Certification Programs. Just the sound of the words “certification” can lead some folks to immediately think this is going to be challenging (it should) and equally worthwhile (it should). A certification program must benefit the person who is seeking to be certified. Whether it is for potential new job opportunities, financial rewards (current or next job), personal empowerment or business success.
Certification Programs are usually found in the association space, more so than say Corporate and definitely more so than Academia. Yes, their are certifications for IT skills, but in this post, what I will be focusing on, will not be IT skill certifications or similar. If that is your sole objective, then Pluralsight does the best job for that.
Certification = Revenue
A certification program should never be free. The revenue opportunities a training department or education department (in an association) can be quite high. One association that offers a finance designation, once told me that the revenue alone drives the entire association, far more so, than their trade show. Usually the show, is the revenue driver.
Pricing you charge will be based on benefits and demand. Even if it is a new program, and demand isn’t there yet, the goal is to boost demand and interest. The more challenging the program, the better the rewards per se. If the certification program is easy, and everyone passes, then it is not as valuable to the entire audience, especially those who will leverage the certification for better opportunities or personal growth.
Before diving into how to tap into your learning system for the certification program experience, here are some questions you will need to think about, before saying “okay, we are doing a certification program online”.
- What is the end game/objectives for your certification program? Is it available to everyone or limited? If you are in a trade association, how will it benefit the business owners/employees?
- Will it require an assessment/test at the end or a project/portfolio or some combination? For the test will it require an online proctor? Will it be timed (if an assessment)?
- Will it have multiple-levels or steps? In other words, they pass level one, by doing this and that, then move up to another level, with each level becoming more difficult than the previous one? (this is how that financial designation one works). The first level is difficult too.
- How many people will pass each level or you expect? Using the financial designation one, less than 2% of all folks who make it to the final level, pass, and receive that designation – which folks in the finance world do see as a major plus.
- Will the program be online courses only? What about reading materials – ebook, manual (yuck), PDFs, podcasts, some other type? What about vILT or on-site F2F (not something I’d recommend in this new business environment)? Will it require checklists? Will it involve some form of social or communities within the system? Will there be scenario-based online content or just standard? Can they tap into experts or mentors with the program – either as part of the levels or after they pass each level or if no-levels, pass and complete and achieve the certification?
- Will they receive a certificate? Will they get additional benefits beyond the certification designation? Can they add the designation badge to their social media sites? What about LinkedIn? Or if their system offers internal jobs – seeing the designation listed within the system and on their profile?
- Will you use gamification as part of the entire experience? Will you incorporate skills as part of the certification process – gaining new skills, building upon skills (non IT related)?
- Will you use playlists (if available) or similar? What about curated content from the Internet?
- Will you be using off-the-shelf, 3rd party publisher content or only content/courses that you have built yourself? If the latter will you need an authoring tool or use the one that comes with the system – if they offer it?
- Do you need to have digital signature? If yes, does it come with your system? (It’s not universal common, but it is gaining traction, as for mobile – it is very rare). If the system does not have digital signature, can you API in one or connect with one say Docusign for example?
- How are folks going to pay for the certification program? One-time? Using promo or discount codes or some other code? On the analytics side, does your system provide data that can tap into some financial data tied around sales, etc? If not, can the vendor create a custom report for you? (If they offer it, it is fee-based).
Learning System + Certification = Here is what you need
Because e-commerce will play a key role (you want people to be able to purchase what they need, rather than have to contact you)
- Accepts credit cards – Visa, MasterCard and AMEX
- Offers promo codes, discount codes
- Learners can purchase courses, content (make sure they can buy PDFs, etc. beyond courses)
- Learners can purchase webinars/seminars (only if you plan to include this in your certification program)
- Accepts Purchase Orders
- An administrator can create an order
- Self-registration for external end-users (this is different than self-registration which usually focuses solely on internal. It may be one and the same with a simple rule setup in the system)
- Learners can purchase a subscription package or bundle (I like this one because perhaps you want the end-user to be able to put together their own “certification package options” – think that you have eight courses that people can select from – they have to choose five of them – thus the bundle)
- Offers VAT (essential if you are outside of the U.S.)
- Out of the box payment processor integration (If unsure whom to use, ask the vendor – they may have preferred or have experience and thus integration set to go with certain processors. For vendors who use Stripe, everything is handled by Stripe – if you want, and you want)
- SSL – For security
- Digital Download area – An added plus (not a deal-breaker though if the system says no on this)
- Allows for charge-backs
- Optional Accepts Paypal – but only if it also accepts credit cards. There are vendors where it is PayPal only. Pass.
Assessment tool – you want this if you are going to have any type of assessment/test
- Quiz bank
- Ability to randomize questions
- Accepts M/C, T/F, Multiple Answers and Essay (if this is of interest to you)
- Limit the number of times someone can go back and take the assessment
- Ability to change/add weights, add points (gamification angle) to questions
- Timed assessments (only if you are planning on having this)
- Assessment can be in another format – such as you adding video or audio or image files to it, as part of the question.
- Ability to generate a certificate
- Ability to edit a template certificate and be able to upload your own certificate
- Ability to add multiple certificates to a single course or content
- Ability to send certificates to end-users (via e-mail)
Languages (this is for the entire system or can be for each learner – some systems offer this flexibility – a plus)
- You want as many languages as you will need. There are vendors where the only options are English or English and one other language. If you are in Germany, then this isn’t going to work. Never assume they have your language. Some vendors offer additional languages for a fee, but English is free. I do not get that, when we live in a global marketplace. Oh, and I hate that (uh, English is free but you pay for other languages).
Multi-Tenant – Applicable only if you will have companies or entities that want their employees to go thru the program, and want their own look and feel
- Each tenant can upload their own end users, content (if allowed by Parent)
- Multiple custom domains
- Ability to change the look – add logo, colors to each tenant
- Ability for each tenant to see data and reports (this is just for this tenant, not everyone. As the parent, you can see everyone).
- Playlists are a win here, especially if you can change the header, so instead of “Assigned” it says “Certification Selections” or something else. You can keep Assigned of course. There are systems where the headers, location of the playlists are locked in – in other words, you are stuck with what the vendor uses for terminology, even with tabs – another you do not want – you want to be able to change tabs, headers – anything the learner can see. One other ideal you want – the ability to hide other playlists or however they set this up. I mean “suggested” isn’t applicable in a certification program nor is “recommended” or “trending” or “most popular”.
- I’m a fan of allowing the movement of say one playlist up higher than other – that said, “static” is the common way – which means that if “recommended” is fourth it stays fourth.
- Content curation – Ability to pull stuff down off the web (again, this might be a requirement of your program.
- Ability to add CEUs, CPDs or credits to any course or content (only applicable if you need this)
- 256 AES or higher (ties around security, anything lower, ehh pass)
- Screen or webcam recorder – Only applicable if this is something you need. There are still vendors who pull the “you select your own, because we do not have this feature.” That says 2010.
- vILT integration – if you are going to do webinars or have sessions where people need to attend something with an online speaker. Always find out what data can be captured and what web conference tool will work with their system. API or connectors are common here, however there are vendors whereas they already have the integration setup.
This is relevant, because people can access the system beyond them having to be on their desktop or laptop. I still do not understand why there are vendors today who lack a native app and online/offline synchronization. How many times has your Internet gone down?
- Native mobile app for iTunes and Google Play – Some systems it is iOS only, even though 80% of the smartphone market is Android
- Online/Offline Synchronization – Simply means they can take courses/content etc, and if they lose the net connection or can’t access the net – hello airports and your own place, no worries – when it re-connects all the data gets pushed back into the system
- Ability to take courses and content in the app – again, content could be a PDF
Questions to ask around mobile
- What browsers do you support? When a vendor says browser-agnostic this tells me they haven’t checked which browsers will work. This is for folks where you can access additional features via the web only or you choose to just go to the site (rather than use the mobile app). For example, I like Kiwi Browser (I have an Android), but I do find it doesn’t work with all the systems. Same with Brave and Opera. If your content is heavy video, Safari doesn’t have a great track record.
- Is it the same view in the mobile app for iOS and Android? Never assume it is. I have an app for my pool, and the iOS version (my iPad) has more options and looks different than the app for Android.
- Do you offer digital signature within the mobile app? A nice plus, this is a certification program, not “Captain Kangaroo’s fun palace. I bet he would reject Mr. Greenjeans – I never trusted him. Bonus fact – The guy who played the Captain was Bozo the clown for national TV.
- Can the end-user record their own video and upload it to the system – perhaps you are offering a project or some other item with your certification whereas the learner needs to record some video or take pictures. You want to make sure they can upload via the app. Several systems accept any video/pictures with filters (popular).
People Development – The term is somewhat variance here, but I’m referring to people development powered by mentoring. Remember mentoring is not the same as coaching. However, if the system offers only coaching – find out what that really entails. Having someone text to someone else and then the coach texts back – is outdated. Plus it is reactive. Let’s say you have a system where the mentor (the expert) can mentor multiple folks at one time or provide expertise to multiple folks at one time.
- Experts option – this is where the end-user can select an ‘expert’ to provide additional help/or insight. I’m a fan of mentoring, because coaching just focuses on the task at hand, and not the entire learning experience including the growth of said person. Experts says “okay, you are in this program, and we want to give you access to a few folks who can provide aid in your discovery. OR after you pass our program, you can on-going mentoring via these experts – I love this. It truly sets your program apart from so many others, and can be an added-value and plus for the learner. It is not just you pass, see-ya”. Best solution for the mentoring angle is MentorCloud – which can be API into your system. MentorCloud is the best solution I’ve seen for 2022. That said, there are systems that offer “Experts” which are specific end-users. Always find out from the vendor what data they capture around an expert/mentor. You want to know the response time, what folks think of the expert, the expert’s own answers. Just because you are an expert, it doesn’t mean you are awesome. You could be lazy and indifferent. Funny, I find the same issue with a few professors who think ‘office hours’ online or responding to a discussion board is optional.
- If your certification includes role-playing/scenarios – then having a video skills solution with such capabilities is a plus. In my experience the best solution to do this is Bongo, which there are vendors who already have it. Worse case – you can add it to your system via integration.
If your system has online proctoring built-in and you want this, then it is a nice to have. Online proctoring doesn’t mean there is someone watching these folks, so always find out. Find out what security measures are in place, there are solutions where the person has to show their license or it is fingerprint scan or equal measure. The issue today is privacy, and do I want to have someone capture my license information? If some end-user balks on giving the proctor anything, what do you do then?
- Data visualization is a must. Bonus if it is not just pie charts or Excel 2002 graphs placed online.
- Data capture that is relevant to your certification program. Views is not relevant. Assessment results by question for example will be. You might see that a lot of folks are getting the answer wrong with a certain question. Now it is your job to figure out is it due because the question isn’t specific or that the information cannot be attained with whatever you provided to the learner OR is it something else?
- Data capture that shows in-progress and completed for each piece of content/course. Again, this is a certification program – it is not meant to be simple, you need this data to track over a period of time. You are looking for trends here.
- Data around skills – if this is applicable to you, ditto around the experts, ditto around content curation – I’d want to know what folks are pulling down off the net – I will admit it is beyond rare to find this out in a system beyond you having to look at each one.
- Any sales data they can capture. If they can’t, find out if they can API or connect with whatever 3rd party solution you want to use, such as a BI tool.
- Pass and fail of the program – think this way, what percentage of people pass the entire program? If it is anything higher than 70%, that could indicate it isn’t fully easy, but it isn’t fully difficult either. If it is above 85%- too easy. If it is 2%, well, that better be a program with massive upside – beyond what you think. A safe number is 50-60%, but again, you may say, we want 25% pass rate for either program, or each level – that’s your choice.
- Will you be creating the content/courses? If yes, do you want a built-in authoring tool – which will never be something that a person with a background in ID will find useful. It is meant to be easy and simplistic, and thus not robust. Commercial tools are more robust – I recommend cloud-based that have or can be API/integrated into the system.
- Will you be purchasing 3rd party content? Remember you will have to provide this free to the end-user. You cannot charge for it.
- If you are outsourcing the build of courses/content to a course developer, than yeah, you can charge your end-users.
Certification programs can be low cost or high-cost, but always know your audience. Charging $3,000 for your program, which has limited upside, won’t work. You may have a strong program and decide to charge $450 for the entire program. Again, it is your choice. I have seen programs that the cost is so high, it limits people who want to go thru the program. We are dealing with inflation – globally, and a recession may not be far off – globally.
Who will be reviewing the program results along the way? The person overseeing the program, or a few folks or Mr. Greenjeans?
Will the program be so difficult to figure out that you see a high drop out rate? Then this will be an indicator that there are problems within the program itself. Never go MOOC here, your completion rates will be awful.
What will the badge designation look like? If it looks like something you could draw at eight years old, then yeah, not a win. If you are unsure on badge options and what the system to handle it – check out a vendor called Credly. There are systems that use this. My preference is hire or have someone in house create a very nice badge. Don’t go with some clip art here.
Lastly, think of the golden rule.
The benefit the end-user will they pass and complete the program,
Will be gold to them.