Blog Post

Certifications: Moving Towards Mastery Using Assessments

Robyn Hazelton
June 30, 2021
Certifications with Intellum

It's 2021. Certifications are not a new thing. But the ways companies (and learners) leverage them is evolving, and we want to help you get ahead of the certifications curve.

Fact: Companies that offer certifications reap many benefits. 

  • Differentiation in the marketplace. Novel concepts. New tools. Cutting-edge processes. Owning expertise and building curriculum around novel topics sure makes it look like that company knows their stuff. Plus, it removes the assumption that buyers have to know what they’re doing before buying, and brings the market up to speed with the pace of their innovation. 
  • Smarter customers make stickier customers. Companies with formalized education programs experience increased customer loyalty, deeper engagement, and easier customer acquisition. Certification ensures a level of competency, the impact of which often results in fewer support tickets and better product adoption. 
  • An army of raving fans. Users who participate in formalized education programs, particularly ones that involve certification, become self-appointed customer champions inside their organizations. Even better, they often take your products with them when they move on to new companies.   

“Certifications can be a great addition to any education program as customers who are proficient in your organization’s tools are likely to get much more out of them, leading to increased retention, loyalty, and advocacy,” said Greg Rose in the article on marketing certifications by CMSWire, chief experience officer at Intellum, a leading education platform provider.

Here’s the truth. A world-class certification program moves people through levels of proficiency. So, if you don’t have a world-class certification program built into your customer education initiative yet, keep reading. 

We’re going to cover the assessment spectrum, the difference between certificates of completion and true certifications, and show how they all have a role in the journey to mastery. Stick around to the end to find out how you can use one platform to do it all.

Hot Take on Certification: It’s a Journey, Not Just a Destination 

What comes to mind when you think of certification? 

Perhaps, getting certified as a lifeguard, realtor, or medical assistant and taking a test every four years to renew it? Getting a skill certification to level up in your career? 

The definition of certification is “an official document attesting to a status or level of achievement.” It’s the formal confirmation of being able to competently complete a job or a task. But does having earned an official certification indicate mastery? Not necessarily. 

What comes to mind is Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, where he explains that to master a craft, it takes 10,000 hours of practice. But spending 10,000 hours repeating a single task doesn’t really fly in the real world, especially at work. 

That’s where the modern certification program comes in. 

A great example of this is HubSpot. HubSpot Academy offers content, courses and certification on HubSpot products and on topics like marketing, sales, and service. Read a blog, take a course, take a test, earn a badge, go for a certification. Each of those is a step on the path to mastery. By offering a wide variety of content, course, and certification offerings, their learners achieve ever-increasing levels of proficiency.

So what’s the right way to take a user on a journey to mastery? 

Behold, The Assessment Spectrum 

Lace up those hiking boots, friends. It’s time to climb Mastery Mountain, and it’s going to take 10,000 hours. Sike! That’s a surefire way to fail. Break up that climb into smaller milestones utilizing the assessment spectrum to build an interesting, fun (and more achievable) journey to the summit. 

Assessments -- exams, quizzes, tests -- are used as a way to help ensure content “sticks” with a learner. If you think about content as the path up the mountain, assessments are the check-points. The benches, water stations, and lookout points that give learners a chance to stop and rest, reflect, and ensure the content they are consuming is being absorbed.

Each level of completion is helping the learner move through the journey. As Vicky Kennedy, chief strategy officer at Intellum, explains in our recent Underscore webinar on developing a world-class certification program, aligning audience segments to goals helps you craft the learning journey more effectively. 

Let’s look at the assessment spectrum from low to high stakes:

Low-stakes assessments 

The level of an assessment’s stakes refers to the impact the assessment has on the learner, not necessarily how easy or hard it is for the learner to complete. A low-stakes assessment is a form of evaluation that doesn't impact final outcomes, and could be considered a knowledge check on a learning path. Use low-stakes assessments to break down what the learner has actually digested. 

A low-stakes assessment in a customer education program might be a short multiple-choice quiz at the conclusion of a session of instructor-led onboarding. 

Medium-stakes assessments 

In the middle, you find more robust learning checks that are diagnostic in nature -- aka, where are you on Mastery Mountain? An example of this in the customer education world is a course that ends in a test. Passing it earns the learner a certificate of completion, and a badge to share on social media. 

Sometimes this type of assessment supports gap-learning, specialty, or skill-boosting programs. Certificate of completion-style assessments demonstrate level of attainment of a topic, and are frequently used in customer education programs to help learners advance in their customer lifecycle and demonstrate skills achieved (and gives Customer Success teams a way to segment out users who are internal champions from those who may need a higher-touch). 

The development of this type of assessment does, as you’d expect, take more effort than the creation of low-stakes assessments. You will likely involve subject matter experts and instructional designers to ensure the course content and evaluation of knowledge and skills is moving the learner through levels of proficiency. 

High-stakes assessments 

A high-stakes assessment demonstrates a broadly accepted level of proficiency or documents a verifiable learning outcome. It can often aid in a person’s advancement to the next step in their career. And this is typically where a true certification comes into play. 

In high-stakes assessments, exams are structured to ensure security, safety, and measurement of verifiable outcomes. These exams are proctored to verify the identity of the test-taker, to ensure cheating isn't taking place, and to mitigate questions being stolen or shared. The creation of this type of exam involves more work than the creation of a low-stakes quiz, from job tasks analysis, to carefully planned question development, establishing pass/fail scores, etc. 

A high-stakes assessment might also require a learner to have completed specific coursework, have earned prior-level certifications, or have documented a certain number of hours of experience before being able to take the exam. High-stakes assessments often require a learner to pay to take the exam - but not always.  

An example is Facebook’s Blueprint certification program, which gives learners a chance to become a Facebook-certified professional, at no cost.

Facebook awards credentials to learners who complete advanced-level proficiency in various aspects of digital marketing with Facebook products. Earning a Facebook Blueprint Certified designation may allow a learner to advance to the next step in their career. 

Indeed put together a really great list of in-demand career certifications that really drives our point home about the various levels and assessments. 

All of the types of assessments help guide learners through increasing levels of mastery. So how do you build these into your professional learning program? 

How Intellum Designs Certification Programs That Lead to Mastery 

When it comes to helping you design a program to move your learners towards mastery, we don’t mess around. 

Intellum's certification capabilities include content creation and delivery, smart course architecture, exam creation and delivery, badging, and fully integrated proctoring.

Not to give away our secret sauce, but here is how we do it: 

  • Configuration: You can manage and create a wide array of assessments, from quizzes, surveys, and evaluations, to high-stakes exams. Loads of question types, scoring capabilities, and timed exam options aid in the development of fun, fair and professional exams. Intellum even offers things like adaptive assessments, which help your learners measure progress toward completion by tracking each section of an assessment, and giving you the ability to add actions that recommend learning content if a learner falls shy of mastery.
  • Security: For those high-stakes assessments that need to ensure the test taker is who they say they are and isn’t doing shady stuff, there are a number of measures to put in place: safe exam browser, Honorlock remote proctoring integration, randomized question order, randomized multiple choice answers, question pools, question watermarking.
  • Recognition: Create interactive custom badges and certificates, and give your learners the ability to share socially. Need open badging support? We can integrate with external credential solutions like Certmetrics and Credly
  • Scale: Need to create dozens of different types of exams, deliver them across the word, at high volume? We’ve got you covered. With translation support, assessment versioning, and feedback surveys, you can easily scale a program from small to massive. 
  • eCommerce support: For paid learning initiatives, we’ve got you covered. Create paid courses or assessments, set up coupons and discount codes, team purchases, and more. 

With Intellum, you can create, manage, and deliver not just assessments, but all of the various types of content that support the learning journey.

TLDR: The Certification Journey and The Importance of Assessments 

Let’s address the misconception that if you are certified, you are automatically a master. It’s quite the opposite. To become the master, you NEVER stop learning. (Insert cheesy kung-fu quote here).

This doesn’t mean that a learner in the beginning stages of your customer lifecycle can’t achieve the outcomes they desire - they most definitely can! But truly successful customer education initiatives are designed to move your users through progressive levels of proficiency, constantly improving product knowledge and skills. Empowering learners to learn constantly leads to better business outcomes for the company.  

We covered the differences between certifications and a certificate of completion, the assessments that make certifications work, and how to design a program with all of this in mind. 

Look at certifications through the lens of continuous customer education. As your products and services evolve and mature, so should your education initiatives. 

And, Intellum is with you every step of the way. 

About the Author

Robyn Hazelton headshot
Robyn Hazelton
Vice President of Marketing and Growth
Robyn is the VP of Marketing and Growth at Intellum and helps to ensure that every interaction an individual has with the brand is as awesome as possible. An experienced and trusted leader with a history of consistently impacting revenue, she's always talking about funnel management and biased toward action.