Training & Certification

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Training & Certification

Background

There have been efforts on the part of the community to develop certification around Second Life skills for the past three years. The original impetus came from Solution Providers looking to hire qualified contractors. A second round of effort came from inworld instructors looking to be able to qualify their expertise and that of their students.

The process produced two outcomes - a list of building, scripting, land management, event hosting, machinima, texturing, marketing, tutoring, and terraforming skills to be addressed including ordering and definitions of those skills. The project is documented on the SLWiki: Certification.

This effort has reached a stage where the result is useful for developing both training and certification. A recent meeting with a subgroup of the Solution Provider Council provided feedback that confirmed two key points: while certification is still valuable for Solution Providers in the long run, a focus on training is equally important and more immediate.

However, SL Certification Developers cannot directly control whether education gets created. We can assist those who do create courses, but unless someone in the group does that on their own, that is not a focus of this project.

Directions

From the perspective of those who asked the question "How do I know whom to interview?," certification is intended to be a voluntary way to demonstrate competency in Second Life skills. Certification complements portfolios and other demonstrations of product; you can't certify style, but you can demonstrate it. Certification would be by individual, not by organization. In the future, when certification is available, those who pass exams will be shown on a web page that lists their name and what certification(s) they hold.

We're now at the stage where it's possible to use the skills lists as a framework to organize instruction, as well as defining skills for competency. At this point, I think it's important to separate the two efforts.

Next steps - Training

The skills list is public, so it is available to anyone who wants to use it as a framework for instruction.

At the Solution Provider Council Certification Group meeting, it was suggested we seek potential training providers among organizations which are providing training in Second Life but have a real-world organization (mostly Universities - particularly through their Extension or Continuing Education divisions). We have, as yet, been unable to find any such institutions that would be willing to do this because it doesn't match up with their curriculae. If you have suggestions of organizations which have that competency, please drop a notecard to Orange Planer. There is clear advantage to having existing experts in Second Life engaged in both curriculum development and instruction.

We are hoping that we can find training providers who can start providing training in the first half of 2010, as it is a component of improving the quality of existing Solution Providers and necessary to recruit new Solution Providers.

Certification

Certification is more difficult and, as stated above, further away in the timeline. At this point, I'm posting this for discussion and input; it is not clear the best way to proceed on certification. There are two major steps necessary before developing certification, and there is a major issue to solve: can certification be done in Second Life? First, we need to select a model for certification; second, we need to develop the certification content. There are three models for certification:

  • the diploma model (universities)
  • the high-tech model (certification)
  • the accreditation model (systems of colleges)

We describe each briefly.

Diploma Model

The Diploma Model enables anyone who provides training to certify the results of their training. Quality of training (and hence, certification) would vary, and over time would be valued appropriately by the market. (The difference in workplace value between various Universities reflects the different market value of the diploma based on its perceived quality.)

Benefits: This model is easy to implement because implementation is done by the training provider. There is no central certification or quality control, and the certificate cost is included in the cost of training.

Issues: It leads to wide variation in value, and can cause confusion and lack of value for certification.

Certification Model

The Certification Model, used for technical certification by many real life companies, is a system where your identification is validated, you take a standardized test, and receive a certificate if you pass.

Benefits: The model is well understood, validates identity, and has clear providers. It offers a single standard for the certificate.

Issues: This model requires that the content is clear and developed prior to creating certification.

One question is whether certification exams should be done in-world of in real life. If they are done in real life the exams become difficult to set up and administer because there are no world-wide testing centers that can reach all members of Second Life.

If they are done in Second Life there is a question of how to prove someone is who they purport to be. One idea is to require age verification. This provides at least a modicum of proof. Another is to somehow do a third party identity verification check that does not violate the Linden Lab terms of service regarding revealing personal identity. However, it is important to remember that no matter what method is used there is no method that is guaranteed to prevent identity cheating.

Accreditation Model

The Accreditation Model is a hybrid model. Anyone can propose to offer certification, but they have to show to an independent board (the Accreditation Body) that they meet their standards. Anyone offering certification would be re-accredited on a regular basis (e.g., every year) in order to continue to grant certificates. The Accreditation Body would develop the standards, the procedure for validating that certification meets their standards, the review process, and the procedure for granting accreditation. Most colleges are accredited by such a process (law schools, colleges of arts and letters, etc.).

Benefits: The accrediting body is responsible for developing procedures and content and fees paid by those evaluated pay for the accreditation. Accreditation enables a wide variety of providers.

Issues: This model requires setting up an independent accrediting body. Its success depends on the perceived quality and impartiality of the accreditors, the perceived validity of its process, and the relative quality of accredited certification. The certifiers pay for certification. Following the college model, the accreditors would be made up of members of the certifiers. They might develop the criteria for certification (or it could be created prior to accreditation); they would be responsible for setting up the process for evaluation and accreditation, as well as actually accrediting the certifiers.

Whither Certification?

It's important to make it very clear that Linden Lab does not contemplate requiring certification for any reason; it is voluntary and only valuable to the extent it has meaning to your customers. Past that, providing training first has many advantages. Ironically, the lack of robust, comprehensive training raises the value of certification, since there's no other way to demonstrate you have gained competency. However, once training is in place, there will be identified resources to work with to put a certification process in place.

Many people have asked about certification grandfathering. The value of certification is that anyone can attempt certification - whether they have gone through a curriculum or not - so people who have gained their skills on their own are on equal footing for certification.