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.

1 comment:

  1. This is very insightful! It's a great reminder to organizations offering certification that they are (or should be) promising that persons holding their credentials have demonstrated some level of competency prior to earning those credentials. An organization's reputation is on the line! This is more than just generating revenue or building an image - it's about p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e!


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