How Frequently Should Learners Recertify?
Recertification adds value to your program, and an extra revenue stream to your business.
Many course instructors understand the value of return customers. Attracting and recruiting new learners takes a lot of work, whereas learners who have already made a purchase from you are more likely to make another purchase in the future.
Because of this, many online instructors require students to become recertified after a certain amount of time has elapsed. However, while selling recertification can add an extra revenue stream to your business, it can frustrate learners who don’t want to retake a course. After all, they already paid for certification once—why should they pay again?
The answer depends on what you’re selling, and what industry you operate in.
For one, taking a course once and passing a test isn't actually an effective way to learn something long-term, nor is it a useful way to ensure a certified learner is still qualified to hold their certification.
And for another, industries change. The faster a particular industry undergoes shifts in its structure, the more frequently learners will need to obtain re-certification. There may also be legal requirements involved, particularly if your course has anything to do with food safety or health practices.
Finally, recertification is an important part of protecting the value of your program long-term. A learner who earned certification once and then lost some of that knowledge brings down the reputation of your program, which hurts both you and any other students who hold that certification.
Recertification can be a tough sell, but if you’re struggling to explain it to learners, or to establish an effective recertification timeline, here’s where to start.
Are there regulatory requirements?
This one’s easy. Begin by checking within your industry to see if there are any regulations mandating a timeline for recertification. Some fields require annual recertification, while others expect every three or five years. If a standard has been set, not only will you need to follow it, but you won’t have much luck convincing someone to recertify ahead of schedule.
Soft or practical skills?
Some skills, like riding a bike, last for a long time after you learn them. This is because practicing them relies on outside stimuli, and usually doesn’t involve overriding any bad habits. If you ask someone to perform a procedure they’ve rehearsed many times, they will remember that task for a long time, although they might be a little slower to complete it if it’s been a while.
On the other hand, other skills are “perishable,” meaning they quickly expire without practice. This is more common of soft skills, such as conflict resolution or leadership training. Someone learning how to de-escalate tensions between employees at work hopefully doesn’t have to use those skills very frequently, but they need to be able to draw upon them when needed. Therefore, perishable skills need more frequent recertification than practical ones which will see daily use.
How long will it take a learner to lose a skill without practice?
You might assume that a learner taking your certification course means to put that skill to use right away. They probably think they will, too!
But, plans change.
A learner might take a certification program expecting to use it for their job but then find work doing something different that doesn’t require that certification, the training they earned won’t last forever. For instance, if they work in a restaurant, they may be required to achieve sanitation and hygiene certification. If they earn it once and then go work a desk job for five or six years, it’s unlikely they’ll remember any of their certification by the time they return to the restaurant industry.
The key here is to determine how quickly a learner might lose a skill without regular practice. The more rapidly that skill is likely to deteriorate, the more frequently learners should recertify.
That said, frequency does not necessarily lead to effectiveness. Part of determining how frequently to require recertification means determining how effective recertification can be. Running your learners through a mandatory annual refresher course does not guarantee learning. In fact, it may cause learners to feel overconfident, as they are able to easily renew their certification without any additional trial of their skill.
Do you want learners to re-certify, or undergo ongoing learning?
Some industries change very rapidly, in which case you may want to bill your recertification program more as ongoing training than a repeat of whatever they did last time.
For instance, if a learner holds a technological certification that’s more than a few years old, they probably aren’t qualified anymore. Progress happens at such a rapid pace, that even certification providers have to stay on their toes to keep up.
By requiring learners to re-certify under these conditions, providers ensure that the qualification means something to employers. Otherwise, learners with outdated certification could give the course a bad name, jeopardizing your ability to sell more certification, and tarnishing the credentials of other certificate holders.
How can you sell recertification to your learners?
It’s likely you’ll face some resistance if you require recertification after a certain period of time has passed. Some of your learners may recertify grudgingly, and others may decide to leave altogether. Given these conditions, how should online educators address the need for recertification without risking backlash?
The best answer is: communication. Very few learners will be upset by the prospect of recertification if they’re aware of its necessity beforehand. Your ideal scenario is for students to understand the reasons behind recertification before they sign up for your course. That way, they will have very little cause to complain when their certification expires.
It isn't hard to justify recertification to your learners, so long as you're up-front and honest about it. Most of your learners will understand the necessity of refreshing their knowledge, particularly in the case of perishable skills. And many more will recognize the need for additional training in a changing industry, and may even be grateful for the updated course material.
However, forewarned is forearmed, and learners appreciate advance notice. Keep learners informed of your certification process, and you will avoid a lot of unnecessary miscommunication.
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