Five Ways Self-Certification Will Shape Our Future


School shapes our lives in a number of ways, and its dual ritual of assessment and evaluation play no small role in organizing our futures.

For students that struggle, testing and grading bring pain. Stress, anxiety, and disappointment begin to characterize not just the outcome of evaluation, but the entire process.

For those students that excel, the results become a point of pride.

And if teachers frame their success properly, students may even identify with the source of assessment: they see their success through their own eyes — not just the eyes of their teachers.

They begin to self-assess and self-evaluate. Perhaps they become autodidactic.

But in many cases, both for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ students, the locus of judgement remains external. When it comes to academic learning, they remain passive when it comes to measuring — and describing this measurement of — themselves.

An External Judge

Sometimes you need an external judge, of course. When entering an uncertain labor marketplace, for example, having someone to back you up can make all the difference when applying for a job.

When that person ‘backing you up’ is a university or another respected organization, it helps frame — often in a completely indispensable way — the value of your skill set.

Naturally, instead of resenting this arrangement, we understand that the better this judge looks, the better we look.

Schools benefit from the loyalty of its alumni, from alumni giving and alumni enthusiasm, but alumni benefit too.

As a school’s reputation improves, so too do the credentials it sponsors.

School Not the Only Option

But school can be expensive. It’s occasionally characterized by an arbitrary assessment and evaluation process. Sometimes it’s slow.

Worse, students can find themselves unable to perform the skills for which they have received the school’s endorsement.

(Something called “high school French” seems to be one of the primary culprits in this case.)

You may find that, for certain subjects and disciplines, school adds little value to your learning process. In this case, you may feel that you are paying — sometimes not insubstantial fees — for the credential only.

Schools also play a larger role as a social body. Being part of the school community may have further consequences that, while sometimes good and important, may at other times be undesirable or unnecessary.

You may even find that in some other subtle way, school sabotages the learning process. Perhaps it teaches in some outmoded way, or else promotes skill development in area area that interferes with valuable skills.

And so, while formal education can be a wonderful, life-changing experience, learners who master the process of documenting and presenting their progress will have an advantage over people who rely only on external credentialing.

Opportunities for Self-Credentialing

In the past, learners had fewer opportunities to present evidence of knowledge, a process that depends upon maintaining a public portfolio.

A changing online landscape, however, will make it not only easier, but more common.

And here are five ways this will shape our future.

1. Learning Feats Will Become Common

Right now, self-certification sometimes takes the form of something I like to call “Learning Feats.”

You’ll find a good example of this in Scott H. Young’s MIT Challenge. Rather than simply complete MIT’s undergraduate program on his own in the usual amount of time, Young made this self-certification process more challenging by completing it in one year.

Benny Lewis also blogs about reaching spoken proficiency with three-month challenges at his site, Fluent in 3 Months.

Making it into something of a ‘feat’ can help overcome objections about the value of the self-certification project.

Completing something in a short amount of time, or with some extra challenge attached to it, makes the achievement more interesting, while offering additional commentary on the learner’s resourcefulness, character, and intelligence.

Today, these Learning Feats help justify the non-traditional certification path.

And though self-certification will only become more common in the future, such feats will help learners develop a narrative around their experiences — one that will make it easier for them to distinguish themselves from others who follow similar strategies.

We’ll see these become part of daily life. And group learning challenges will take a place among other milestone challenges — mirroring the popularity of events like National Novel Writing Month or marathons among non-traditional runners.

2. Resumes Will Need to be Hyperlinked

Graphic designers, illustrators, and other creative professionals have long had to present portfolios of evidence of their talent and experience.

As more learners study outside of traditional institutions, they will increasingly rely on portfolios to support their claims to knowledge.

Such a portfolio can take many forms. It could, for example, simply be a collection of scanned coursework.

Learners may upload videos of themselves speaking a foreign language, or they may include sample diagrams and spreadsheets.

To demonstrate competence in a skill, learners will present these portfolios to potential employers and clients.

And, in many cases, these potential employers and clients won’t actually look over the material, besides simply performing a quick spot check.

The evidence of mastery will still need to be available to them all the same.

3. Words Like “Passport” Become Part of the Hiring Conversation

The Council of Europe publishes guidelines for creating something they call Language Passports. These are aligned with their and depend up on ideas in the Common European Framework of Reference.

Essentially, these passports serve as structured documents to present your language ability in a variety of skill areas and languages.

In the future, these kinds of structured documents will be more common, and appear in different fields and industries.

They will serve a similar purpose to a resume or C.V., distilling experience into an easy-to-follow summary, and giving employers or clients quick look, but deeper, look into a learner’s background.

4. Tests Will Become More Diverse and Sometimes Cheaper

I can see tests evolving in one of two ways, and I expect we’ll see even see both trends take place.

On the one hand, testing by special agencies will replace courses that include testing, especially when people are able to train themselves.

A good example of this today is the CFA exam.

Because of this, testing centers, and the companies that supply them, can charge learners a premium — all in the name of confirming tester identity and the standardization of testing conditions.

Online venders and newer biometric tools (some of which may be built into your phone) may challenge these testing companies with cheaper solutions, but that’s not really the point. You’ll still be relying on an external institution to provide a credential.

On the other hand, learners will have less need for these testing services altogether if they build a representative portfolio and make it available for inspection.

5. New Metrics

In 4, we mentioned the utility of biometrics to testing organizations, but biometric technologies will increasingly fall into the hands of learners themselves, enabling them to take measurements of themselves and increasingly give an account for their own data.

This will serve to further confirm and validate self-credentialing outcomes.

For example, a learner might be able to validate their ability to carry out complex mathematical reasoning not just with the results of tests, but also with metrics of heart rate, stress, etc, that measure cognitive load.

There may even be a metric in the future, for example, that will help measure all the old cliches: whether they are really ‘detail-oriented and able to see the big picture,’ whether they can work ‘independently as well as on a team.’

Liberating Futures

In the longterm, I believe, these trends will increase the competitiveness of self-learners, while further liberating them.

It requires, however, that we build a new set of frameworks for thinking about learning — and how we present success in this sphere.