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The Elephant in the Room

Offering training programs is something that most certifying agencies consider taboo.  If the subject comes up among a group of certification professionals, within a split second the rationales are flying:

It's a conflict of interest.  It's against NCCA standards.  That's the association's purview.  Matter of fact, I found the following training policy on the web (organization name removed to protect the "innocent"). 

"Because of its third-party status as an independent provider of certification, the ___ is unable to offer training. Third-party providers of services are generally prohibited from offering any related service because of a potential conflict of interest in the outcome of the certification process.

Offering both training and certification is also expressly against the rules of professional certification as laid down by the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). ___is an NCCA-accredited organization 

Nevertheless, ___ considers training to be vital to the certification process. Indeed, one of its principal aims has been to stimulate the recognition for the need for professional instruction in the knowledge and skills that define ___ competency."

It is not In violation of NCCA standards to provide training programs (or even prep courses) related to certification programs.  Providing them is not the problem.  REQUIRING THEM is a problem (can you say, tying arrangement? - as in tying the certification product to the training product).  Stating or implying that the training is the only available route to certification is also a problem. (See NCCA Standard 2 Commentary D.)

Let's think logically.  Who other than the organization that identified the body of knowledge would be most qualified to create training based upon it?  Isn't it supportive of your mission to support/improve the competency of professionals in the field?

Of course, you need to approach training development and delivery responsibly.  Individuals directly involved with certification test item writing should not be involved in course development or delivery.  If you are part of a membership association or have a relationship with one that already has this type of training, you should be respectful of that, and work with them to see what configuration makes sense (ideally, you'll find an appropriate role for both parties).  You'll need to be very careful in your promotions of the training.  Again, do NOT require it or state/imply it is the only route to certification available.  And, don't make any promises about the link between taking the training and passing the certification test.  Matter of fact, having disclaimers regarding that is a great idea.

In the end, you may decide that training isn't something your organization should or could do, and that's okay.  My aim is not to convince you that you should.  It is not always appropriate, strategic, and/or profitable.  But, let's be clear, certifying agencies CAN offer training.

So, how does all this relate to curriculum-based certificate programs?  Check out this post on the We Have Always Done It That Way blog.

PGI Friday: Certification Blogs

I've been searching for a certifying agency sponsored blog, but can't find one.  Why not?!!!  Of course a blog wouldn't be right for every organization, but I urge you to consider the possibilities.

There are several certification-related blogs on line that are NOT sponsored by the certifying agency.  These include Ben Martin's Certified Association Executive blog and the CitrixExperience.com blog (there are many similar IT industry certification blogs).  These types of blogs can be great promotion for the certifying agency.  Ben, for example, is clearly a CAE evangelist and ASAE & the Center can be relatively confident that his blog will only serve to positively spread the CAE word.  However, that may not be the case for all bloggers so certifying agencies would be wise to monitor to blogosphere to see what's being said about them.

There are some websites that let you search blogs by keyword (such as Technorati) BUT there is a huge limitation to using these.  Only posts from bloggers that take the time to tag each post show up here.  And, unfortunately, many bloggers (including me) do not currently tag their posts.  Should we/they be tagging?  Absolutely, but blogging already takes time; tagging takes more.  (Note to self:  make time to tag. ;-))  I prefer Google Blog Search because it doesn't require manual action by bloggers to be included - thus it tends to be more inclusive.  It's in beta form right now and it's goal is to include all blogs that publish a site feed (either RSS or Atom).  I searched several terms that I know have been discussed in the association blogoclump and the results were pretty thorough.

But, back to why you should consider blogging.   Blogging can be a great way to connect with your customers (applicants, certificants, educators, employers, specifiers, etc.).   Here are some things I think a certifying agency blog could include.

  • Updates on testing sites and deadlines, results of exams, when new study guides/groups are available, calls for volunteers, etc.  (Personally, I think there's danger in focusing entirely on news as it could get boring and more about what you want to push out versus want readers are interested in.  But, including news among other posts would be good.
  • Links to industry publications/articles that address your content outline
  • Study tips for candidates
  • Answers to frequently asked questions about the certification and examination
  • Announcements of new certificants
  • Profiles of and/or interviews with certificants or other stakeholders
  • Case studies of success stories (like organizations that have written the certification into career laddering/promotions/raises systems)
  • Guest certificant bloggers sharing "a day in the life of a (certificant)"

This is just a beginning of ideas.  If you consider creating a blog, do some reading about effective/successful blogs first (search Google and you'll find plenty).  Realize blogs are not just another website.  You shouldn't just post static documents - like a PDF of FAQs.  Instead, it'd be better to post something like, "Our staff has been getting a lot of questions about x this week so I thought I'd share some..."  The tone should be light and conversational, and this can be quite a change for some associations!  So, do your homework.  Check out lots of blogs to see what you like and don't, and what would serve your customer needs best.  Ask them what blogs they read and why.

Some of the benefits of blogging include:

  • It's a efficient vehicle to communicate relevant news, models, ideas, and opinions with your customers.
  • With syndication, your content is delivered right to your customers' computers the moment it's posted.    In other words, they don't have to take it upon themselves to go to your website to check for updates (who has time for that?).
  • Probably, most importantly, it's an opportunity to really connect with your customers in a more personal way.

I hope you'll considering experimenting with a blog for your certification program...and let us know how it works.

Next Generation Credentialing

Next week at the NOCA conference, Shannon Carter and I will be co-presenting a session on Next Generation Credentialing:  Innovative Products, Models and Services.  At last year's conference, Shannon and I were sitting next to each other in a session on the future of credentialing.  We were completely uninspired by the "we've always done it that way" tone of the session, and inspired to present our own session with an entirely different tone this year.

If you're at the conference, please join us on Friday, Nov. 17th at 10:30 a.m. for a frank discussion on how to adopt a next generation credentialing mindset in order to view program assets differently and to use that thinking to repurpose tangible assets and intellectual capital into non-exam products and services.  Study guides, practice tests, curriculum-based certificates, self-assessments, learning activity databases, CE provider accreditation, and business-to-business products and services will be among the models shared.

I've also agreed to facilitate a discussion at the Saturday morning networking breakfast.  I'm not convinced my assigned topic, "Diploma Mills" will draw much of a crowd or inspired discussion.  I seem to recall that this same topic was listed last year and the table discussed something else.  So, I'm ready and willing to do the same (perhaps more on next generation credentialing?), so if you're there, come my table and I guarantee we'll find something meaningful to talk about.

Not attending the conference?  Stay tuned;  I'll be sharing some of the ideas and session discussion outcomes here after the event.