“This is the training course I took in 2007 for advanced Excel shortcuts. And this was one of my favorite classes where we learned how to deal with difficult coworkers—that was a really funny one…”

I laugh when I think back to this conversation with an employee, but he was totally serious. Over his career he had maintained a file of all of his completed training, and he was proud of it. So proud, in fact, that he showed it off in his interview (he got the job anyway). What gets me is that despite his copious attention to gathering training completion documents, he seemed to have trouble grasping some of the basic fundamentals of the workplace that he had supposedly been trained on!

For today’s purposes, this isn’t a discussion just about training and what works; it’s a look at the certificates themselves.

Breaking the Chain

Awhile back I had the chance to sit down and speak with Don McPhee, the Head of Plan Academy at Plan International, an organization dedicated to improving children’s rights around the world.

He has a unique philosophy of how learning should be measured. When learners complete a training course within the organization, not a single person receives a certificate of completion for the event. Instead, each learner is individually tasked with collecting a body of evidence to support the learning. This must be evidence that is corroborated by peers and/or managers. Once the documentation has been gathered, the learner can submit the information as proof of learning and collect a well-deserved certificate.

Just imagine how this impacts the learner experience. No longer do workers sit in a training session zoning out and hoping to get back to work as soon as possible. Instead, they are actively listening for ways to take the concepts back and apply them to their work in a way that will prove they know what they’re doing.

This is a great way to get learners to put training into action, add value to the L&D function, and get attention throughout the organization.

I know what you’re thinking — what’s the catch?

Changing Perceptions

Like many off-the-beaten path ideas such as this one, people must shift their perceptions away from what has been traditionally done and consider a new approach. In this case, it requires someone willing to push back on the traditional system of handing out completion certificates and moving along with the status quo.

Consider the brand your learning team has built within the organization. Would this sit uneasily with members of the organization as an unnecessary step beyond tracking basic training completion data? Or would leaders support a change like this, being mainly focused on the outcomes and results?

At Plan International, it has been the latter. McPhee said that this new take on training and certification requirements has been very successful at changing how people look at the learning function and the value it brings. Instead of handing out certificates of completion that have no value, workers are excited to take the training concepts back to the workplace and use them to build a case for how they learned, what they learned, and how it ultimately impacted their job. In other words, it’s about transformational learning, not transactional learning.

What would it take for you to try this today within your learning function? How would you encourage learners to “prove” their knowledge? What might be the outcome for the organization if learners not only collected completion certificates, but also went out with purpose, seeking ways to demonstrate their newfound skills and knowledge?