December 9, 2021

What Makes a Good Certification?

What to Look For in Certifications: Three key traits to look for to find valuable certifications for students.

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Let’s be honest: the certification market could benefit from some improvement. As soon as schools opened up to the possibility of providing their students with certification opportunities, it seemed that companies hopped in to provide their own options, not always focusing on quality options! Now, schools and their staff must wade through a substantial collection of exams and certificates to find meaningful certifications for their students.

But how can schools differentiate between a certification that creates opportunities for their students and one that doesn’t? Below we outline three key traits to look for to find valuable certifications for students:

Green Flag #1: Relevance

The first trait to look for is relevance. The certification must be one that matches the skills that are in demand right now. To determine what skills and concepts are relevant, it’s important that someone who understands the industry is either part of the decision-making process or available for consultation.

There are many certifications in the technology and computer science fields that appear relevant to the untrained eye. But some certifications may be misleading. Among the  certifications in use today, many available options that were relevant 15 years ago have fallen out of favor or been replaced by new skills that are now more in demand.

Examples of commonly accepted relevant and irrelevant certifications include:

Certifications with the Relevance Green Flag:

  • Unity Certifications: according to CEO John Riccitiello, half of all games on the market are built with Unity, which makes this certification particularly valuable for the aspiring game developer.
  • CIW Certifications: CIW is one of the most recognized web technology education programs in the world. On top of that, many prominent corporations and agencies require applicants to have certification from this company.

Red Flag Certification Keywords:

  • Flash: Browser support for Adobe Flash officially ended in December 2020. In the development world, the phrase “Flash is dead” is commonly used. If a certification mentions learning Flash, steer clear of it.
  • Dreamweaver: Dreamweaver has long been in a decline. Primarily used to create Flash programs, the lack of browser support has acted as a nail in coffin for this tool, despite Adobe's efforts to revive it with updates. With such a downward trend in popularity, it’s best to avoid certifications that use or focus on Dreamweaver.
  • XHTML: Not to be confused with HTML, XHTML was replaced by HTML5 in the early 2010s. If a certification highlights XHTML as a feature, you’re better off looking elsewhere for web development education.

Green Flag #2: Exam Rigor

Once it is determined that a certification is relevant, the next step is to gauge whether or not it is suitably challenging. Many industry professionals in hiring positions will be well versed in which certifications show apt understanding and which are merely resume-fluff.

The ideal certification will challenge exam takers to accurately measure aptitude. This way, it will filter out candidates who are not ready to work in the industry. If a certification does not adequately test candidates, it will lose credibility when companies hire certified workers who underperform.

Examples of suitably and not suitably challenging certifications include:

  • Unity Certifications: Unity’s collections of certifications are famed for being rigorous. The study material itself recommends that test takers have 150 hours of Unity experience to pass the initial certification! Plus, their questions are kept private and change often, preventing memorization as an option. Instead, users must truly comprehend Unity.  
  • CompTIA:  though the programming community considers CompTIA to be a much easier set of certifications than Unity, it still takes users an average of 30 hours of study to successfully pass the first certification.
  • Adobe: though Adobe Dreamweaver isn’t a viable option, many of Adobe’s other programs (like photoshop and illustrator) are incredibly valuable to be certified in! Plus, Adobe, as a reputable company, designed respectable exams that ensure their test takers truly know how to interface with their complex software.
  • W3Schools Certifications: W3 doesn’t have the best reputation in the programming community, with some developers actively expressing disdain for the certifications. Along with documentation that is not always updated in a timely manner, the questions for obtaining certification are easier than many other certifications.

Green Flag #3: Practical Assessment

Finally, a certification should accurately measure students’ competency in the practical skills employers are seeking. This means that, instead of focusing on a student’s ability to memorize answers and vocabulary, the certification should focus on testing students on application skills.

Reading a manual on a game engine like Unity and reciting all the pages from memory is not the same as applying those skills in a real-world setting. A certification that adds value and reputability to your students will place emphasis on the latter, not the former.

Certifications with the Practical Assessment Green Flags:

  • Knowledge Pillars Certifications: Perhaps the greatest example of a certification that succeeds at this is the up and coming Knowledge Pillars Certifications. With in-app programming as part of their testing, certification-seekers will be able to truly gauge whether or not they can code in their chosen language.
  • Google Certifications: Google’s line of certifications also deserve special mention. As a program that focuses on project-based learning and testing, test-takers that obtain these certifications can be trusted to apply their knowledge on future challenges.

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Olivia has background in behavioral ecology and data analysis. She develops and implements SEO, CRO, social media strategy, and authors multi-disciplinary content for our blog, & our social media sites. She's contributed to many of the STEM tie-ins within our curriculum, authored our SEL course, and is a specialist in neurodiverse learning strategies.

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