IT Certification and Training

September 21, 2010

Certification and Elements from “Drive” by Daniel H. Pink

Filed under: certification, education — Jim Henderson @ 17:03

In my last post, I had said that I’d next be writing about the delivery elements in the learner-centric model.  I’ve actually been working on identifying those for several months (much longer than I had anticipated), and I’ll return to that topic when I’m understanding better how those things all come together in the learner-centric model.

As I’ve been working through that topic, I’ve also been reading books on a wide variety of topics that all loosely tie in to learning and education.  Today, as I was reading Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, I got to the section on mastery, and I got to thinking as I was reading the section about how that idea fits in with technical certification and even how it helps me understand what, in my one of first posts in this blog, I described as my skepticism about technical certification.

Before we talk about certification, we need to define what it is.  Certification is a measurement of the minimal knowledge or skill required to perform a task or a job.

Thus, one who is a Certified Public Accountant is someone who has passed an exam that is used to measure their minimum qualifications to act as an accountant.  Someone who has not passed that exam has not met the minimum requirements to enter that profession.

The same is true of any profession that has a certification or licensing requirement.  You wouldn’t want to engage a lawyer who had failed the bar exam for the jurisdiction, but we all probably would agree that a lawyer who passed by 1 point, while they may not be our first choice to represent us in court, is someone who has met the requirements to be licensed to practice law.

This brings me to the Pink book:  In the section on mastery, Pink talks about people being driven by wanting to master a skill or a topic.  On page 96 (of the eBook version available from Barnes & Noble), there is discussion about teaching a group of 5th and 6th graders a set of skills and then, after they’ve validated they learned the materials, they were turned loose on problems that extended beyond what they’d learned.  Some students, described as “subscrib[ing] to the idea that brain-power is fixed” gave up on the problem and blamed their lack of intelligence for the lack of success.  A second set of students, though, who subscribed to the idea that intelligence can be increased, kept working and rather than blaming their lack of intelligence, didn’t “blame” anything – they recognized that “setbacks were inevitable on the road to mastery and that they could even be guideposts for the journey.” (Page 97).

Now, how does this play into my skepticism about technical certification?

Personally, I have always thought about my own technical skills in terms of attaining mastery rather than passing an exam.  Put simply, I didn’t want to be thought of as having met a minimum requirement, but rather as having attained mastery of the subject matter.  With that in mind, I didn’t bother taking exams that proved how smart I was, because so many people see certification as an end point rather than as a checkpoint.

Put another way, attaining mastery is about the journey, rather than the destination.

To that end, though, certification serves a very useful purpose:  To help check along the way that the individual is learning what they need to learn in order to be on the right road to get them to mastery.  With the learner-centric model, one of the ideas is to help with the iterative process of learning, assessing, and refining, and certification can be a useful tool in order to help with refining the search for knowledge in order to progress towards mastery.

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