During the last decade, the terminology for assessing expertise has significantly diversified and expanded. The credentialing industry has branched out to cater to learners who don’t require full certification to achieve their learning goals. This has led to an increase in credential offerings, along with wide and sometimes casual use of a variety of credential-related terms. All of this has undoubtedly led to confusion. It doesn’t help that some of these terms may be used differently in varying professional and academic contexts. Particularly with the surge in demand for AI training, I’ve seen these terms being used interchangeably, muddying the waters and leading to unclear expectations.

Credentials and Credential Types

As an industry leader in professional emerging technology credentialing, CertNexus can help bring clarity from the confusion! I’d like to spend a few minutes clarifying the CertNexus usage of some key terms to ensure consistency and benefit learners.

  • Credential
  • Accreditation
  • Certification
  • Micro-credential
  • Certificate
  • Badge

Definitions by ChatGPT (Consistent with CertNexus Usage)

  • Credential – The term “credential” serves as a broad umbrella encompassing various types of certifications, certificates, degrees, licenses, and other forms of recognition. Credentials validate an individual’s qualifications, achievements, or competencies and play a crucial role in assessing and verifying one’s professional capabilities. They serve as tangible evidence of skills and expertise, enhancing credibility and employability in the job market.
  • Accreditation – is the process by which an institution, program, or organization is officially recognized as meeting certain quality standards set forth by accrediting bodies or regulatory agencies. Accreditation provides assurance that the entity adheres to established criteria for educational or professional excellence. Institutions seeking accreditation undergo rigorous evaluation processes to ensure compliance with predetermined standards.
  • Certification – Certification typically refers to a formal process whereby an individual’s knowledge, skills, or competencies are evaluated against predetermined standards. Upon successful completion of the assessment, the individual is awarded a certification, often demonstrating their expertise in a specific subject matter or field. Certifications are commonly issued by professional organizations, industry associations, or certifying bodies.
  • Micro-credential – Micro-credentials are focused, skill-specific credentials that validate competency in a particular area or skill set. Unlike traditional credentials, which may require extensive coursework or examination, micro-credentials are designed to be more targeted and flexible. They often cater to the needs of professionals seeking to enhance specific skills or knowledge areas in a shorter timeframe. Micro-credentials are gaining popularity in the era of lifelong learning and are offered by educational institutions, online platforms, and professional organizations.
  • Certificate – A certificate is a document awarded to an individual upon the completion of a course, program, or training regimen. Unlike a certification, which often involves a standardized assessment process, a certificate may signify the completion of educational requirements without necessarily assessing competence. Certificates are offered by educational institutions, training providers, or online platforms and can vary widely in scope and duration
  • Badge – Badges are digital representations of achievements, skills, or accomplishments earned by individuals. They often accompany traditional credentials, providing a more granular and shareable way to showcase specific competencies or achievements. Badges can be earned through completion of courses, projects, or assessments and are increasingly utilized in online learning environments, professional development programs, and digital portfolios.

Industry Value of Certification

The highest-value technical credential in this multi-billion industry is of course a certification. Let’s take a moment to appreciate what it takes to create an industry-recognized certification. The key word here is industry-recognized. In other words, to adhere to independent standards for certification development, entities can’t create a true certification exam in a vacuum, or simply by consulting in-house experts. Measuring what has been written in a course alone also does not equal certification, especially if the course was created before the exam. The most commonly accepted industry process is exactly the opposite; the exam drives the course, the course doesn’t drive the exam.

The Certification Development Process

In a formal certification development process:

  1. The certification body convenes a structured, supervised Job Task Analysis with qualified independent subject matter experts to generate the certification exam blueprint, exam content outline, or other governing exam document. (Note that once the blueprint is published, training curriculum development can begin, in parallel with but separate from exam content development.)
  2. Another panel of subject matter experts follows established guidelines to write, review, and accept the initial pool of exam items.
  3. A beta exam is held for a minimum number of qualified candidates. The course developers may be permitted to take the beta exam but have no other access to the exam item pool.
  4. Psychometricians evaluate the beta exam results statistically and invalidate any outlier items.
  5. Another panel of subject matter experts establishes the exam passing score.
  6. The certification exam is published.

CertNexus is proud of our rigorous approach to certification development, which adheres to the International Organization Standardization (ISO) 27001 principles and is accredited by the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) National Accreditation Board (ANAB ISO/IEC 17024:2012). The process takes months, but it is all worth it. There is no reward higher than having a satisfied individual earn that certification and see an improvement in job prospects, career achievements, or professional self-development goals. Seeing that positive outcome for the exam candidate makes it all worthwhile for us.

So, next time you see an online conference being held promising all attendees a lifetime “certification” without passing a proctored examination, do us all a favor and call them out!

Technical Credentials and Your Professional Future

I hope I’ve clarified the distinctions between terms like certification, certificate, accreditation, micro-credential, credential, and badge, and I hope I’ve convinced you how this understanding is essential for navigating the complex landscape of professional development and recognition. With consistent and clear use of these terms and their respective roles, individuals can make informed decisions about their educational and career pathways, while organizations can ensure consistency and transparency in credentialing practices. Embracing the diversity of credentials and embracing lifelong learning will be key in thriving in the dynamic global marketplace of the future. Would you agree?

This article was written by Tuuli Eaton, assisted by ChatGPT, reviewed by Nancy Curtis, and edited by Michelle Farney.

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