What is the future of professional certification programs?
It has been said that, "Change is a constant." No one, however, has predicted that the speed of change will continue to accelerate. High-speed change requires professionals to gain new skills at a faster pace. And those skills have to be backed by the certitude of being able to apply new knowledge, in order to enable professionals to hit the ground running in a corporate environment. The need for professional certification programs will continue to be strong, with demand for (and participation in) such programs exploding, as a worldwide labor force eager to contribute to the global economy comes online. This context will require certification programs to be tailored to a mass market anywhere and anytime at a much lower cost.
Testing: Anytime, Anywhere!
To enable market expansion and global reach, certification programs will go digital, rendering both training and assessments online. With new auto/remote proctoring technologies supported by machine learning algorithms to prevent cheating, the need for taking certification exams in test centers with live proctors will be reduced dramatically. This will allow people with no reasonable access to a test center, to take certification exams anywhere that they have access to the internet. With the reduced need for test centers and proctors, the costs of certifications will also be lower.
Mass Customization: No More a Paradox
Going digital also has the advantage of making certification training more effective. When ad hoc assessments are embedded in the certification training program, adaptive learning algorithms can kick in, in real time, to adjust the curriculum of the training program to the individual's understanding. The subject matter can be learned the pace at which a test candidate wants to learn. Mass customization will be a critical component of all future learning programs. The same will be true when people are being assessed for the proficiency level of their skills. During the assessment phase the degree of difficulty of the assessment can be adjusted using adaptive testing algorithms that will determine the proficiency level of the person's skill.
Performance Based Testing
There is a growing need for people to be assessed for the application of knowledge. This essentially means, as Thomas Friedman of the NY Times said, whether people can demonstrate what they can do with what they know. And this calls for a new genre of assessments — performance based testing. In this form of assessment, test takers will be provided with an online assessment that simulates or emulates their work environment and are provided with real world problems to solve. For example, if a test taker needs to be certified for the usage of APIs, or an application development platform, the test taker will be asked to solve a real world problem using an interactive development environment (IDE) to demonstrate fluency with the API or the application platform.
The online assessment can then be automatically evaluated and scored by running test programs (created by the author of the test) against an emulator that represents the API or the application platform. Similarly, like a pilot is trained and partially assessed through flight simulators, certification programs will use simulators to train, assess and certify people on their ability to configure, say, Amazon Web Services (AWS), or a router/switch in a complex environment.
With digitization come issues around the authentication of the test taker as well as the theft of the assessment content. One can expect tighter controls on both these aspects. As such assessments become more performance based and adaptive, however, the ability and the need to cheat and steal test content that will be different each time can only go down.