As I promised in a my post about a session that Super Sigma... I mean, Briana, and I presented at the Innovations in Testing Conference in March, I want to share what I learned about trends, innovations, and hot topics that are emerging in the testing industry. As Kerri Davis mentioned in her post, remote proctoring and digital badges generated a lot of buzz at the conference and were discussed in numerous sessions. In addition, security continues to be a hot topic for test providers for obvious reasons... the conversation is around "what security-related innovations are programs implementing and how effective have they been?" Numerous sessions focused on the various security options available to testing programs to protect their IP, identify cheaters, detect piracy, and so on. Weaved throughout the conference, however, was a discussion that the face of certification and testing are changing. From the opening key note to the closing one, conversations about how testing programs need to adapt to and capitalize on technology's rapid pace of change in order to develop the "next generation certification program" were embedded in sessions even when the session's primary focus was on something else (e.g., psychometrics, test design, delivery, business/program management, etc.). Let's take a look at where the industry seems to be headed for each of these.

Digital Badges: The testing industry is just starting to understand what digital badging is and how it might be applied to certifications. The big question is how leverage badging to drive program engagement and satisfaction without undermining the value of (or replacing) the thing that really matters--the certification. Because badges can be attached to anything regardless of how that thing was developed or what it is, can potentially have meta data that provides information about the badge holder's "skills," and will likely be easy to acquire, testing programs have to be very careful about how they implement badging in order to maintain the integrity of their certification program. If more value is placed on the badge that the certification and it's not based on something that is as rigorously developed as a certification exam, the consequences could be disastrous for certification programs if the meaning of the badge is misunderstood (i.e., if people assume you have skills because you have the badge but the process for earning the badge doesn't really ensure that you do). Many testing programs believe that badging will drive engagement and are looking for ways to optimize badging without damaging their brand and certification. Other testing programs see badging (in relation to certification) as a "flash in the pan" that will die out soon. What do you think? Is badging the wave of the future for testing programs?

Remote Proctoring: More accurately, this should probably be called "online proctoring." Essentially, this delivery solution would allow you to take an exam anywhere at any time. Many employment tests are already delivered leveraging online testing (some with and some without proctoring), and many certification programs are on the cusp of figuring out how to deliver their exams in this manner. The conversation continues to be focused on how to secure exam content and understanding the candidate perceptions of program integrity and exam security in this type of delivery model. What do you think of online proctoring? Would knowing that someone took the exam using this delivery model change your perception of what it means that they passed it? Would you take an exam that was delivered like this? 

Security: Always a big topic at this conference! The trends here focused on innovative approaches to delivery, an increasing focus on using more sophisticated psychometrics to detect piracy (yes, we can identify bad behavior through how candidates 'interact' with our exams!), and a focus on test center security because exam theft is more of an issue for many programs (after all, this is how exams get on brain dump sites) than individual cheating.

The Changing Face of Certification: The key note speaker was Jim Carroll, a futurist and author, who spoke at length about the need for our industry to look at the accelerating rate of change around us and embrace it so that our businesses are well positioned for the future. He repeatedly said "The future belongs to those who move fast." Here are some of the challenges we face in the testing industry given that knowledge is being refreshed at an increasing pace and is quickly outdated:

  • How might the acquisition of knowledge be measured in a way that’s both timely and relevant?
  • How do we stay ahead of change? How can we be proactive rather than reactive? How do we keep our assessment content in line with those frequent changes?
  • How do we test and certify people for jobs and skills that don’t exist yet?
  • Today, learners want real-time knowledge ingestion based on video offerings, such as YouTube, Khan Academy, etc. because they have a desire for continuous knowledge replenishment; how do we continually update our offerings to meet this demand?

This session underscored our industry’s (training and certification) need to adapt to the lightning speed at which technology changes and how those changes are affecting our students’ and test takers’ expectations about training and exam content. As I mentioned, this theme/conversation/concern re-asserted itself through many of the sessions as testing organizations struggle with how to manage 1) the rapid speed with which knowledge and skills become obsolete and 2) the impact that instant availability of information has on candidate expectations (known as "finger tip" knowledge--we don't have to know the answer...we just need to know where to find it online; in fact, research shows that if someone knows they can find the answer later, they have more difficulty remembering it but have a good memory for how to find it!).

Along these lines, more organizations are looking to gamification (game-based exams) as the next big thing in testing because it can be very engaging and new entrants (in most cases, these are those young whippersnappers just starting out in a field) are largely engrained in the gaming universe in one form or another. I find this concept intriguing and am trying to figure out how Microsoft might apply it to our certification exams. Clearly, there are many hurdles in the implementation of something like this, but the notion of gamification in terms of certification may be one way to start thinking differently about what certification means and what exams might look like.

To me, the conversations around the future of certification are the most intriguing as we explore how to meet the demands of the future and embrace the speed at which technology changes things. After all, "the future belongs to those who move fast." What do you think the future holds for certification? Where do we go from here? What do you think changes? What stays the same?