Do you need a certificate or a certification?

By Bill Wilder, M.Ed., Life Cycle Engineering
As appeared in Learning to Change

What is the difference between a certificate and a certification?


The certificate indicates that you have attended and participated in an educational event. This could be a live instructor-led class or a self-paced online class. For example, when you take a class at Life Cycle Engineering (LCE) you receive a certificate. The level of effort to secure the certificate varies, but typically it requires that you be present through the class and often requires that you successfully complete a final exam. The record of your participation is retained and added to your transcript.

Often a certificate program becomes a de facto validation of your competence in a specific discipline. One example is the Prosci Change Management certificate program we offer. In emerging disciplines such as change management it is common for thought leaders and service providers to take the lead in establishing competency credentials. Other examples include the Reliability Engineering and Reliability Excellence certificates we deliver in collaboration with Clemson University.

The certificate confirms that you have participated in a learning event. It is intended to teach people new skills and knowledge. Experienced practitioners and newcomers alike can successfully participate.


A certification indicates that you have demonstrated experience and competence in a specific body of knowledge. This is achieved through an exam and/or qualifying work product. Certifications are offered by professional associations and by vendors. Examples of certifications offered by professional associations include the PMI’s PMP, ASTD’s CPLP, ASQ’s CRE, and SMRP’s CMRP. In the case of the PMP and CPLP, the certification is achieved by successfully passing a proctored exam and completing a qualifying work product. The CRE and CMRP on the other hand are exam-based certifications.

Most certification programs are awarded by third-party standard-setting organizations that do not provide the educational component of the certification requirement. There are exceptions in technology and emerging professions.

The certification confirms that you have demonstrated competency by meeting a defensible set of standards. An educational requirement is common. Usually this is fulfilled through educational programs approved or sanctioned by the certifying entity but not delivered by them. The emerging ACMP (Association for Change Management Professionals) is expected to have this component. Certifications offered by technology companies or thought leaders in specific disciplines often include an educational requirement that is provided by the certifying entity.

LCE’s Reliability Engineer Certification is an example of a certification with an educational component. This certification requires candidates to complete an educational component (the Reliability Engineering certificate) and demonstrate application competency with a work product.

To summarize, a certificate reflects participation in an educational event and a certification reflects demonstration of competency through an exam or work product.

Bill Wilder, M.Ed is the founder and director of the Life Cycle Institute, the learning, leadership and change management practice at Life Cycle Engineering. The Institute integrates the science of learning and the science of change management to help organizations produce results through behavior change. You can reach Bill at [email protected].

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.


For More Information

843.744.7110 | [email protected]

Share This

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share via email