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Are Certificates and other Credentials proof of anything?


Certificate of unknown origin

I recently read a blog post by Guy Wallance - "Certificates and Dubious Achievement Abound". The blog post reflects many of my recent thoughts as I have worked toward various certifications, re-certifications, taking training that offers a certificate and reviewed tools to track life-long learning.

Simply put - there is a lot of crap out there and I am not talking about content. A course may even offer solid information and be an excellent presentation but once I walk away from it, I have a certificate that says I "learned" something. Truth be told, I retained enough information to pass a 10 question quiz and quickly forgot about it a few minutes later. Yet now I have a certification.

This becomes even more relevant as the amount of opportunities increase and the data tracking increases. ATD and other professional organizations let you track every article you have read. The use of xAPI to mark reading of articles, taking a test, or chatting with an instructor are being provided legitimacy as something the user has "learned" when nothing verifies that the information was learned or retained.

As both learning and development consumers and creators, we need to do a better job of critically thinking what the real result is for learning activities. I think of this as similar to issues around engagement. Putting numerous "click on this" activities into a training increases what a participant needs to do to complete the learning, but does not mean they engaged with the material in any meaningful way.

In the end, a critical eye is very useful when looking at records and certifications. We should not be so impressed with quantity as the quality behind them.

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