We recently introduced the concept of assessment-based certificates, or ABCs—see our previous episode, Assessment-Based Certificates with Robin Gault-Winton—as something that all learning businesses should be tuned into. And what better way to learn what really goes into implementing something like this than hearing from an organization that is actually putting the concept into action.
Paul Williams is vice president of professional development and education at Argentum—the leading national trade association serving companies that own, operate, and support professionally managed senior living communities in the United States—and they are currently in the process of creating and rolling out their very own assessment-based certificate.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Paul about what prompted them to create an assessment-based certificate program, the process for developing it, and valuable lessons they’ve learned along the way.
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00:18 – Thank you to Castle, which is the sponsor of the Leading Learning podcast for the second quarter of 2017. Castle is an accomplished full-services certification and licensure testing company that also offers its clients a variety of learning solutions capabilities. With an expert team of testing and instructional design professionals and a thirty year history of excellence in it’s field, Castle understands what it takes to develop and deliver quality learning and certification programs.
01:26 – Highlighted Resource of the Week – A free 30-45 minute consultation for Leading Learning podcast listeners with Robin Gault-Winton of Castle to explore whether and how an assessment-based certificate program might work for your organization. To schedule an appointment, go to http://www.leadinglearning.com/askcastle.
02:00 – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Celisa interviews Paul Williams, VP of professional development and education at Argentum.
03:12 – Introduction to Paul and some background information about Argentum and his role there.
04:15 – Would you give us an overview of the education and certification Argentum provides? Paul shares that certification is something they are fairly new to at Argentum. Through discussions with key industry stakeholders, they found there was a need to professionalize the industry through certifications/certificates/lifelong learning opportunities for professionals in order to raise the bar for their industry. Paul explains that their first undertaking was to establish a certification for assisted living executive directors.
07:17 – In addition to that particular certification, do you also offer other education (on a course-basis)? And you have an annual event—do you offer education as a part of that? Paul says the education for their conference is probably the primary way they develop not only continuing education opportunities for their professionals that work in senior living that require that, but for those that don’t require it, the conference provides their most visible mechanism for operators, c-suite executives, and staff level positions to be able to learn about the latest trends and important aspects about their jobs and senior living in general. Through Argentum’s workforce development committee, they are also looking into other types of learning opportunities and are currently mapping out what that looks like. They are getting input, not only within the industry, but also through their collaborations with universities that are already offering senior living and aging development related tracks of education and others, in order to bring that information to their members and employees.
09:16 – How would you define your ABC? What does it cover in terms of topic and scope? Paul points out that as they look at professional development, specifically in certifications and certificates, the first thing they evaluate is whether the program they’re going to develop falls more in line with developing a formal certification or if the certificate meets their need. For the ABC they are developing—the Senior Living Sales Counselors Certificate Program—Paul talks about how it was a brainchild of their sales and marketing round table. Argentum built their ABC program around three areas: industry knowledge, marketing strategy, and consultative sales process. Where they are in the process is they will convene an item writing panel to develop the questions for the test next month, then there will be a validation and test assembly meeting later this summer. Before the item writing, they have been in the process of developing a module. In order to sit for the test for the ABC certificate, all of the candidates must successfully complete the modules. Paul notes that all sales professionals in the organizations have committed to taking these tests, not just those that are new to the industry.
13:32 – How are the modules going to be offered (online, place-based, etc)? Paul says they will be offered online so people can complete this at work or home and they don’t have to complete it all at one time.
14:16 – Is the ABC offered at a fee for members or free for members? What are the economics behind the ABC? Paul shares the pricing will be fairly minimal since they are trying to make it as easy as possible for people to complete.
15:18 – Do you have a sense of how long it would take someone to complete those 3 modules and the relevant assessments that go with them? Paul says the test is 75 questions but he’s not yet aware of how long the completion time will be for the modules since they are still finalizing them but they should expect to know sometime this summer.
16:15 – Talk a bit about the timeline for this – when did you begin work on this and how much time remains until this is out and available? Paul shares they began this effort last June when they convened the sales and marketing professionals to develop the job task analysis for this certificate (the three domains and competencies the test and modules will cover). In early fall they did a job task survey that was sent out to a wide range of sales and marketing professionals. Through that research, they were able to validate that the job task analysis was on the mark. In November, they began development of the learning modules, which has continued on. They are now gearing completion of the modules and will start the question writing for the online certificate test and he expects that to be completed by August. They could be looking at November/December for the first launch of people being able to take the modules/test.
19:00 – Was there any concern at any point about confusion over what the ABC is compared to the certification in your field (the Certified Director of Assisted Living (CDAL))? Paul admits it’s a huge learning curve, particularly because most credentials within the senior living industry are fairly new. They’ve had sessions to talk about the thought processes of how to determine whether to do a certification program as they did for CDAL or the Senior Living Sales Counselors Certificate Program. There’s a million different certificates you can get that aren’t assessment-based so they need to help people understand that to get this certificate, you actually have to pass a test and take the modules. There also needs to be some distinction in terms of letters after the name – it needs to be communicated that generally, the completion of a certificate doesn’t allow for this. Overall, they’ve tried to explain that there’s just different ways of fulfilling these types of programs and why certain ones make sense over the other.
23:17 – Paul adds that at Argentum, they intend for every one of their certifications and certificates to have some assessment component. For the investment their professionals will make, they want it to mean something that they have gone through, not only the training, but they’ve had to pass a psychometrically valid examination that truly tests the competencies for their certification/certificate.
24:18 – If an organization is considering an ABC but hasn’t yet done anything, where or how would you recommend they start? Paul recommends the first thing to get started is to form a group of stakeholders to figure out what it is you are trying to build. By going through the process of identifying what you want to accomplish with a particular program, it sets the stage for everything else. He admits this is probably the most difficult meeting but usually by the end, everybody is in unison about what needs to be accomplished through a particular program and what the underlying components are.
26:20 – If you had the chance to do it again, is there anything you’d do differently in terms of the design or development of an ABC — or any sort of “aha’s” you’ve had along the way? Paul shares the big “aha” for them was you really do need more volunteers as far as subject-matter experts than they initially planned for. He says it would’ve been a much easier process with more people involved.
27:28 – What’s going on in learning these days that most excites you? This could be something with application or potential application at your organization or just something that excites you as an individual lifelong learner. Paul reveals one thing they are doing at Argentum that he’s really excited about is looking at developing a comprehensive survey for their membership to find out how they are fulfilling both statutory and/or company and optional professional development needs within their companies. They are doing this to find out what their reliance is and how often they use third party education partners, how much they are doing in-house, and particularly among professionals/C-suite executives, where they are going for their lifelong learning or continuing education. This will help them identify niches to potentially fill and they can be much more tactical and strategic about what the need is and what role Argentum can play. They are also looking at what they can do to make the opportunities available–particularly at the university/community college level, and in general–to make them as distance-learning friendly as possible.
30:40 – How do you approach your own lifelong learning? Paul shares that he belongs to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and has the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential, which offers a professional development opportunity. Personally he’s always attended ASAE events and in the last few years, he’s become active with the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE). By attending their conferences and seminars he’s obtained a lot of useful information, which is particularly impactful for Argentum’s journey into certifications and certificates. He adds that Argentum has formed their own credentialing organization that’s separately incorporated called the Senior Living Certification Commission which has their own board and governance. Argentum did this because they want to have their certifications accredited by a third party which is gives them a higher standard to meet while also making it a much more valuable credential for their certificates.
33:22 – How to connect with Paul and/or learn more about Argentum:
Argentum Website: https://www.argentum.org/
Senior Living Certification Commission Website – http://www.slcccertification.org/
Paul’s email: pwilliams @ argentum.org
Paul’s phone number: (703) 562-1183
34:40 – Wrap Up
Thanks again to Castle, a full service certification and licensure testing company that also offers its clients a variety of learning solutions capabilities, for sponsoring this episode of the Leading Learning podcast.
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36:19 – Sign off