In my previous blog post, I discussed the difference between “Accreditation” and “Certification.” Without repeating, the essence of that post was that an individual cannot be accredited. Individuals, however, can be certified – meaning earning a certification. But what can they be certified for and what do they get a certificate for?

One of the problems organizations experience when they begin to develop certification programs is the lack of a common understanding of what “to certify” actually means. The Institute for Credentialing Excellence has the best and most recognized definitions under the credentialing umbrella, including certification. My last blog post detailed some of these definitions. That blog’s impetus was the claim of a notable organization advertising on one of my professional association web sites that they would “accredit” participants of a weekend workshop. I have addressed whey they can’t “accredit” individual participants (see previous blog post), but now will tackle why someone cannot be certified after just a weekend workshop.

Certification or to be certified implies some learning, in most cases of professional certification, the learning is substantive and transformative. The proof of learning is demonstrated through assessment scores that are above an accepted standard. This is a rather simple take, but in essence, this is what a certification (of an individual) pertains to. A weekend workshop, especially without assessment, is not sufficient for certification. What the organization putting on these workshops really means is that the workshop participants will be granted a “certificate” for their attendance at the workshop – a type of recognition for being there.

certification and a certificate may sound similar and obviously these terms are mixed up frequently. But they are in no way equal, synonymous or in any way meant to signify the same thing. As you now know, a certification requires a lengthy and relatively intense process, and is award by an employer, vendor, association or an independent agency. Certifications are given by the granting body only after predetermined standards have been met by the individual receiving the certification. On the one hand, a certificate is granted to acknowledge participation in something, some event, like a workshop. A certificate is not a guarantee of learning by the participant, nor an endorsement of learning by the granting body. A certification, on the other hand, is a guarantee of learning, because the individual has demonstrated learning on rigorously-developed, standardized, assessments. For this reason, the granting organization endorses the participant’s demonstrated learning or content mastery.

A well-designed certification program meets the needs of the public (who want and require certified individuals to perform specific tasks for them), the organization that maintains it, the target audience (those who are certified) and other stakeholders.

So, a certificate and a certification are not the same. Don’t confuse them. Think of it this way… you if you have to work hard learning material, putting learning into practice, and demonstrate learning in order to practice, you have earned a certification. If you simply show up, you get a certificate.