Certified, credentialed = credible?

I participated in a webinar on CompTIA’s certificate for online trainers.  I hadn’t heard of the CompTIA CTT+ before (that’s “certified technical trainer”) but they probably hadn’t heard of me, so we were even.  All I’d done was enroll for the session as part of preparing for a project that will involve training and evaluating instructors.

I’m of two minds about certificates, credentials, what-have-you.  On the one hand, in an ideal world you’d like a way of determining that those who provide some service or carry out some task have the competence to do so.  Yet few of us look much past a certificate once it’s in place.

I’m similarly ambivalent about ISPI’s certified performance technologist status, though I am a CPT; you have to renew every three years, and I can’t decide what the benefit would be, other than retroactively justifying the initial fee and the subsequent renewal.  An odd way to approach professionalism.

It seems to me that in the corporate and organizational worlds, the number of such designations is exploding.  I wonder if the field will turn into a clone of real estate or life insurance, where every other practitioner has a little flotilla of letters after his name.

(I’ve started noticing ads from real estate agents pointing out that they are certified distressed property experts. Where was all this expertise when the housing bubble was expanding?)

CompTIA is the Computer Technology Industry Association ( “the voice of the world’s $3 trillion information technology industry,” if they do say so themselves).  Apparently they have developed a number of IT certification examps for things like networking, server technology, and RFID.  The CTT+ certificate (which comes in two forms: “certified classroom training” and “certified virtual classroom trainer”) is based on performance-based exams — e.g., you take a written test, and then submit a recording of yourself conducting a virtual classroom (i.e., synchronous online) training session.

No tidy conclusion here — I’m hoping people might join in with their own thoughts on the value of certification (or, conversely, the value of having ways to assess competence in some area).

Photo of stained glass window by cobalt123.

4 thoughts on “Certified, credentialed = credible?

  1. I actually have the CTT+, back from my days as a face-to-face corporate software trainer. It was a requirement where I worked, along with the Microsoft Office Specialist certifications, because that was part of the marketing for why people should use our company’s training. The company owner was a strong believer that he could market our services better if we had the sheets of paper saying we knew what we were doing.

    I can actually see the process of getting the CTT+ being a decent learning experience if you were a trainer without much prior experience. If they have good materials for learning the virtual trainer info, it could be actually be useful. Granted, you could spend that same time taking a general course in learning how to train online, instead of something specific to their standards. But the fact that this certification is more than just an exam and they actually evaluate you teaching is a better measure of quality.

    CompTIA is a big name in IT; the A+ certification is pretty common. My husband was required to get it for a help desk job. I don’t think people outside of IT usually know it though.

    In discussions about whether instructional designers should have to get masters degrees or not, I think I’d rather see some measurement of skills that doesn’t necessarily require graduate school. I’d rather have a focus on the skills you demonstrate than the path you took to gain the skills. Certifications like CTT+ where there’s a practical demonstration (videos of teaching, portfolio of work, etc.) do have some value. They aren’t perfect, but it’s at least something.

    I’d love for us to all get to a point where we can have online portfolios of everything we do and for HR people to have enough knowledge to evaluate them, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. Until we are, shortcuts for portfolios like practical certifications are a decent compromise.

  2. Christy, I’m so glad you took the time to comment. As I said, I didn’t know of the IT/tech connection that CompTIA had, though I’m well aware of the welter of certifications in the IT field.

    Based on the webinar I sat through, there’s a strong bias in favor of a traditional training model — even the certificate for online instruction is in “virtual classroom.” One of the instructors said that PowerPoint should be the structure (as in foundation) of your session.

    I think what she really meant was, you need a way to help participants maintain focus, especially in a synchronous session. I won’t argue much with that, but I might end up discussing one or two of the sample questions (and suggested “right answers”) in a post.

    I see a big difference between an instructional designer and an instructor, though — and I am really not sure how you’d create an assessment just for the designer.

    I wish I had the answer — I could rebrand myself, trademark some phrase, and move into the big time.

  3. I don’t know much about the certification you’re talking about, but for certifications in general, I’ve always felt that certificates get you the interview, and ability gets you the job, as it were.

  4. I would agree that they have more of a traditional teaching philosophy, although I wondered if that would shift somewhat with the virtual trainer. From what you describe, it’s “PowerPoint and talk” for both. I did think it was a little odd that they’re so focused on synchronous online learning and totally ignore asynchronous training. I realize colleges are much more likely to be asynchronous than corporations, but I’m still not convinced the certification should focus on only one method of online training. I’d be interested to see the sample questions and answers to get a better idea of how they handle it.

    The fact that there are no industry-wide generally recognized certifications for instructional designers reflects the problem you mentioned above. How do you evaluate the work so it has any meaning? Even if you did something similar to the CTT+, with a multiple choice exam in combination with a work sample, what would you test? Models and philosophies vary widely, obviously. Much of my work would likely not pass muster with a hard core behaviorist.

    When I got the CTT+, there was another trainer who was also working towards the certification at the same time. She’d been a technology teacher in a parochial school for a number of years, so she had a lot of real world classroom experience. She bombed the multiple choice test; she was nowhere near passing. One of her observations was that you really had to answer the questions based on their philosophy and value judgments. Sometimes the “wrong” answers were techniques that would work in certain situations or that just relied on a different approach to teaching. I will certainly admit that I passed that exam by memorizing as much as I could of the 100-page study materials so I knew the keywords to look for. The exam itself has much less value, in my opinion, than the practical assessment of a panel of experts reviewing a recording of your training.

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