Certification vs. Certificates

I posted earlier today about O'Reilly's Perl Programming Certificates that accompany several of their Perl based courses available now. Because I wasn't completely clear in my understanding of certificates vs. certifications, I used the word certification in describing their offering, when really I should have said certificate.

So what's the difference anyway? Do you get a certificate if you have a certification? If you have a certificate does that mean you are certified? I didn't find a canonical comparison between the two, but this web page seems to have a reasonable comparison between the two. Posting the table here:

Certification


  • Results from an assessment process that recognizes an individual's knowledge, skills and competency in a particular specialty

  • Typically requires professional experience

  • Awarded by a third-party, standard-setting organization, typically not for profit

  • Indicates mastery/competency as measured against a defensible set of standards, usually by application or exam

  • Standards set through a defensible, industry-wide process (job analysis/role delineation) that results in an outline of required knowledge and skills

  • Typically results in credentials to be listed after one's name (LNCC, ONC, CCRN)

  • Has on-going requirements in order to maintain; holder must demonstrate he/she continues to meet requirements

Certificate

  • Results from an educational process

  • For newcomers and experienced professionals

  • Awarded by educational programs or institutions often for-profit

  • Indicates completion of a course or series of courses with a specific focus (different than a degree granting program)

  • Course content determined by the specific provider or institution, not standardized

  • Usually listed on a resume detailing education

  • Demonstrates knowledge of course content at the end of a set period in time

While the words are very similar, and in some cases may appear to be the same but being used as a verb in one sense and a noun in the other, the actual implications of each are less subtle. So what are some real world examples?

Ever seen the movie Malice? "I have an M.D. from Harvard, I am board certified in cardio-thoracic medicine and trauma surgery, I have been awarded citations from seven different medical boards in New England, and I am never, ever sick at sea." Alec Baldwin's character was both certified, and certifiable (he was psychotic).

How about Cisco CCNA certification? That fits the mark of certification, but the fact that Cisco is the entity doing the certification and not a third party doesn't completely fit the definition point above - Awarded by a third-party, standard-setting organization, typically not for profit.

Let's look at certificates for a minute. We know O'Reilly offers them, and also so does the Big Nerd Ranch. Does that mean the diplomas that many of us spent a lot of money on are just certificates? Not exactly:

  • Course content determined by the specific provider or institution, not standardized
  • Indicates completion of a course or series of courses with a specific focus (different than a degree granting program)

After reading this, I hope the differences are a little bit clearer for you, I know they are for me.

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About Phred

user-pic I blog about Perl and mod_perl.