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The Certification Cycle: Is Time On Your Side?

by | Certification

Everyone loves a deadline, right?

Certification cycles comprise the time-based, date-based, and deadline-based dimensions of your program rules. Think of it as “what needs to be done by when.” Dates, cycles, and deadlines are some of certification management‘s trickiest aspects.

What makes certification cycles challenging? Depending on the date they started their application, the date they reached eligibility to test, the date certification was conferred, and so on, your candidates will be at different points in the certification cycle. What your program rules consider eligible for some may not be for others at any given time. What you need from these candidates (i.e., what is due when), and what they need from you (i.e., a reminder that it’s due) also depends on a series of these interrelated timelines.

Every deadline involves candidate behavior, which means:

  • The participant must do something.
  • The system must enforce the rule to compel the behavior.
  • The system must send reminders to encourage the desired behavior.
  • The program must apply consequences to incomplete behaviors.
  • Where there are consequences, there are always exceptions.

Navigating certification cycle management can get complicated fast. Nobody loves minding the calendar (and calculations) to ensure that every candidate submits valid activities in the correct timeframe. Not to mention managing the back-and-forth if a submission is invalid upon review!

We designed LearningBuilder with date-based programs like yours in mind. Our time and experience in the field means we’ve seen a lot, but still haven’t seen everything. We know that no solution is one-size-fits-all. However, they do share a need to. With LearningBuilder, certification programs can significantly streamline and automate the complexities of certification cycle management.

Time-Based Rules for Application Windows: Starting the Certification Cycle

If you operate your program under a continuous exam window, what determines the start date of your cycle? Is there some grouping that you will apply? Or, will each candidate’s cycle be based on their submission date? This choice essentially creates 365 potential deadlines or cycle end dates: one for each day of the year.

Application windows can also be a set period (like April 1 – October 1) within which a candidate must submit an application, pay the fee, and sit for their exam. This can mean a large influx of applications simultaneously as the window is about to close.

Time-Based Rules for Eligible Activities: Certification Cycle Requirements

Of course, time-based rules can also apply to other aspects of eligibility. For example, a program might require a certain amount of work experience that a candidate must earn over a specific timeframe. These requirements can layer on top of the application window: If a candidate sits for the exam in 2024 and must have worked in their industry for the past three years, then employment experience from 2020 isn’t eligible. But what if they have experience from 2021, just not the right month?

The right system can aggregate activities — whether submitted by the applicant or a third party like an education provider — to determine if they adhere to the time-based rules set in place by your program and count them towards an applicant’s requirements. Otherwise, constantly calculating forward or backward from a given date “by hand” can leave tremendous room for error.

Time-Based Rules for Recertification and Renewal: The Certification Cycle Continues

Once you confer their certification, a candidate enters the recertification or renewal cycle. The lengths of these cycles may vary from program to program, but every program will have to choose how to calculate them. In most cases, it makes sense to assume that a candidate will take as much time as they possibly can to complete their requirements for recertification.

Some programs might choose to use a conforming rule aligning the renewal cycle to the end of the calendar year regardless of the certification date. If your recertification cycle is two years long, and you certify someone on January 2, 2024, should their renewal deadline be December 31, 2026, or December 31, 2025? Depending on what you decide, candidates you certify in the early part of the year will have significantly more time to meet recertification requirements than those certified later on.

On the other hand, if you calculate the cycle end date from the date of candidate certification and you have a time-limited application window, you might experience a massive influx of applications right at the end of that window. Aligning the cycle end date to the first or last day of a candidate’s birth month can smooth out the spike of last-minute submissions and create a built-in reminder for practitioners who may otherwise lose track of their cycle. To do that, you need a system that collects that information during candidate registration and automatically assigns a renewal deadline accordingly.

Time-Based Rules for Interim Milestones

Is your recertification program characterized by:

  • A long recertification period (longer than five years)?
  • The need for consistent payments within the cycle?
  • An urgency of certain behaviors or actions?

Interim milestones might keep your certificants engaged more frequently throughout their recertification cycle. An interim milestone can be as straightforward as simply collecting an annual payment. It can also be much more intricate: Some programs with 10-year certification cycles, for example, organize interim milestones around three-year periods, within which a certificant must complete activities such as continuing education and practice hours, with a final year for the high-stakes assessment.

Multiple intervals with varying milestones can also ease the overwhelm of cascading recertification activity at the end of a cycle. Conceptually, this applies equally to program staff and practitioners. By “forcing” some of that recertification activity (CE, publishing, attending events, etc.) to happen during specific intervals of the recertification cycle, you create lower spikes at more frequent intervals. Intervals and interim milestones can especially be helpful for recertification applications that are subject to audit or review, keeping the auditing and review workload more consistent and predictable over time.

Beyond these benefits, there may be other advantages to interim milestones. For example:

You can collect annual payments from candidates even if they do not complete their overall cycle requirements.

Interim milestones can assess competencies with varying shelf lives. If some competencies are revealed to be less enduring than others, you can impose more frequent assessments on those competencies.

Anticipating that “Life Happens”: Exceptions and Grace Periods

LearningBuilder manages procedures around exceptions without the heavy lifting of custom-coded software. Why is this important? Let’s recall the last two tenets of candidate behavior:

  • The program must apply consequences to incomplete behaviors.
  • Where there are consequences, there are always exceptions.

Can you change your cycle dates and resulting deadlines in response to, for example, a global pandemic? Is your program equipped to handle grace periods? If a grace period isn’t the answer for your program, what about other alternatives, like applying for reinstatement? Exceptions like these can keep candidates on track and prevent them from slipping through the cracks.

After initial implementation, the LearningBuilder Professional Services team is still there for you. If you need to make changes to your rules, we’ll work with you to configure them in a way that works best for your existing processes.

LearningBuilder Streamlines Certification Cycle Management

Here are just some of the ways that LearningBuilder can support enforcing time-based rules:

Calculating eligibility: You write the rule, and the system enforces it. No counting required. Candidates can only submit their applications after meeting the requirements. That’s right: no more incomplete applications! This saves reviewers time and resources at times when they are in highest demand.

Reminding candidates of deadlines: You can’t say you didn’t warn them! A candidate’s certification cycle will trigger date-based notifications of upcoming deadlines. You choose the intervals (six months prior, one month prior, etc.) and we’ll help you create the templates.

Opening applications: Recertification begins as soon as you confer certification. LearningBuilder automatically opens a recertification application for your certificants, with their new cycle dates determining new deadlines.

Changing statuses after the deadline: Despite all your helpful reminders, a candidate missed their deadline. Now what? LearningBuilder can change certification statuses to expired or put them into a grace period, with the deadline as a date-based trigger.

Charging late fees: Speaking of instant consequences, missing a deadline and entering a grace period may involve a financial penalty. LearningBuilder can calculate and collect these fees without staff intervention.

Scaling fees by submission date: Want to incentivize meeting a deadline with time to spare? LearningBuilder can charge an application fee based on when the candidate submits their application in relation to that deadline.

Shifting candidate pathways: Do you have multiple pathways to certification or recertification with different deadlines? If so, candidates may become ineligible to pursue certain pathways after that deadline passes. LearningBuilder can make sure they stay on a viable track. In addition, if they miss a deadline and your program offers a pathway to reinstatement after expiration, they’ll be on it. The next time they log in, they’ll instantly understand what they need to do next.

Besides these capabilities, LearningBuilder also streamlines certification cycle management in other ways. For example, an engaging, user-friendly Candidate Dashboard keeps applicants apprised of their progress. Without needing to contact you, they always know where they stand.

Are You Exploring a Software Solution for Certification Cycle Management?

Are you looking for a certification management system that can handle your unique business rules and support your program through its evolution? We’re here for you. No matter how you structure your certification cycle, we’re here to take managing it off your hands. Get in touch to learn how our approach can both meet your needs and exceed your expectations.

Heuristic Solutions is a leader in software and technology for certification, licensure, and accreditation. Partner with us today, and we’ll modernize your system to better serve your organization.


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