based—demonstrated and documented against standards
  • Developmental – requires “reach” or “stretch” to grow into 
  • Portable – built to be shared
  • Associated – has relationship with other (micro) credentials
    • Related through scaling and scaffolding of chunks
    • Staged for increasing skill – starts basic and advances
    • Scaled and scaffolded to demonstrate advancement
    • Models: stacked and combined in patchworks, pyramids,  stair-steps
    • Self-efficacy – the individual chooses direction of growth
  • Transparent— purpose and value is known by community
  • Bestows a credibility to recipient – credibility has limits & concomitant responsibilities
  • Cycle of Honor – is bestowed by a credible organization that honors recipients who honor and value the credential and the organization that bestows it.
Coming soon…

Leveling Up and Career Paths (May 21st)
Discovering Expectations and Promises (May 27th)

                          … unless a better topic unfolds, of course

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cost of broken promises

Join me at THE Performance Improvement Conference in San Antonio, April 26-29.  I am presenting Weds, Apr 29th on Digital Badges Validate 21st Century ID Skills. Come to my session and introduce yourself.                   
What is the cost of  breaking the public promise?  At the bottom of this column are a series of links related to publicized cases where students have refused to pay their college student loan debts or have asked the college to return their fees plus hardship.  These are extreme examples or symptoms of a broken promise.  The promise?  That these students will be employable after completing their education.

This could just as easily be a certificant of a professional association, who spend thousands of dollars and months or years studying for a high-stakes exam only to find that there is no work for them, even though they are certified.

Alternatively, it could be an employer suing that professional association for damage caused by a credentialed member.  They hired with the belief that the individual could do the work because that individual held the associations credential.

The issue of broken promises comes to a head in litigation.  Professional associations manage these expectations carefully in order to prevent or minimize litigation.  As other types of organization (schools, libraries, museums, and community centers) enter the market with microcredentials and badges, leadership needs to consider the issue of promises.

The specter of broken promises and litigation does not go away or lessen when the credential is a microcredential (a.k.a. badge).  Just because it is NOT a certifications, does not mean that due diligence can be ignored.  The issue of public promise for a microcredential is muddled by a variety of factors such as information availability (access), the ability to evaluate that information, and whether this is a singular phenomenon or not.   These, too, may be considered to be part-and-parcel of the public promise of a digitally branded credential.

The best defense will be a well-constructed information campaign that includes factual data about each credential’s promises [insert link to previous blog] and performance against promise.    

Who has expectations of our declared and implied public promises?

  • Individuals awardee who receive the credential or microcredential
  • The field within which you and the awardee work
  • The general public 

Individual Expectations

What might individuals expect of their microcredential when it comes to advancement?  Where are the potential places that a microcredential’s promise might break down?   We need to take time to find out what is expected of our credentials.

Individuals working toward and eventually receiving any credential expect that it:
Is honored, valued, and recognized
Adds financial or other value to their livelihood or lives
Leads to advancement

Credential is honored/valued/recognized

Performance-based credentials derive a certain amount of their value simply from the act of performance and the follow-up recognition of that performance.  This is where microcredentials shine. They are discrete, skill-focused in nature and they create a personal value from the goal accomplishment inherent in the completion of a performance standard.  

With a microcredential, advancement may be related to tackling a higher skill level, rather than career advancement.  Many microcredentials aggregate to ‘level up’ to a more advanced credential.
What does your microcredential promise the individual credential holder?  Is that promise different for the individual with one microcredential versus individual with many microcredentials?


The portability and accessibility of a microcredential is inherent in its structure.   For digitally branded microcredentials, there is a built-in promise that this credential can be found and share.
So what happens when an organization can not support the cost of the chosen badge software platform and administrative staff to support software?  What happens when the badge receiver believes that their badge will be digitally available for “the rest of their life”, when you only meant that it would be available this calendar year?


Let’s also consider the adult market for digital badges where many adults do have the ability to follow complex technical instructions required to upload and manage their digital badge in a social media site.  It’s promised share-ability has been compromised. In addition, the badge holder feels devalued because they were unable to follow those directions.

I recently worked with an associate who is a small business owner.  The Better Business Bureau had awarded her an A+ and had provided her with a digital badge to use on her website.  We managed to get it up and running because I understood how to copy-paste a snippet of code.  This was not in her vocabulary at all.  It was easy to do, but without me as interface, she never would have figured it out. Would she have felt letdown by a promise that was not full-fillable?  I suspect so.  Would it have caused something as a lawsuit?  Probably not.  Though she may have become less of an advocate of the BBB.

Financial Value

Income is, perhaps, the easiest financial value to see.   However, other career related values accrue as well – confidence, professionalism, credibility, or even personal satisfaction of goal attainment in our field.  (Consider the fact that receiving a Ph.D. seldom qualifies one for a higher pay scale, but thousands of people choose this path anyway.)

Attaining certain microcredentials may allow the individual be tapped for special projects or career advancement, which in turn may result in increased income.  We can see this best in the military where specialized career paths are displayed with pride in stripes, stars, medals, and ribbons on their uniforms.

At the lowest financial denominator, keeping one’s job may be the value of some microcredentials.

The “it is required for employment” may be the inherent value.  This often shows up in customer service programs where gamification and digital badging is focused on whether the individual meets minimum work standards… and, woe be the person who does not meet minimum standards. s

Personal Value 

The term ‘bucket list’ has recently become ubiquitous for all those goals we have awaiting our ‘someday’ plan… that photo safari, the trip to (name a place), quilting a blanket, baking a complex dessert, or as the Tim McGraw song says ‘Riding a bull named Fu Manchu for 2.7 seconds.’ We have our own personal badges for these activities – photos, memories, tchotchkes – no organization needs to provide us with a digital souvenir.  Trying may be enough.  Any advancement is inherent as personal goal attainment.  Once done, we move on to other things.  It may be more advanced skills in the same area… or trying something else… or not (thinking of bull riding, here).

For which goals do we need acknowledgement by an organization?  Which do we do for ourselves? How does that acknowledgement create advancement for us?

Perhaps we need to ask our microcredential and badge recipients how this works for them.  

The Field: Standards of practice for practitioners

The second group that receives value from defining one or more microcredentials is the field in which that microcredential is situated.   Defining the performance(s) required to attain a microcredential creates a certain degree of validity for the field, by the field, and in the field.

Standard setting is a deliberate practice of defining measurable, observable behaviors, their outcomes, and the contexts within which they occur.

However, ‘the field’ is a bit abstract. There are fields inside of fields and stakeholders often cross many fields. We tend to use some touchstone groups as judges of whether the field is getting its value – employers, educators at the next level of education, parents (where badge earners are young), and recruiters for employment, education, or other services.  When individuals in these groups buy into the value of a microcredential or series of microcredentials, the microcredentials’ value takes off exponentially.  Think about the excitement that badges, patches, pins, and paraphernalia denoting successful microcredential completion has in youth associations.  Success breeds success.  Most children continue with the program for several years, or until another fascination presents itself.

Youth programs have been carefully crafted over many decades of experience in pacing these recognitions for encouragement, skill development, and increased sense of self-confidence and self-respect.  Adult community programs have a long way to go to catch up.  Professional associations have still further to go, since their model is about end-states rather than progressive development over time.

What does your field need?  One credential that opens the door for everyone or many credentials that recognize specific skill subsets?  Does it need to show a developmental pattern as youth groups and the military do?  How do we bring these perspectives together? If we are not able to do so, will there be a set of broken promises?

The Public:  Everyone everywhere

The ultimate winner (or loser) is the general public – the person or person’s at the other end of the process who expects a specific skillset and does not receive it.

That reminds me… many years ago, I took vacation in late September and wandered up to Northern Minnesota for the fall color.  I ended up at a hotel on a reservation near the border.  The hotel provided a nightly bonfire.  I joined the fire circle one night to find that the other members were from various Canadian tribes attending an inter-tribal meeting.  They brought with them hot dogs, buns, marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate.  Each of them tried to cook a hot dog on a stick… and failed.  They tried to toast a bun… and failed.  They tried to toast a marshmallow… and failed.  I was not part of their group, but they offered me food.  Eventually, I could no longer turn them down politely. I toasted a hot dog on one fork and my bun another.  Both came out perfect.  My companions wanted to know if I was Indian (I am not) and were confused about how I had these skills and they did not.

They chatted among themselves and then slyly handed me the marshmallows, which also came out perfectly brown and gooey on an unbroken and perfectly assembled ‘Smore.  (Anyone who has tried to do either hot dogs & buns or ‘Smores over a fire, knows that this level of perfection is unheard of and unrealistic.  I was astounded at results, myself… and wondering where this would go.)
Eventually, they gave in and asked how I could do something that they, with their native heritage, could not do.  I said, “Well, cooking over a fire is in my training, was it in yours?”  They agreed it was not.  So, I showed them the technique and explained that I belonged to youth organizations that taught this skill (Camp Fire, Inc.).  They tried again and got successful (though typically variable quality) hot dogs and marshmallows.

Was cooking over a fire a high-art skill that changed the world.  Probably not.  Where was the broken promise?  For them, the broken element was their own training or lack of training in a skill that they felt should have been accessible to them based on their heritage.  We healed that breach with a few minutes of sharing around the fire, a skill that was in their experience base and heritage.
Who is your public and what do they expect from your microcredential?  The reach should be long.

Preventing Broken Promises & Managing Expectations

Your public may be very hard to access or it may be as close as your customer service desk.
What standards have you set for the skills that your microcredential expresses?  Those standards are an essential element of your promise.   It may take some work to reach your public but information from them can be value in tracking the value of your public promise.

In creating credentials (micro or otherwise, digital or otherwise), we often forget to consider the implied promises that we make along with the reality of the award credential.  Managing promise expectations may be the field of the future where communication skills combined with analytics and political savvy must come together to keep our recipients and stakeholders informed and realistic in their expectations.  As a side benefit, defining and managing promise expectations will keep us grounded and focused on whether we are actually making a difference or not.

News Article Links

News articles on debt strikers and debt relief for college students who cannot get jobs -- the broken public promise of higher education.

Coming soon… 

Elementary, My Dear Microcredential Provider (Apr 23)
Digital Badges Validate 21st Century ID Skills (ISPI Conference Presentation) (Apr 30)
Scaling, Scaffolding, and Badging (May 6)
Leveling Up and Career Paths (May 13)
Discovering Expectations and Promises (May 20)
… unless a better topic unfolds, of course

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Digitally promised: What do digital badges promise their public?

Is there an implied and implicit promise made by digital badges simply by their existence.  That is, does a digital badge promise the badge holder something?  Does it promise the viewer of the badge something?   If so, what?

Consider these four (4) cases.  What is the perceived value of the microcredential and related badge in each? Is each microcredential and related badge living up to its promise?

Case #1:  Rad Teen Skills

Rad is a 17-year old high-school exchange student in the United States. His US school offers participation badges.  While in the US, Rad is very active in school programs (a drama production, the school’s online newspaper, the video club).  Rad’s host family has other teens who participate in weekend programs at the library and at a museum.  So, during the year of the exchange program, Rad acquires badges in drama, online newspaper editing, video production, kitchen chemistry from the science museum, star-gazing from the planetarium, and library teen council member from the library.  Rad’s espoused goal is to go to college in the US.

What do these badges say about this teen’s abilities?  How will they help Rad transition back into his native country’s education system?  Will they help him get into college in the US? 
In effect, badges are not an international currency for which there is an exchange.  Those badges do not provide Rad with much assistance in transition back her home country, applying for or getting accepted into college at home or in the United States.  However, they do show the ability to apply skills (in a non-native language) to produce results in communications (drama, newspaper, video), in science and technology (chemistry, astronomy and video), and in community participation (drama, newspaper, and council member).

A perceptive US college admissions recruiter would look at the badges and compare them to SAT, ACT and TOEFL scores and, hopeful, decide that this was one very motivated learner.   Do we have college admissions’ recruiters on board with the idea of using microcredentials to supplement test-data?  This could be as important for any traditional high school student as it is for a non-tradition student.

Case #2:  Boot-strapping it

A young adult immigrant working third shift for minimum wage and trying to raise a family as a single parent finds herself able to speak and read sufficient English for work and life purposes, but does not write English.   She joined a literacy program that builds skills in writing and offers badges for those skills.  She is a success story for that program.  She recently started working for them as a mentor and coach for others in the program.  However, she continues to work her third-shift minimum-wage job.   She posted a Facebook message with the link to her badge on the day that she earned it.  To date, she has less than a dozen clicks on that badge and does not know whether her current employer has seen it.

What value do community-driven badges have?  What is the exchange currency in her workplace?  This young woman has seen additional work value in that she has a second job (also at or near minimum wage), but the job is less physical and carries more prestige.  She is more confident and is an advocate for the program.    
Have her badges met her need?  Are they helping her “pull herself up by her bootstraps”?

Case #3: Colligate Badges

A well-known university decides that digital credentials are the wave of the future.  They provide digital badges for their recent degree earners to use in social media.  University graduates can promote their degree through a shared digital badge for their degree program.   They can check their online badge portfolio to see how many clicks they received.

The university also decides that an assortment of participation badges should also be available for campus community activities such as drama, athletics, music, government, campus sponsored clubs, and leadership position such as dorm residence assistants.  In addition, the college creates a series of badges for completion of key degree-readiness steps such as STEM Requirements Completion, Communications Requirements Completion, and Health & Physical Education Requirements Completion.   Again, students receive the badges into their badge portfolio.   

The university is also trying to be more assertive about positioning their students for job-readiness.  They provide badges in resume-writing, interviewing, job application prep, practicum completion, internship completion.  

Teachers may also offer badges for key projects during each semester that integrate courses and skills – public speaking, writing for a community newsletter or blog, analysis and reporting.  Badge earners are encouraged to share their badges in social media.   Eventually, they will receive a degree and degree-related badge.

With all the variance in skill level, how do these microcredentials and leveled up credential (degree)? How are they fulfilling a need for students?  For parents?  For the community?  For future employers?  Is there a potential for ‘overkill’ creating a devaluing of the badges provided here?   

Case #4: Professional mastery

A professional association develops a series of microcredential certifications for professionals within a given field.  Professionals can earn one or more microcredentials with marks (the letters after a name, e.g. CPA) and digital badges.  Over time, they can ‘level up’ to an advanced level certification.  The program has yet to hit its five-year mark and only a handful of people are certified.   Employers have yet to request the credential as “preferred” on a job listing.  In the meantime, the association offers the credential and digital badges.  They can show that potentially interested parties are clicking on the social media or email links to access information about the credential and the credential holder. 

Is this series of microcredentials and badges living up to its promise?  


Digitally Promised Milestones & Markers

  In each of the instances, the promise of the microcredential may be somewhat different.  And, yet, in many ways, the promise is the same.  Each badge gives the badge-holder:  
·         The right to share a key milestone and self-promote
·         The ability to show milestone markers of successful performance against a defined standard (different standards, true)
·         The possibility of feeling successful and discovering the increased self-respect and confidence that comes from working toward a goal and succeeding to meet it.

Beyond those promises, there may be other implied promises – jobs, wages, skilled workforce, career readiness, college readiness, degree readiness.  Those promises are harder to define, track, and manage.  However, tracking the public promise of each credential (micro or otherwise) is the challenge of each credentialing program.   

It will be important to know which stakeholders (college recruiters, parents, employers, credential holders, etc.) expect what from the credential as promised by the digital existence of a badge.  Uncovering these expectations and putting them to metrics to share with the public will be the challenge of the future. 

Coming soon…

Cost of Broken Promises (Apr 16)
Elementary, My Dear Microcredential Provider (Apr 23)
Digital Badges Validate 21st Century ID Skills (Conference Presentation) (Apr 30)
Scaling, Scaffolding, and Badging (May 6)
Leveling Up and Career Paths (May 13)
Discovering Expectations and Promises (May 20)
                                       … unless a better topic unfolds, of course

Thursday, April 2, 2015

On Publishing and Presenting Microcredentials and Badges

My proposal to write two textbook chapters has been accepted and will be in a new textbook, Evaluating the Public Promise, for Foundations of Digital Badges and Micro-Credentials to be published by Springer, New York, ed Dirk Ifenthaler, Nicole Bellin-Mularski, Dana-Kristin Mah. Draft version is due late June.  Publishing due 2016.

Along the way to writing an academic chapter, I’ve uncovered lots of valuable ideas.  The next several months of blogs will be a less than academic look at the public promise of microcredentials and digital badges.

In mid-March, I presented a short meeting briefing, Discover the Power Behind the Badge, to sixty or so people attending the March Certification Network Group (CNG) event in Washington, DC.  (Go to the TIfPI home page where you can download a copy of the presentation).  The purpose of this presentation was to open a dialog with CNG members about the difference between digital badges, microcredentials, and certifications.  Essentially, we discussed six key points:

  • Digital badges are images that represent the credential.  They are marketing collateral for the organization and the badge earner.  Whether the credential represented is a microcredential, certification, certificate, degree or accreditation depends on the processes behind the credential and its purpose.  “A badge is just an icon” was the theme of the dialog. 
  • Digital badges have information embedded in them.  One layer of information exists in the graphical, visual nature of an icon (a badge with an airplane on it is presumed to be related to airplanes). Additional information links the icon to a cloud website displaying an individual’s portfolio of icons.  That website also shows specific information about the terms of the credential, the individual’s relationship to it (active vs inactive, for example), what was done to achieve the credential, and who sponsors it.  This meta-data provides the after-market value to employer, recruiters, and other interested parties.  (See my portfolio as an example of how badges work.  Click on the ribbon shaped badges to see the data related to each.)
  • Microcredentials are actually well known and respected tools for the credentialing trade, as well as education.  We know how to create them and use them. We use them with youth programs, in the military and para-military (think sheriff’s badge), in juried shows (arts shows, county fairs, athletic competitions and more), and in business via access badges an other paraphernalia that provide recognition and status (flight attendant pin vs pilot’s captain’s hat, stagehand shirt, etc.)  Each has standards and specific meanings based on those standards. We know how microcredentialing works   
  • Microcredentials are focused on specific aspects of the field, rather than the entire field. 
    • If we were to create an approach to the CPA, today, we would probably start with areas like Small Business Accounts Receivable, Small Business Accounts Payable, Small Business Inventory, Small Business Taxes, Small Business Audits, and then do similar ones for mid-sized businesses, start-ups, internationals, etc.  There might be additional credentials in import/export, contracts, compensation, etc.   
  • Microcredentials tend to be performance-based requiring microcredential holders to demonstrate skills in specific ways.
  • Microcredentials have built in relationships to other microcredentials and credentials.  Such relationships might include required completion order (mastery) or not (patchwork self-selection), advancement through leveling up.  
    • That CPA alternative idea might have a Certified Small Business Accountant that is an intermediate step to the Certified Public Accountant.  
    • There may be endorsements added to certain levels create things like the Certified Small Business Accountant specializing in imports/exports or in contracts or in compensation.  

I truly enjoyed the presentation and ensuing discussion, because we actually got into a multi-directional dialog in order to work through some of the credentialing field’s scrambled perceptions about microcredentialing and badging.  Getting a room of sixty some professionals to talk and question each other is a bit of challenge.  Once talking, though, they really got into the dialog. That was great fun.

I will be giving a similar but different present in a 75-minute education session at the San Antonio ISPI conference, THE Performance Improvement Conference, on April 29th.  This one is Digital Badges Validate 21st Instructional Design Skills has two co-presenters from TIfPI, Andrea Moore and SiatMoy Chong, Ph.D.  We will be discussing the practice analysis that The Institute for Performance Improvement (TIfPI) did on instructional designers and the ensuing microcredential certifications for IDs.  Join me at the conference and come to this session, Weds morning.

Now, to get focused on book chapters.

Coming next week… Digitally promised: Just what do digital badges promise their public?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Public Promise of Certification

Every credential (certification, degree, license, accreditation) makes public promises.  There may be specific promises to each credential, all credentials make three basic promises:                                     

  • the credential holder will be better off with the credential than without
  • the industry will be better off with a credential providing standards for practitioners
  • the general public (those receiving services from the credential holder) will be able to see and experience a difference in services received by credential holders.  

Yes, those are positive differences.  There's no point in doing this if the difference is negative.

That is, a public promise of any credential (certification, in particular) is that the world is a better place because that credential exists.

Now, comes the challenge of measuring, and proving that the promises have been met.

The individual is better off 

How might we know that an individual credential holder has benefited from the certification?

  • Gets work in the field 
  • Gets promotions or get promotions sooner
  • Receives higher pay than an uncredentialed person 
  • Is perceived as valued and valuable 


Many instructional designers look at themselves and say, "I have work; therefore, I don't need a certification".  They might be consultants working through staffing and consulting houses or they might have full employment or they may be working irregularly as independents.  They have work. So, they don't see a need for credentials, because they are working today. 

However, as individuals mature and their skills increase, they find themselves competing against the newcomers.  Now, newcomers keep the field fresh.  They also help keep the pay scale down. Without a credential, it can be more and more difficult to ask for the higher salaries and promotions that different your experience from that of a newcomer.

In addition, hot new tools, theories, and methodologies comes along.  As IDs we enjoy the energy that these innovations bring to our field.  However, regardless of experience, innovations also dumped back to beginning competing against the least experienced members of the field.  This becomes a career form of that board game, Chutes and Ladders (Milton Bradley; Hasbro) or Snakes and Ladders (UK).  Without an external third-party endorsement of ones skills, the instructional design field is much like Chutes and Ladders. ID's work hard to demonstrate their skills, build credibility, learn new tools/theories/methods and generally stay on top of their field.  That is, each ID works to climb their individual career ladder through demonstration of work and skill.  Then, along comes a 'chute' -- a new elearning tool, a new learning theory, a new development methodology, the need to be a project manager as well as an ID, etc., etc.

In addition, having work today, does not mean that one will be employed in the future.  That next chute could simply be a downsizing or recession.

Credentials do not guarantee that you as an individual will have work; however, they do work toward demonstrating that their credential holders have jobs and better jobs than those who are not credentialed.  In a world with credentialed players, the non-credentialed player is the one who is more competing for work less successfully.


Promotion is a harder concept in the instructional design world.  A few very large full-employment situations do have levels of instructional design (ID-1, 2,3 or Learning Analyst, ID, Learning Architect, etc.).  These organizations typically have more than fifty instructional designers, making it worth their time to different skill levels.  Otherwise, employers seldom make different skill levels or provide promotions.

Independent consultants do not see promotions at all in their career.  In fact, any beginning learning consultant can bill themselves as a Learning Architect or Learning Strategist, if they want to be known as such.  They is no requirement that they demonstrate advanced experience levels in order to use an advanced level title.

Consultants who subcontract through staffing or consulting houses seldom see an opportunity to move up to a higher rung in these organization’s temporary hire career ladder.  At best an ID may become a Sr. ID on their payment scale.  More about pay in a moment.

In the world of promotions, the movement upward is tied to pay and respect -- the next two public promises for IDs.  Job titles are one reflection of promotion.  Check out the job boards.  Instructional designers have very few job titles that differentiate skill level.  You’ll seldom see listing for and ID-3, Learning Architect or Learning Strategist.  Our field is weak in promote-ability.  

Higher Pay

Everyone wants better pay.  Advanced degrees and credentials are often used as hallmarks of advancing skill that warrant better pay.   Strangely enough, individuals coming out of college with a doctoral degree often find themselves making entry level salaries.   A degree does not constitute higher pay.

Internal consultant IDs usually see an annual salary increase along with bonuses.  Meanwhile, external consultants subcontracting through staffing/consulting houses fight for $5 an hour increases and more balanced projects (ones that don’t require 60 hours a week for 6 weeks, then leave them without work for 6 months).  The independent consultant building a practice usually works that 60-hour week in order to manage the administration and marketing of their business (themselves) and is able to bill at a rate acceptable to their clientele.  That is, their first year or two of projects bill a very low rates.  Slowly, over time, they are able to increase their rates and create a form of increasing pay scale.

In this mixed pay environment, credentials will eventually lead the credential holder to an position of where they can prove their worth and ask for higher salaries.  Certified individuals often do see the benefit of being certified, because industry values the certification process.  Certifications, especially evidence-based certifications, are deemed to demonstrate business acumen, while college degrees tend to be de-valued as being more academic than business orient.  Certification can make a difference in your paycheck.

Valued and Valuable

Everyone wants to be valued by their employer whether that is a full-employer supervisor or manager or a consulting client.  Proving ones value to an employer is usually all about doing the work first.   This means that anyone changing jobs or entering the field finds it difficult to demonstrate enough value to generate interest in hiring them.  We have all been in that position and asked that question: “how do I get my first job, when I have no experience to show for it?”

Now, think about being 50 years old with 25 years of experience and losing your job.  Suddenly, with massive experience, you are back in the soup with newbies trying desperately to land a job (or client).

Your experience has been devalued by the process of losing your job.   You are worthless… and expensive.  Who wants to hire a 50-year old ID?  In 2007 -2011, this was a common phenomenon due to recession.  By the cyclic laws finance, it will happen again every 10-15 years.  

What do evidence-based certifications provide that experience and degrees do not?

They provide a third-party review that validates that work meets standards.   The field must value the standards, of course.  This is a challenge for the instructional design and development world, because they have been a poor cousin to human resources whipped about by the winds of changing technologies, theories, and methodologies.  Just visit some of the social media discussion boards, everyone and their brother is promote a new theory, a new technology, or a modified methodology guaranteed to make your development more effective.  Into this chaotic stewpot, The Institute for Performance Improvement ( has provided a series evidence-based certifications specifically for instructional designers and developers.  These certifications are based on work that the ID has already done and measures that work as “insufficient”, “acceptable” or “outstanding” against nine standards.

Certified individuals can use their certification as a platform to demonstrate value.  Individuals with evidence-based certifications reviewed by field experts can ‘talk up’ the fact that their work has been reviewed and validated by experts.  This provides immediate proven value and increases ones valuableness to clients and employers.

The industry will be better off

The second set of public promises are to the industry (and employers) receiving credential holders. Credentials purport to improve the industry by setting standards  and ensuring that credential holders meet those standards.  Where the credential is evidence-based (i.e., based on work samples rather than on testing), the industry has proof that an individual has produce work to standards at least once.

While this is not proof that the individual will always do work to standards, it does increase the chances that they want to work at that level and will strive to produce work that is at least that good and, perhaps, better.

Every field has charlatans, individuals who talk a good line of schmooze but delivery poorly.  These may be individuals who are great sales people – great at selling themselves, at any rate – or just individuals who have learned how to play the smoke and mirrors game to give appearance that they are producing work, while getting others to cover for them.  

Well-structured certifications take this into account and provide techniques that will allow them to not certify individuals whose work does not warrant it.  How?  The following is not a comprehensive list, but it will show some key techniques used to weed out the charlatans.

  • Blind reviews – a review where the reviewer does not know the person whose work is being reviewed and does not know who else may also be reviewing that individual’s work (a double-blind review).  Blind reviews mean that reviewer must judge the work, not the individual, their rank, or popularity.  
  • Rubrics – a written description of what performances or outputs of a performance demonstrate working to standard.  Combined with any kind of expert review, rubrics provide a clear structure for evaluation of work.
  • Standards –set a minimal expectation for the field.  Standards are set through a job/task analysis or a practice analysis.  These standards, then, become the measure of success in acquiring a credential, whether that success is a passing score on a knowledge test or passing rating on an evidence-based rubric in a double-blind review.    
  • Proof of eligibility (e.g., experience, degrees, specific courses or schooling, passing scores and pre-test, etc.).  Where the goals is to demonstrate advanced skills, the eligibility requirements can be quite intense.  Where the goal is to set a minimal bar, the eligibility requirements will be less intense.  
  • Evidence – in a testing-based certification, the evidence is knowledge validated through testing.  However, evidence-based certifications require proof of real work done for real clients.  Evidence here usually combines a reflection (an essay about the way that the candidate met that standard on the project submitted) plus artifacts or exhibits that demonstrate the standards. 
  • Attestations – this letter from a client or supervisor usually attests to the fact that the individual candidate did do the work that he or she is submitting.  Attestations provide a level of assurance that the work is original and valid.  Attestations are important when working to ‘spec’ is not desired or when candidates are not given equally valid possible cases or projects against which they are measured (think of the college entrance essays).  Attestations provide a measure of reality.   
  • Code of Ethics – every field has inherent ethical standards for everything from client’s information security to finances to legalities.  A signed agreement to the fields code of ethics is a starting point that says the individual pledge to behaving ethically.  However, that does not guarantee ethical behavior.  Therefore, organizations backing certifications must be empowered to respond to non-ethical behavior by removing individuals who demonstrate that they did not live up to their pledge. 
  • Continuing education – certifications are time-delimited.  Some are annual, while others may be on 3-, 5-, or even 7-year renewal cycles.  Continuing education is one of the keys to renewal.  It is proof that the individual, once certified, does not sit on their laurels, but continues to grow within the field. When they ceased to grow and contribute, their certification ends.  

For a full-spectrum list of credential development techniques, consider taking courses in credential development.  Dr. Judith Hale provides a free webinar, Overview of Credentialing, that will start you down the credentialing path.  The point here is that the certification credential process is designed to bring the qualified individuals acclaim for their skills while weeding out those who do not qualify.

The general public

In every profession, there is a general public who receive the work of field and is served by individuals in the field, but who really do not know enough about the field to make informed judgments.  They know what they like and they may or may not be able to describe what they need.

Those personal perspectives are their (our) points of reference or personal needs lenses are the general public’s basis for judgment of the work in the field and practitioners.

Consider your own response to medical advice, for example.  Unless you were trained in medicine, your response is about personal perspectives and not about the science of the field.  Your personal needs lenses inform you whether you are receiving the medical care that you need and want… or not.
Likewise, as instructional designers and developers work with clients (internal or external), their work is evaluated and valued by a ‘public’ who are viewing it through their own personal needs lenses and not through the lens of work quality or working to standards.  ID’s often roll their eyes at the requests that they get from clients, but this is all about the fact that the client is unaware that their personal need lenses are interfering with their ability to get what they need.

What IDs (and any certified professional) wants is for their professional expertise to be acknowledged and valued by the general public.

In return, the general public appreciates certifications and other credentials as way to validate the practitioner in front of them has valid experience and will (probably) give them the best advice available.

Certifications help the general public feel that they are getting the best of the field; they increase confidence by the public in the practitioner.  They also ease the relationship between the certificant and the client-of-the-day by increasing that client’s confidence in them.

Are you certifiable? 

We have considered the role of the public promise of credentials (certifications, in particular) to individuals seeking certification, to the industry and employers of those certified and not certified in the field, and to the general public.  

What insights or ah-ha’s did you have while reading this?

Where these the promises you would have expected from a certification?  If not, what would you have expected?

One statement that comes up often when a new certification, like the ID certification, rolls out is: ‘Is this in demand by employers?’  Of course, for a new certification, it is not, yet, in demand.  However, this is an opportunity to be on the leading edge or on the trailing middle.   Individuals who step up to early certification build the base that causes employers and the general public to begin to, first, ‘prefer’ those who are certified and, eventually, ‘require’ the certification.  Individuals who wait, find themselves in the unenviable position of having to play catch-up when the field moves to requiring a certification.

So, are you a certifiable ID?  Check out the eligibility requires, the rubrics, the standards, and the process for application to this evidence-based credential in one of 15 different learning solutions.

Remember, you can acquire multiple ID certifications to build up your portfolio.  Each certification comes with a mark and badge.  I am now an ID (SEL) – the mark for Instructional Designer/ Developer of Synchronous Elearning.   

Join the ranks of certified IDs.  Learn how to use your current work projects to demonstrate that work to standards and deserve to be valued as an competent instructional designer or developer.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

IDs Use Standards: Ensure Relevance

Standards are the measures that IDs use when determining whether they will sign-off on a learning solution they have created, or not – whether their name goes on the final product.

The competent instructional designer/developer (ID) ensures relevance:

What makes something “relevant” and something else “irrelevant”?

Merriam Webster defines relevant as “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.”

A Google search comes up with “closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand."

Consider the song, Turn! Turn! Turn! based on a bible verse Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, (Peter Seeger (songwriter), hit recording by the Byrds ).

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. 

Relevance; it’s a no-brainer.  Of course, instructional designers and developers want to ensure relevance.  However, it can turn out to be a bit more challenging than one might expect. 

Relevance is about the connection between now and some other time, event, place, or person.  Consider the Steampunk movement, which turns Victorian and Edwardian cast-offs into 21st century functional art or connects these eras via science fiction. 

Relevance is in the eye of the beholder.  So, how do instructional designers and developers ensure relevance? 

Relevant Content

Content is one factor.  Certainly, it is important that the topics in the learning solution focus on key learning requirements (hence, the need for learning goals or objectives as guide to what is important here).  However, much content is ephemeral and situational.  What Company A teaches about leadership may be very different from the key topics in Company B’s leadership courses.  Yet, both can be effective and relevant.  What was highly relevant in 1950 is much less valued in 2014.  Relevance in content can be sticky.  

However, there are ways to create relevance. Perhaps one of the great draws to the field of instructional design is the challenge (and fun) of creating relevant activities that connect the audience with the content.  Creativity is required to find solutions that connect learner’s previous experience and background to the learning process and outcomes – creating clear relevance for learners. Here IDs create structures, order, and activities that reflect real work and build on previous skills.  A lab may have the tools of the trade and opportunities to identify and resolve problems followed by debriefs and feedback on success of the resolution.  Online learning may be missing the tools access and still focus on problem resolution and feedback and provide feedback on the success of the problem resolution.  However, many great on-line learning programs find ways to mock up the action of tools, so that, during online learning and still several steps away from the reality of the workplace or lab, learners can try out the tools.   Each course is a new creative challenge for the ID trying to bring the learning into ever-sharper relevance.  This is the joy of instructional design and development, even if an ID has worked with the content many times.  

Case Study: Relevant Modules

Our intrepid ID received an assignment to work as part of a large team that would develop 60 instructor-led learning modules for three interrelated software programs in healthcare laboratories.  The needs assessment had been done, the audiences were defined, the scope of each module was set, and there were screen-captures or mock-ups of screens needed.  However, as this ID worked on her assigned modules, it became clear that the modules each had different audiences and that sequencing of modules was not clear by audience.  In talking the problem over with other IDs, she realized that the problem was larger than her assignment; everyone had concerns.  The team discussed the problem and decided to do a revisit of content with the subject experts in order to define sequences and audience sizes.  Of course, our ID got the assignment.  

As she worked with subject experts, they began scratching off modules that would have been intended for super-small audiences (less than 5 individuals who could never come together for one class) and defined workflow processes so that learning could be organized by workflow.  The very small audiences would get 1:1 coaching anyway, and really did not need a classroom event.  The solution save everyone time and money and increased relevance for the IDs doing the course development and for the learners whose course would now progress in workflow order.    

Certified IDs

Consider the definition and performances listed for The Institute for Performance Improvement (TIfPI’s) standard Ensures Relevance

Definition:   creates content and activities that address the learner’s background and work experiences.

Performances that demonstrate this standard:

  • Explain the needs of the learning audience and how the proposed solution addresses those needs.
  • Describes for the learner what the learning process and outcomes will be.
    • Objectives
    • Schedules
    • Course outline
    • Module structures, such as overview, questions, content, review
  • Creates activities that connect learner’s previous experience and background to the learning process and outcomes.
  • Ensures that feedback opportunities address the learner’s performance.

Individuals applying for learning solution certifications with marks and badges will be asked to describe ways in which he or she accomplished at least 2:4 performances (required) two of which must be:

Describes ways in which he or she accomplished at least the following two required performances:
  • Describes for the learner what the learning process and outcomes will be.
    • Objectives
    • Schedules
    • Course outline
    • Module structures, such as overview, questions, content, review
  • Creates activities that connect learner’s previous experience and background to the learning process and outcomes.

Can you see yourself doing these performances?  Can you see yourself doing at least the two required performances with every learning solution?  Can you see other IDs doing these performances, perhaps differently, but still doing them? If so, you need to consider applying for a learning solutions development credential.  Get the ID Certification Handbook at > Certifications> ID Badges, where there is more information about ID certifications. 

Want a list of all nine ID standards

Would you like to know about the study -- a practice analysis -- that TIfPI Practice Leaders did to generate and validate nine standards, including Elicits Performance Practice?   Would you like a copy of the infographic with standards and learning solution certification types? 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

IDs Use Standards: Ensures Context Sensitivity

Standards are the measures that IDs use when determining whether they will sign-off on a learning solution they have created, or not – whether their name goes on the final product.

The competent instructional designer/developer (ID) ensures context sensitivity.

Little things can be jarring; they jangle the nerves and create distractions.  Little things out of context can become blow up disproportionately to become flaming issues.  

P-20 education and workplace (adult education) often come to loggerheads over terms simply because their contexts and expectations based on context differ.  One of the highly touted differences between childhood education (pedagogy) and adult education (andragogy) is the undeniable fact that adults bring years of experience.  

      (Side note: having worked with special needs children and children of abuse and poverty, I content that children bring significant experience to their learning, especially their P-20 learning as well... experience is the essential difference according to experts.)  

Creating learning without considering the learner’s previous experience is futile at best.  This may be the reason that so many courses spend the first twenty-to-thirty percent of the course defining and building common experience bases.  During this time early in the course, the instructor and learners get acquainted, learn about each other’s jobs and roles and experiences, discover the course goals compared to the learner’s goals, and map out the course’s structure.  Along the way, they discover whether there are potential barriers such as language, technology, physical environment, or just a mis-match between learner and course intent. 

Why spend that much precious time setting context?  Because, context is important.  In fact, learning will not occur until the learner sees a need for it (also see; The Teachable Moment).   When learners have context, they learn. When context is missing, they struggle.

For a moment, consider the impact of requiring a course with 25%-30% of it’s content focused on US laws, regulations or code.  Contextually, this is important for learners within the United States.  However, does it work in Puerto Rico, China, Australia, Canada, India, Greece, Switzerland, or Sweden?  Language differences aside, the issue of laws, regulations and codes needs to addressed in order for the rest of learning to be effective outside the US. This an essential context issue. 

Now, consider the impact of words.  The US government has enacted the Plain Language Act [] requiring government agencies to write in ways that avoid confusion.   They are improving, but the task is monumental.   Very few courses start out by defining the reading level.  Even fewer courses intentionally choice a ‘voice’ for their course.  Yet, both reading level and voice can impact learners’ ability to learn. 

Case Study #1: Fun and Games

Once upon a time many decades ago, (before web-based everything) our intrepid instructional designer had the opportunity to work on a CD-based learning game.  The project team included a skilled technical writer.   This writer started his participation in the project by asking what we (the project team) wanted our learner/player to hear in their head when they played.  It took the team awhile to work it through.  Eventually, it was clear.  We wanted to game to come across as “fun”, even though it was teaching highly technical terms.   The writer re-worked every sentence in the games material to echo that “fun” idea.  What magic did he employ?  I’m still not sure.  Technical writers are valuable members of instructional design teams, because they bring an impartial eye to context and the language of that context.

Case Study #1: Developmental Delayed Hispanic Young Adults

In another time and place, an instructional designer was asked to build a computer skills lab for developmentally delayed young adults (17-21) whose primary language was Spanish, but did speak some English and needed to build technology-specific language in both Spanish and English.  They needed to be able to access computers to write emails and text messages, visit websites such as sports and hobbies, and they need to be able to computer play games.  They needed to be able to talk with their peers and co-workers about using computers.  The course designed a very repeatable lab which each learner could do multiple times to strengthen his or her skills (keyboard, mouse, and language skills).  The lab provided them with many different job aids on binder-ring.  Each index card for the ring had a term in both English and Spanish, a short explanation (under 10 words) in both English and Spanish, and a picture of the computer part or term.  For this learning, the context was concrete and factual.  The learners loved it and loved having job aids that they could share.  The shareable nature of the cards provided context for them across learning, work, and home.

Definition of a Standard – Ensure Context Sensitivity

Consider the definition and performances listed for The Institute for Performance Improvement (TIfPI’s) standard Ensures Context Sensitivity.

considers the conditions and circumstances that are relevant to the learning content, event, process, and outcomes.

Performances that demonstrate this standard:
  • Creates solutions that acknowledge:
  • §  Culture
    §  Prior experience
    §  Relationships to work
    §  Variability in content
  • Verifies that materials reflect the capabilities of audience (e.g., readability, language localization, plain language, global English, physical capabilities, technology limitations, etc.).
  • Maps to other learning opportunities
  • Aligns content with learning objectives and desired outcomes
Individuals applying for learning solution certifications with marks and badges will be asked to describe ways in which he or she accomplished at least 3:4 performances (required) one of which must be:
  • Creates solutions that acknowledge:
  • §  Culture
    §  Prior experience
    §  Relationships to work
    §  Variability in content

Can you see yourself doing these performances?  Can you see yourself doing at least the three of the four required performances with every learning solution?  

Can you see other IDs doing these performances, perhaps differently, but still doing them?  If so, you need to consider applying for a learning solutions development credential.  Get the ID CertificationHandbook and visit for more information.

Want a list of all nine IDstandards?   

Would you like to know about the study -- a practice analysis -- that TIfPI Practice Leaders did to generate and validate nine standards, including Elicits Performance Practice?   Would you like a copy of the infographic with standards and learning solution certification types?