Certificates: do’s & don'ts

Renate de Jonge

After completing an online training, often a certificate is offered to the participant. This can vary, some provide a national or industry-acknowledged certificate others only a declaration of participation. Moreover, certificates aren’t only offered at the end of a complete training, but sometimes also after obtaining a certain score or when completing a specific part.


What’s the value of these certificates? What should you keep in mind? We’ll provide you with an overview, so you can deploy your certificates in a good manner!

A certificate motivates

By developing yourself during your career as an employee, for example by following (online) courses regularly, you’ll eventually climb higher on the career ladder. A higher position often means more challenges, more responsibility and more salary. These are however all long-term goals. Practice shows that the most is achieved when these are in balance with the present short-term rewards. This is when a certificate enters the stage. Certificates are a good form of recognition for the achieved accomplishments; so it’s the perfect short-term reward.


By making a short-term reward part of your online learning hub, you give users the feeling that the training is important and that their effort is valued. Moreover, you stimulate the users to keep track of their own progress and development goals. This extra motivation has been proved: American studies show that when certificates are deleted from a learning hub, the completion percentages of the course decrease to almost 50%.

It’s important that the certificate is no ‘prove of participation’, but that it truly needs to be earned. This way you increase its worth. Look at yourself, when would you be more proud? When you’ve obtained a certificate after learning, practicing and being tested on your new knowledge and skills? Or on a certificate you’ve received after you passively watched a video of ten minutes? We think the answer is logical.


The conclusion is thus that by using certificates as a short-term reward, your users will remain involved in the training and the chance of them continuing to learn is increased. 

A certificate acknowledges

Employees that follow online trainings show proactively by doing so that they want to grow and that they want to manage the knowledge and skills required for their position. An online training is the way in which employees can show their personal involvement and motivation to their supervisor.


This must of course be stimulated and appreciated! A certificate is perfect for this. It’s a good digital form of recognition for the ambitious employee from the organisation. It actually says: ‘Hey good job! We see your input. You may be proud of this!’

A certificate shows expertise

67% of the employees thinks they should keep educating themselves to remain up-to-date. In the current dynamic society this doesn’t only apply to individual employees, but also to complete companies. Companies must continuously keep learning and adapting to stay ahead of things. 

Others must however know that you as an employee or company work actively for continuous development. A certificate is proof of your expertise and development. By offering this in your online training, you provide the employees with the proof they need to convince other parties that they’re experts in their discipline – thanks to your training. 

Career anno 2021

A career anno 2021 can’t be compared to a career of more than 20 years ago. The growth and development within a career almost never goes along a straight, upward line. At the end of the 20th century employees would stay for decades at the same employer and this was perceived as a successful career. Currently, a successful career means getting optimal satisfaction from your job. The consequence is that people more easily switch jobs rigorously within their career, sometimes once, sometimes more often.


Of course, you don’t need to go back to college for every career switch. Nowadays, you can gain new knowledge and skills online. Relevant certificates of online trainings often help transferring to a different position or field and make it thus easier to design your career optimally.

Can you certify every online training?

In short, by making certificates a part of your online trainings programme you ensure that employees are motivated, involved and feel valued. But can you offer a certificate for every self-developed online training? 


Luckily, you’ve got quite some freedom in this. The term ‘certificate’ isn’t protected. Factually, a certificate is nothing more than you as an organisation formally declaring something.


Please note, titles such as ‘bachelor’ or ‘engineer’ are lawfully protected, you cannot simply use them. Moreover, you cannot certify in name of a brand or organisation. For example when it concerns knowledge of Adobe Photoshop, you cannot state ‘Adobe Certified’. You can draw up a certificate which says ‘has (specific) knowledge of Adobe Photoshop’ though. 


You can always grant a certificate of participation. Here you note for example the covered themes and the education level. This way, users can still use it to indicate their gained knowledge and skills.


Ensure in any case that the criteria for obtaining a certificate are clear and objective, both for users and external parties. In this way, the users know what requirements they should meet to obtain the certificate and the external parties can see clearly what knowledge and skills are represented by the certificate.