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Choosing the Right Model – Certificate or Certification

Choosing the Right Model - Certificates & Certification Programs (1)

Recently, Michelle Nolin, Learning Strategy and Instructional Design consultant from Learn Ethos, LLC and Linda Anguish, Director of Accreditation Services at the Institute of Credentialing Excellence presented a webinar on choosing the right model between certificates and certification programs. We created a summary reviewing their main points when it comes to certificate and certification programs to help organizations take the first step in making the right decision about which works best for them!

First, what is the difference?

Assessment-based Certificate Program

  • The purpose is to build capacity and recognition of a specialty area of practice or set of skills
  • Provides instruction and training (non-degree granting)
  • Goal is for participants to acquire specific knowledge, skills, and/or competencies
  • Assessment evaluates mastery of the intended learning outcomes for the learning event
  • Content typically specialized and focused in scope
  • Certificate awarded to recognize mastery of the specific learning outcomes (not a certificate of attendance or participation)

Professional Certification Program

  • The purpose is to recognize professional who meet established knowledge, skills, or competencies
  • Assesses knowledge, skills, and/or competencies previously acquired
  • Goal is to validate the participant’s competency for a job through a conformity assessment system
  • Assessments are used to assure baseline competencies and to differentiate professionals; independent of a specific learning event
  • Assessment content is usually broad in scope
  • Award designations to recognize achievement

Michelle and Linda get much more in-depth discussing the defining features of both types of programming, including:

  1. Primary Intent
  2. Program Content and Validation
  3. Program Oversight
  4. Provider Role in Education and Training
  5. Program Requirements and Prerequisites
  6. Assessment
  7. Validation of Assessment
  8. Standard Setting
  9. Evaluation of Assessments
  10. Credential Maintenance
  11. Identification of Individuals Who Have Completed Program
  12. Public Statements of Program Purpose

Which program is right for your organization?


  • What is the competitive landscape?
  • What are employers and the public demanding?


  • Does a Certificate or Certification program achieve organizational goals?


  • Who is the target audience?
  • Is training needed?


  • Staff
  • Financial (startup, maintenance)
  • Availability of SMEs

Should you get accredited? There are some benefits!

  • Program Validation – meets industry standards
  • Verification of certified professionals – employers and public
  • To meet requirements for regulation/licensure
  • Program Differentiation – accredited vs. non-accredited
  • Helpful in opening new markets
  • Ongoing alignment of certification programs with job roles
  • Program improvement – through (re)accreditation and annual reporting

To learn a whole lot more, dive into the full webinar recording here.

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