5 Most-Pressing Questions Facing Credentialing Today

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“The times they are a-changin’.” This observation by Bob Dylan perfectly captures the big shifts happening in the credentialing space and its intersecting spheres, including higher education, edtech, and the workforce. These sweeping changes impact everything from how we assess competency to how we use technology and prepare for the future of work.

In this article, we examine five key questions that highlight the current challenges and corresponding opportunities in credentialing. And just like another famous Dylan line—“The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” —we acknowledge that simple answers are elusive. That’s why we don’t intend to offer any. Every assessment is different, and the program that owns it has unique goals, needs, and constraints. Because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to these questions, we encourage you to consider how each one resonates with your own program or organization.

Question #1: How can AI enhance the assessment life cycle while ensuring ethical, fair, and legal practices?

A woman holding a tablet and interacting with a futuristic, holographic display of graphs and data visualizations

It’s no surprise that a question about AI tops this list. While this type of technology has been around for a long time, one of its subsets—generative AI—has taken the world by storm recently. Just as the early days of the internet changed how we communicate, find information, and conduct business, AI is disrupting how we interact with technology, make decisions, and solve problems in much the same way.

Indeed, AI seems poised to increase the efficiency and scalability of tasks across the assessment life cycle. Use cases range from aiding in job task analysis to helping with item writing and scoring. But it also poses serious challenges, including ethical considerations around bias and legal concerns about copyright infringement.

The use and regulation of AI are still moving targets, with new developments unfolding at a dizzying pace. As an industry, we must stay informed of these developments and adjust our policies to adhere to new legal and compliance standards. However, one principle should remain constant: Be transparent with all your stakeholders about the design and use of AI within your program. This will help you maintain their trust without sacrificing technological advancement.

Question #2: How can you tackle evolving biases in the credentialing cycle?

The world today better understands that biases extend beyond race and gender to include more nuanced forms, like cognitive, neurodivergent, cultural, linguistic, religious, and socioeconomic biases. This broader understanding challenges program owners to rethink their entire credentialing cycle—from test design and item development to delivery, scoring, and feedback mechanisms. Identifying areas in the cycle for improved accessibility and inclusion benefits everyone involved in the testing process.

Consider this: By involving subject-matter experts and item writers with more diverse backgrounds during test development, your program can better ensure its content is valid, reliable, and free from biases that could skew results. When your candidates feel that assessments are fair and reflective of their diverse perspectives and experiences, they better perceive the value and legitimacy of the credentials awarded. What, you may ask, could that lead to? Greater public trust and a more diverse workforce.

Question #3: What exam security threats are emerging, and how can you combat them?

Every assessment—regardless of format or modality—is subject to security risks and threats. As technology advances and global circumstances evolve, methods of cheating become more sophisticated and complex. These developments demand vigilance and responsiveness from security experts and those involved in test development, delivery, and analysis.

Even without a straightforward answer, this question is a catalyst for ongoing dialogue, research, and development among assessment professionals. Why? Because there are many ways to detect and monitor emerging threats and many tools for identifying suspicious behavior or patterns. There are also numerous policy decisions you could make to address these evolving challenges.

The importance of having a robust test security strategy cannot be overstated. It’s not just about preventing cheating. It’s about protecting the public and preserving the value of the credentials awarded in an increasingly competitive market.

Question #4: How can you ensure the continued relevance of your tests?

We’ll state the obvious: Your assessments must accurately reflect the latest skills, knowledge, and practices in your respective market or sector. Failing to do so can lead to diminished relevance and devaluation for your assessments and overall program.

This underscores the need to regularly evaluate the competencies assessed and scrutinize your marketing strategy. Let’s take a closer look at the first one: To address the challenge of maintaining relevance, ask yourself how job market trends and industry feedback align with your program’s circumstances. Make adjustments as needed, and then continue reflecting on these extrinsic factors. Tangentially, understanding your market’s needs typically leads to a more effective marketing strategy, which helps your tests stand out and attract both potential candidates and employers. By highlighting your assessment relevance, you reassure candidates that they’ll reap a meaningful return on their investment in terms of career advancement and opportunities. Similarly, it assures employers that credential holders possess competencies that are directly applicable and useful in their workplace.

Question #5: How are credentials influencing competency recognition and career development?

A person is holding a tablet displaying a digital certificate of achievement, with a prominent checkmark in the middle

There’s a noticeable shift from generalist roles toward more specialized professional roles in many sectors. Several factors have contributed to this trend, including globalization and technological advancement. The increasing need for professionals who possess distinct skills and knowledge in specific areas has led to a higher demand for certifications that can attest to these specialized competencies. Moreover, in certain professions, certifications are increasingly being recognized as equivalent to, or in lieu of, traditional degree programs.

And this isn’t just limited to traditional credentialing. It also extends to microcredentialing, which provides a more granular level of competency recognition. This allows professionals to tailor their learning paths to closely match market needs. In addition, the growing use of digital badges offers a modern way to provide proof of these credentials. Combined with “stacking” (i.e., linking various credentials together) or “stapling” (i.e., attaching a credential to a degree), they’re effective for anyone trying to adapt to the rapidly changing job market.

The Call to Action: Responding to These Contemporary Challenges

The questions posed—and the challenges and opportunities they reflect—invite all program stakeholders and the broader credentialing community to revisit and refine their standards, practices, and processes. By embracing these challenges as opportunities rather than barriers, your program can enhance the value, credibility, and relevance of the credentials you offer.

Want to know what other industry professionals are thinking about? Check out our most-popular credentialing resources from 2023.