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Motivate and Reward Learners with (Credible) Certificates

— by Bill Cushard

Business goalsCourse developmentEmployee trainingJob trainingLearning development

Last year, I had the opportunity to evaluate an industry certificate program with the intent of making it available to employees as a skill development program. My evaluation included completing an entire series of courses, at the end of which I received a certificate of completion. The certificate was automatically generated, and I was able to print it out as an official record that I completed the program.

I was evaluating the program and in no direct way would completing it help me get ahead in my job beyond the fact that I would be well equipped to make an informed decision about whether the program should be made available to employees. The program took a fair amount of work, I learned new things, and I was proud that I completed it. It seems silly now, but I printed the certificate and tacked it up on my office wall (for everyone to see).

Or was it silly?

Looking at the certificate on my wall made me think about the question, “Should certificates be offered on all e-learning courses?” After all, I had a great feeling after completing the program, and I wanted to show it off. So the answer is, “Yes, but not on every e-learning course.”

Here’s why:

Certificates As Motivator

Here is the “Yes” part. We all know intuitively that intrinsic motivation is best, but extrinsic motivation can work too. Knowing that one could earn a certificate after completing a course can be motivating. The proof is that most of us have enjoyed receiving a certificate after completing training. Of course, if it is believed that anyone can get the certificate, and that the certificate is just clutter that holds no value in the organization, it will certainly not motivate anyone.

So, certificates should be used as a motivator, but not necessarily for every single e-learning course you design. Obtaining a certification should be a challenge and should be aligned with important and valuable competencies that your organization cares about.

Certificates as a Credible Credential

In order for a certificate to be a motivator, it must have value in the organization. In other words, they must be credible. Certificates must give employees the opportunity to visibly demonstrate their effort, initiative, and skills they have newly obtained. Otherwise, a certificate is just a piece of paper.

In order to be credible, certificates must:

Represent a Known and Significant Achievement: A certificate is more credible if it represents a known, significant accomplishment. A certificate is not a credible if one can be earned by completing a 15 minute tutorial. However, if a certificate is earned after completing a series of e-learning courses, then people in your organization will know you spent significant time and effort completing the courses.

Represent a Relevant and Important Topic: People in the organization, especially the leadership team, should show visible confidence in the people who have earned certificates. If managers take the certificates seriously, and put people to work on projects that requires the skills learned in that specific training, the certificates have value and are thus credible.

Mindflash Helps You Offer Credible Certificates

Certificates can be an important, visible element of e-learning that can motivate and reward people for the initiative they take to learn new skills. Mindflash offers learning designers the ability for certificates to be auto-generated at the completion of a series of courses. This is an important feature because it empowers designers to increase the credibility of the certificates by making them available only after completing a significant accomplishment of a series of courses.

How do you use certificates in your organization? Are they seen as valuable and credible? Share your stories in the comments below.

Bill Cushard, authorblogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technologist (HPT) with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Allonhill. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.

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