Credentialing 101

I’ve been inspired by a new colleague Jason to write more so I’ve dusted off the cat hair on my home computer keyboard, and I’m ready to go.

My precious little Palpatine Azrael

One thing I love in particular about instructional design is the variety of the job.  The unit I work in at OSU CETE is Assessment Services.  Before working with this unit, I didn’t know much about assessment besides knowledge checks and evaluation.  An organization that my employer is a professional member of has an online training program to become a Credentialing Specialist.  I am enrolled in the program, and I started going through the content today.  It is an asynchronous program that you must complete in 6 months.  In order to complete the program, there are 8 eLearning modules with quizzes at the end.  If you complete the program, you receive a digital credential from the organization and your name on a Powerpoint slide at their upcoming conference. If that doesn’t sweeten the pot nothing will 🙂  Besides the knowledge gained, a side prize to me is seeing another organizations eLearning and tearing it apart 🙂

The content today was introductory but important because it went through the definitions of words around credentialing. There are distinct differences between each of these so let’s explore them.


If you see or hear that something is accredited, that simply means that it is approved according to a set of defined standards. Often you hear about higher education institutions being accredited.  Through the lens of the U.S. Department of Education, this means that the institution is held to and maintains standards for learners to gain admission to other accredited institutions or to achieve credentials for professional practice.  Going down another level, the U.S. Department of Education recognized two types of accreditation: institutional and specialized.  Institutional is exactly what it sounds like, governing the whole institution whereas the specialized accreditation focuses on specific programs, departments, or schools.  To achieve accreditation, there has to be a governing body that verifies the predetermined and standardized criteria.

Certificate Program

Have you ever been a part of a certificate program?  A few years ago I completed ATD’s eLearning Certificate program.  I received a certificate from ATD at the end without receiving feedback on the final product, but I digress.  A certificate program is a training program on a topic for which participants receive a certificate of attendance and/or completion of the coursework.  Going back to my point about ATD, some programs also require successful demonstration of attainment of the course objectives but not necessarily. An important distinction is that a credential is NOT granted at the completion of a certificate program.  Since the types of certificate programs can vary, they can be classified into 3 types:

  • Knowledge-based- Usually a narrow scope of specialized knowledge used in duties and tasks required for a particular profession.
  • Curriculum-based- Individuals complete a course or series of courses and pass an assessment instrument.  The assessment must be based on the curriculum and may not represent a career field or professional practice.  Therefore, this type of certificate is not as defensible compared to a professional certification
  • Certificate of attendance or participation (aka, you can fog a mirror)

Certification Program

This can be defined as the standards, policies, procedures, assessments, and related activities through which individuals are publicly identified as qualified in a profession, role, or skill. Examples of this include Certified Public Accounts (CPAs) and Certified Life Underwriters (CLUs).

So what is credentialing?

Drum roll please……credentialing is an umbrella term that includes accreditation, licensure, and professional certification.

Is this clear as mud?  It can be a little confusing and as I continue to go through the program, I’ll share some examples to help solidify the terms.

Often times in learning and development, we don’t think about our programs through these lenses.  Lots of the content of this program will likely intersect some of the work I do.  As I continue to learn, I’ll share what I find is interesting.


National Commission for Certifying Agencies Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs


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