Should I Get a Certificate or a Certification?

🕑 4 minutes read | Mar 13 2024 | By Paul Sevcik, TTA Learning Consultant

Is there a difference?

I was recently on a mentoring call with someone new to the L&D profession and she asked an intriguing question: “Should I get a certificate or a certification? Is there a difference?”

I thought of asking her what her goals are before giving her any guidance. I asked questions such as:

  • “What in your past really sparked your energy, creativity, and passion?”
  • “Would you like to sample focus L&D areas like Instructional Design, Facilitation, and eLearning development to help you determine your path forward?”
  • “Would you prefer to commit to months of study and a final exam to attain letters after your name?”

The conversation was helpful for both of us. I’ll tell you what she decided at the end of this post.

Speaking From Experience

Throughout my career, I have attended a slew of certificate programs that gave me actionable knowledge in areas like Adult Learning Theory, Writing Skills for Trainers, and Virtual Facilitation. These certificates allowed me to share my knowledge with my team after each class. In fact, that was part of the deal with my employers: if they invested in my learning, I would bring those golden nuggets of knowledge to the company and start using them. Additionally, studies have found that having a certification is beneficial from a pay and career advancement perspective. I suggested this could be a path for her and made recommendations for which companies provide certificate programs. I also suggested a couple that have year-long memberships where someone can attend a variety of sessions (live or virtually) to sample the profession.

More recently, I started the process of becoming a certified coach through the International Coaching Federation. This process will take six to nine months and will require documented evidence of my capabilities before I receive the designation of Associate Certified Coach. Coaching is a skill I use consistently as an L&D professional, whether it is speaking with managers about how to have a difficult conversation with a direct report, a vice president designing their learning program, or helping a frontline employee ask for an investment in their learning. At the end of this journey, I can add the acronym ACC after my name to signify this achievement. While coaching is my path, you might choose to become an Associate Professional in Talent Development (APTD), a Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD), or perhaps a Certified Professional in Training Management (CPTM). There are so many choices and it is worth visiting the links to learn more about each.

Certificate vs. Certification. Just a War of Words?

At this point, you may be wondering which one costs more: a certificate or certification. You would be correct in guessing that a certification generally costs more when you combine dollars and sweat equity: the amount of time you’ll need to put into achieving those letters after your name. Let’s compare the two:

The certificates I have acquired through organizations like The Association for Talent Development and Langevin Learning Services each cost $1250-$2000. In aggregate, I have invested about $15,000 in certificates over my professional career (~15 years). Many of the classes I attended were ~16 hours long and required a bit of pre-work and some work between classes, but they were encapsulated and completed on the final day. Some providers might give you a multi-credit option to take several certificates at a discounted rate, such as the Freedom Pass I used with Langevin.

In contrast, the ACC certification I will attain in the next year has a price tag of $4000 (prices vary depending on the organization you study with), but also requires:

  • 60+ hours of coaching education
  • 100+ hours of coaching experience
  • 10+ hours of Mentor coaching
  • Successful performance evaluation
  • Passing score on the ICF credentialing exam

In case that certification reminds you of your school days, I suppose it is similar. I am learning a specific trade I can carry with me for life.

If you are wondering about the cost of an APTD, CPTD, or CPTM credential, visit their sites to learn more. An exam may cost as little as $495, but prep materials/classes can be purchased to help you. For the CPTM specifically, they take a bundled approach that includes the prep materials and final exam for $3495.

What did my mentee decide? As we wrapped our conversation, she decided to do more research and get back to me with additional questions. This is a journey and she wants to be well-informed before making her move.

Which is right for you? Only you get to decide! If you need some coaching along your journey, have a conversation with someone who has been on that road before.



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