Building a certification program, Step 3: The Plan
NOTE: This is an ongoing series. To view all articles in the series, click here.
As one who has developed and managed several certification programs I have opted through a series of articles to share with you some of the key decisions, tools, and processes that are required to develop a successful certification program. In the first article in this series I shared the need to develop an operational definition that you and your leadership teams buy into.
In the second article in this series I demonstrated what I have found to be the key to getting leadership buy-in for a certification program — namely a simple graphical model that represents the high-level concept that is the foundation for your proposed program. The model, to be effective, must be simple to understand and communicate, logical in its approach, and finally must be stable in its representation of your program’s mission.
So now that we have a definition for certification and a simple logical model, we need a plan to tell us what we need to do to ensure the program meets the definition and will help us know where we are in the process. Have we reached a major milestone and when we do what happens next? This is in short, the opposite of the well-known axiom, “Those who have failed to plan, have planned to fail.” If we do not fail to plan, then success is assured.
The high-level plan I will share forms the outline of my fully articulated project plans and the basis of my project charters. Noting this, I must say that I have reviewed many such plans, including some that call for the development of a good business plan as the initial step.
My assumption, as one who must manage the program, is that those who are leaders in the organization already have ruminated on the business case for the program, as well as on the financials. What they are asking folks like you and me to do is to operationalize their ideas and provide a plan that they can follow and report out on.
My goal for this article is to provide you with a 50,000-foot view of the nine-step plan that I have had success with. The upcoming installments to this series will then do a deep dive into each step with examples and samples that you are free to use.
Here is a diagram that shows the plan:
Step 1: Identify the Roles to Be Certified
This is the step where you begin scoping for your program. This is the step where you lay the foundation for your program. Though this sounds quite intuitive and simple, it may take some time and negotiation to decide which roles you need to certify and how the role is identified in the workplace.
For example, say I wanted to certify chaplains. The question arises: Which type of chaplain? There are military, hospital, healthcare, palliative care, nursing home, and prison chaplains, as well as chaplain supervisors, chaplain educators — and the list goes on. This then takes us to Step 2.
Step 2: Research Current Role Description and Assigned Tasks
Once you have identified the role, then the work really starts — before you do anything else, you need to learn what the role’s duties, tasks and responsibilities are. If you don’t have a clear, documented idea of what a person in the role does, then how do you say that a person entering the role is certified to do the job?
Also, this is the step when you determine whether certification is truly needed. Will a simple assessment fill the bill? Would a 20-minute eLearning provide appropriate training? If certification is not needed, then what is the reason it is not needed?
A big part of the research done in this step is a Needs Assessment. If you discover that a certification program is needed, then based on whether the role is well documented or not you need to consider conducting an occupational analysis.
Step 3: Conduct Initial DACUM Occupational Analysis of Role
If you cannot find any recent literature on the duties and tasks done by the role, and you are committed to certifying those in the role, then an occupational analysis is imperative. You do not want to guess what those in the role do.
DACUM is only one way to conduct an occupational analysis. After much research and discussion, I concluded that DACUM was the fastest and most accurate way to capture the data for a certification program. DACUM helps you define what those in the role do. Once you have reached consensus with your DACUM panel, management must be brought on board.
Step 4: Conduct Occupational Validation and Management/Leadership Review
Once you have the data from an occupational analysis that lets you define WHAT those in the role do, it is best practice to get the data validated, edited, or modified by both the management team and the leadership team. By having an occupational analysis that reached consensus with those in the role but does not have the blessing of the management and leadership will bring into question the validity of the final certification program. Once you have management’s input you can go onto Step 5 where you examine in detail each task performed by those in the role.
Step 5: Conduct Task Analysis
Where the occupational analysis informs you what the role does, the task analysis informs you how the role does each task. It helps you with curriculum development and with assessment development, both cognitive and performance-based assessments.
At this point, we are done with data analysis. One point to note is that more than half of the plan involves data analysis. Now we move on to using the data for curriculum, assessment, and certification development.
Step 6: Develop Learning and Assessment Blueprint
What you do with the data from your various assessments and analyses is critical to your program’s success. Following the counsel of two good friends, I developed a way to blueprint a learning interaction and its assessment in Excel. Using this tool, I document the goals and objectives, and map tasks to objectives.
This is also the instrument where you can quantify, based on Bloom’s taxonomy, how critical an objective is, as well as how difficult it may be and, conversely, how critical and difficult a task is to perform. To be legally defensible, learning interactions and assessments must be objective-based.
Not topic-based, but objective-based!
The definition of an objective that I follow is this: An objective is “A description of a performance you want learners to be able to exhibit before you consider them competent” (Mager,1984).
According to Mager, objectives contain the following three components:
● Condition — Conditions under which the learner will act
● Action, Performance, or Behavior — Actions the learner will take when he or she has achieved the objective
● Criterion — How well the learner must perform the action to prove mastery
Once you have your objectives mapped to your tasks, it is time to enlist the services of the course developers, also know as the ISDs, your instructional systems design team.
Step 7: Develop and Deliver Role-Based Training
This is in my opinion the most, or at least one of the most, important steps you can take to ensure that certification participants will be successful in your program and in their careers. It is at this point in the plan when the course developers and trainers provide their expertise. Questions such as:
● Which curriculum model will be used?
● Is it a linear process or an iterative process?
● Will it be just-in-time training or some other formulation?
● Will the training be in-person, distance learning, eLearning, self-paced, virtual ILT, or some blended mix?
● What software is required for the development?
● Will we need to train-the trainers?
These are only some of the questions decided during this step. Could some of these questions be discussed and decided earlier than step 7? Absolutely.
What I am sharing here is portrayed like a linear process. That is because my assumption is that most who are just looking to discover what it takes to lead a certification program will be using the Addie Curriculum Development Framework, which is the simplest to understand and manage because it is linear process.
But to be quite candid, the way I manage these nine steps is far from linear. A lot of the order comes from the management and leadership questions during each certification effort. All of that is to say that the next step to be considered is the development and delivery of the certification assessments, tests, or exams.
Step 8: Develop and Deliver Role-Based Assessments
How well the assessment developers communicate with the course developers and follow the assessment blueprint will determine whether the participants rate the certification program as favorable and fair or unfavorable and quite unfair. Some the issues tackled during this step include:
● Number of tests
● Number of forms per exam
● Number of items per exam
● Type of tests
● Whether they are simply Bloom Level 1 and 2 multiple choice, or are more Bloom Level 3-6 knowledge-based
● Whether the exam will be a traditional form-based exam or whether you have the technology to launch adaptive exams
● How will you determine the cut score/the passing score
● Whether you incorporate oral exam format, role-playing format, or hands-on performance-based and if you do how will you score these non-traditional formats
● Who will design the scoring rubric for the tests?
● What do you charge for each attempt?
● How many times can a person retake the exam and in what time frame?
● What is your policy on cheating and on exam security?
Now that we have covered much of the plan it is time for the cherry on the cake.
Step 9: Develop and Deliver Role-Based Certifiaction
As we noted under Step 7 that this plan is not necessarily linear in process, it is safe to assume that many of the issues unique to this step are decided from the outset. Some of these issues include:
● Who will administer the certification?
● What will be the starting date for those wishing to be certified?
● When do you have to complete the certification? Is there an end date that your leadership requires?
● How long before someone has to recertify?
● What policies does your organization have for certification?
● Will the certification be for customers only, employees only, or some combination?
● What about CEUs, and/or certificates?
This is only the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully you have an idea of what will be covered in upcoming installments.
Now that you have a 50,000-foot view of the nine-step plan that I have used for certification program development, it is time to do a deep dive into each step with examples and samples you are free to use. In the next installment, we will examine in detail Steps 1 and 2.
As always, your comments and feedback are most welcome. To close I offer you:
STEP 1: IDENTIFY THE ROLE(S) TO BE CERTIFIED
STEP 2: RESEARCH CURRENT ROLE DESCRIPTIONS AND ASSIGNED TASKS
STEP 3: CONDUCT INITIAL DACUM OCCUPATIONAL ANALYSIS OF ROLE
STEP 4: CONDUCT OCCUPATIONAL VALIDATION AND MANAGEMENT/LEADERSHIP REVIEW
STEP 5: CONDUCT TASK ANALYSIS
STEP 6: DEVELOP LEARNING AND ASSESSMENT BLUEPRINT
STEP 7: DEVELOP AND DELIVER ROLE-BASED TRAINING USING THE ADDIE/CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT FRAMEWORK
STEP 8: DEVELOP AND DELIVER ROLE-BASED ASSESSMENT(S)
STEP 9: DEVELOP AND DELIVER ROLE-BASED CERTIFICATION