Certificate, Certification, and Credentialing: What's in a name?Great news!  Your members spoke, you listened, and you’ve finally received approval from your board to explore creation of curriculum to support your members’ ongoing professional education needs.  What’s next?   You need to decide what type of certifications you’ll offer.  Or will it be a certificate?  Wait, maybe it’s a credentialing program you need.  Stumped already?

What’s the difference?  It all sounds the same…

Think of these different terms as a series of progressively involved educational offerings which allow your members to demonstrate their commitment to their own professional development and your industry.

  • Certificates are generally comprised of a series of learning events including classes, courses or training programs.
  • Certifications/certificates are usually ongoing programs aimed at ensuring an individual has the holistic knowledge, skills and competencies to capably perform in a professional role.
  • Credentialing is generally a multi-faceted process which evaluates the qualifications of an individual based on a certain set of criteria or competencies.

The table below provides a quick snapshot of each term and key characteristics:

Characteristic Certificate Certification Credentialing
Primary purpose Provide knowledge through training or instruction Validation of existing knowledge, skills and competencies through testing Evaluate/verify professional experience  of a practitioner
Participant Eligibility May have eligibility or prerequisite requirements to enroll Has eligibility requirements to enroll Evidence of professional standing
Purpose and scope of assessment Evaluate accomplishment of intended learning outcomes Confirm mastery of job function, occupational or professional role Comprehensive information gathering and evaluation process
Duration of program Ends when certificate is awarded Ongoing; requirements must be met on a routine basis to maintain credential (recertification) Ongoing; evaluations to occur at set intervals (i.e. every 36 months as recommended by NCQA)
Recognition of program completion No acronym or letters are used after the recipient’s name OR the letters “CH” (for certificate holder precede the acronym/letters Recipient uses an acronym or letters after their name to highlight certified status Recipient uses an acronym or letters after their name to highlight certified status

Source: Association for Training Development

Does it really matter? Yes, you should really care!

It definitely pays to do your proverbial homework when it comes to determining what type of program your association will offer.  Although certificate, certification and credentialing programs vary in scope and intent, they all require an investment of time and resources, and there’s a lot at stake.  Creating a program that misses the mark can have the adverse impacts of wasted money, human and financial resources.  Worse, it can reduce the credibility of your organization in the eyes of your most important asset – your members!  For all of these reasons, it’s important that you give careful consideration when exploring a new program.  A few initial considerations may include:

  1. Objective:  What are you trying to accomplish?  Where are there skill and knowledge gaps?  What are your members’ professional needs?  What are your industry educational, licensing and ethical requirements?
  2. Resources:  How many internal resources can you dedicate to creating the training/curriculum/program?  Is your infrastructure sound enough to support a successful program launch?  What financial resources do you have to implement your plans?
  3. Buy-in/Support:  Do your members WANT this?  Does your board support your thought process in the need for this certificate, certification or credentialing?
  4. Standards and Requirements:  Are there governmental or industry requirements which must be met? What are the educational requirements to practice in the profession?  What are the ethical requirements?  What are the compliance standards for the industry or profession?
  5. Recognition:  To what degree do your members need to be recognized professionally within your industry?  Will the scope of recognition be local, regional, national, or international?
  6. Timing:  Is your intent to develop a single learning event, an ongoing competency-based program or a process requiring participant renewal to minimum educational, professional and ethical standards?

These questions are by no means comprehensive, and every organization must create their own qualifications framework relevant to its specific industry needs and requirements.  At the end of the day, each of these programs serve to bridge a gap; identifying the end goal with respect to the existing need is a good place to start.  Finally, and most importantly, always remember to keep the voice of your members at the front of mind throughout the program development process.

For more great information, check out our resources page. 

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