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Why Certification Management Software Needs a Well Designed Candidate Dashboard

by | Certification

The Certification Dashboard

No matter how hard we try, our applicants will at some point struggle to make decisions and know what do next. It’s our job, whether as system designers or credentialing professionals, to make it easy for applicants to know what to do.

Some people look for a “Certification Dashboard” that represents the place our applicants go to do everything they want to do. The challenge with that approach is that no one ever wants to do EVERYTHING all at once. Instead, people engage with the certification board when they need to take some action: start an application, enter information, update their contact information, or submit activity towards recertification. Each person is going to want do to ONE thing based on where they are in their process:

  • A new visitor is going to want to set up and account and start an application

  • A returning visitor is going to want to finish what they started

  • A person with multiple credentials is going to want to make sure each of them is in good shape

The problem is, we don’t always know what people want to do when they first get there. That leads some to build the Battlestar Galactica version of a dashboard, throwing everything at them all at once and let them decide where to go.

We think there is a better way. We want the certification management software to attend to each person’s needs without distracting them with the parts that don’t interest them. We call this approach “Application Pathways” and is the latest realization of LearningBuilder’s vision of certification management.

Why usability matters

Before we get into the specifics, let’s remember why we care about principles of usability. Usability is no longer a “nice-to-have” in any industry. An empathetic experience is key to a wide array of organizational goals:

  • Candidates probably spend more time on a program’s on-line systems than they do with any other aspect of the organization. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in how an organization interacts with its community.

  • Candidates who successfully navigate an on-line experience don’t call support. They submit applications on time and don’t make mistakes on their applications. They don’t post to social media about how awful the experience was.

  • People who complete their objectives in the system aren’t thinking about the system. They are thinking about their work: patients, clients, and employers who rely on their expertise to handle the trickiest problems. You don’t want them thinking about the system – you want them doing their jobs and growing their expertise.

  • Organizations whose populations navigate their on-line systems do not have to think about customer support issues. Instead, they are focusing about how to improve their exams, grow their programs, and support the industry. They are spending their time building a better credential instead of putting out fires.

Application pathways

Let’s think for a bit about what people want to do in the system. How do we build a system that is usable to a wide variety of people and their individual circumstances? In our exploration of this issue, we analyzed user behavior and motivation and identified five key “stories” in their experience. We then designed a system to present these likely scenarios, tailoring the experience to each one.

We identified the following stories:

  • Stay in Your Lane – Make it simple and clear for people to do the thing they know they need to do

  • Pick Up Where You Left Off – Make sure people don’t have to think about finding their way back to their last action

  • Reach for the Stars – Show people what is possible

  • Keep All the Balls in the Air – Highlight the most important and urgent actions

  • Invite Them to the Party – Draw attention to actions YOU want them to take

The following sections describe the characteristics of each of these scenarios and how we designed an experience to manage each of them.

Stay in Your Lane

Many of our visitors know exactly what they want to do next: they want to start an application, they want to register for an exam, or they want to record professional development activity.

When people know what they want to do, our job is to make it as easy as possible for them to do that job. In a certification management system, that means we want to do the following:

  • Give clear guidance about any decisions they need to make. For example, if they have choices among multiple certifications, we need to give them clear differentiators so they make the best decision for their circumstances.

  • Give clear calls to action for the tasks they can do to take their next steps.

  • Remove administrative distractions. Anything that isn’t part of what they want to do next needs to fade into the margins.

In our certification dashboard, we have designed the experience to make clear distinctions among credentials and application pathways. We provide an area for programs to promote the branding of each certification and use clear language to describe the meaning of a credential and application requirements. We use standard visual conventions throughout the system (the famous “Orange Button”) to let people know exactly what they need to do to take their first steps. And we remove all administrative tasks from the experience so they keep their eyes on the task at hand.

Pick Up Where You Left Off

The most common, and least appreciated, experience of the system is to return and finish what a person started. Complex applications often require documentation and details that are not readily available. Recertification activities often span several years and require multiple visits.

In our designs, we put “in process” work at the top of the page so everyone knows where they were when they left off and can immediately resume their work. The experience achieves the following:

  • Shows a person’s progress towards completion

  • Gives a call to action (the famous Orange Button) to resume

  • And one-click submissions to help take next steps.

Interestingly, this aspect of our certification dashboard is the least improved from previous versions. We have always designed the system so that a person can land in the system at the precise place they last left it. That approach works brilliantly for programs with a single credential, but does not quite capture some of the complexity necessary for multi-credential boards. The next two sections transform the experience for individuals who need to navigate more complex pathways.

Reach for the Stars

Organizations that manage multiple credentials face different challenges than single credential programs. When a person navigates in a multi-credential environment, they are potentially not just looking at what is immediately in front of them but are looking to what is beyond the horizon.

In the Reach for the Stars story, the certification management system shows visitors the possibilities available to them as they progress in their professional journey. If a foundational credential opens doors to more advanced or specialized designations, we can use the system to inform them of their options:

  • Clear descriptions and differentiation among options

  • Explanatory language to describe any conditions necessary to pursue those options

  • Calls to action when they meet the conditions to start the new chapter

  • Displays next steps discretely so we don’t interfere with the “Stay in Your Lane” story

The Reach for the Stars story is similar to the Stay in Your Lane experience, both describe options and provide next steps. The primary difference is that it shows options that may not be available to people in the moment. That means we want to slightly de-emphasize the experience so it doesn’t compete with what we believe they want to do next, but still provides enough of a guide to encourage achievement.

Keep All the Balls in the Air

For people who pursue multiple credentials, it isn’t always clear what a person’s next step is or where they left off. A person’s next step may not be to pick up where they left off on one application, but, rather, to switch over to another application whose deadline is looming. To manage this experience, we make sure to highlight the parts that are most important: namely, deadlines. When a person is managing a single credential, they will likely have a single deadline to think about and progress along a single path. For those with multiple credentials, on the other hand, we want to show the deadlines front and center. The principles here are not terribly dissimilar to the principle of Picking Up Where We Left Off, but with some added complexity:

  • Show deadlines clearly

  • Show progress towards deadlines clearly

  • Show calls to action to progress towards deadlines clearly

  • Remove distractions such as administrative details

Anyone who knows certification programs knows that deadlines can often be complicated. We need to make sure the deadlines we show include:

  • The date of the upcoming deadline

  • It’s meaning

Meanings can vary between the benign (such as “early bird discounts”) and the severe (“your credential expires”) and everything in between. We have built deadlines with the flexibility to imagine all the different phases, such as:

  • submission deadline

  • early deadline

  • late deadline

  • credential expiration

  • grace period

  • eligibility for reinstatement

Invite Them to the Party

The final “story” to tell is that we don’t always just want people to do what they want to do. In many cases, we would like them to do something we would like them to do. We call this the “Invitation to the Party” because it gives organizations space to draw attention to behaviors they would like visitors to consider. We envision to primary use cases for this story: one is to promote a new or topical credential you would like your visitors to consider; the other is to manage volunteer participation. In both cases, we don’t want to make this too intrusive, but we can put it just outside the margins of what people are there to do. The principle for Inviting People to the Party include:

  • Attractive representation of what you want them to do

  • Easy access to details

  • Clear call to action

  • Visuals just on the periphery of a work stream so people don’t have to wade through it to get to what they want to do.

The concept of a “Promoted Credential” let’s you draw special attention to one or more programs. If you have just completed a new certification or you observe that the industry is demanding a particular certification, you can elevate its position so it is more visible than others. You might do this for new certifications or, if your organization is exploring micro-credentials or stacked credentials, you might want to draw attention to them there.

When considering volunteer participation, the concept of Inviting to the Party allows you to promote both general volunteerism and specific roles. For example, if you want to gauge general interest in volunteering, you can publish a process to collect volunteer preferences and availability. If you are in need of specific skills and roles, you can create specific processes to evaluate people to participate in such activities as Item Writing Workshops, Exam Development Committees, and Boards of Directors.

The Final Say

The challenge designing a dashboard for certification is that each program and individual experience with the program is going to be different.

Knowing this, we built the dashboard experience so that organizations can tailor them to their own needs.

Do you have a single credential? You are probably going to choose options along the lines of Stay in Your Lane and Pick Up Where You Left Off.

Do you have multiple, progressive credentials? You are probably going to want to organize your dashboard following the Reach for the Stars and Keep the Balls in the Air principles.

And your organization could likely be somewhere between any of them.

Want to tailor it just for your needs? Talk to our team about how to organize a dashboard that will inspire your visitors, lessen your workload, and build your reputation. We are happy to help!

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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