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July 2009

Certificate Program or Certification?

What's the difference?  Here's the table I often use to show the distinctions:


So, one of the key distinctions is that in certification, you may verify education/training received elsewhere (as an eligibility requirement), but you are not providing required training; you are assessing current knowledge and/or skill.  In a certificate program, in contrast, you ARE providing the required training/education and then assessing for the attainment of the intended learning outcomes of that training/education.  So, the focus of certification is on verifying past education and experiences and assessing current knowledge and skill.  In certificate programs, the focus is on providing the needed learning and assessing the attainment of it.

Also important, unlike certification (and more like a degree program), a certificate program does not have ongoing requirements and therefore cannot be revoked.  Once you receive a certificate, it's yours forever; there are no continuing education or re-examination requirements to maintain it.  However, certificate issuers should assign a term to the certificates in order to inform stakeholders of the currency and relevancy of any given certificate.   (Note, that if it is determined that the content of the certificate is unchanging, then the term may be indefinite.)  Consider, as an example the American Heart Association CPR certificate which has a term of 2 years.  There are no ongoing requirements to "maintain" the certificate, and it is never officially revoked.  But if you want or need a valid certificate,  you need to successfully accomplish the training/assessment again.

I'll cover designations more thoroughly another time, but the key point here is that both certification and certificate programs can issue designations and associated acronyms.  It is important, however, that certificate issuers that confer them do not state or imply the individuals are certified or licensed.