The Electric Educator: Corporate Certifications - Are They Worth It?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Corporate Certifications - Are They Worth It?

Corporate certifications are pretty popular - Google Educator, Microsoft Innovative Educator, Apple Distinguished Educator, Discovery STAR, etc. I would argue that at the moment, these credentials have more "street cred" and glamour than most accredited degree programs. At conferences around the country I see educators writing "Google Educator" on their name badges; I don't see them writing, M.Ed., Wayne State University.  

It is worth considering the merits of a un-accredited certification offered by a for-profit company. Are these programs more swagger than substance? How an independent educator approach such opportunities? 

I myself am a Certified Google Innovator (Certified Teacher), Google Certified Trainer, and oogle Certified Administrator. I've taken every certification that Google offers and am actively engaged in helping other educators earn their certifications ( I have friends who are Apple Distinguished Educators (ADE), Microsoft Innovative Educators (MIE), and Discovery Education Network Gurus (DEN). 

When considering any corporate certification program, keep three things in mind: 

Spread Ideas not Products

Any certification that is designed to increase adoptions and sales of a products is probably not something that you want to be involved with. That would make you an unpaid sales rep. A good certification program recognizes the timeless principles of teaching and learning and seeks to empower educators to do amazing things by equipping them to understand and master those key ideas (and yes, that may involve using specialized software and hardware).

The training provided through these programs should be more than just "button clicking" training designed to make you an expert user of a product - it should show how a suite of products or devices can open up new learning opportunities and support effective instructional practice. True transformative use of technology is about pedagogy, not the title of the latest device or piece of software.

Connect people not sales teams

Certification programs should seek to connect like-minded individuals in an effort to encourage radical innovation through the exchange and sharing of ideas, experiences, and thoughts. All certification programs should feature a thriving community with rich discussion, sharing of resources, and open innovation.

Beware of any program motivated by a desire to carve off quality content for use in pitch decks and promotional stories or for the development of an unpaid sales team that will promote and pitch products to potential new customers. Seek programs that offer multiple avenues to connect with innovative and creative people - through online communities, resource databases, and in-person meetups.

Provide no-strings attached opportunities

Certification programs should connect people and provide opportunities without expectations. Certified individuals should not be required to use the products of the company offering the certification or prevented from speaking freely and honestly about those products.

For hundreds of years, educators have served the role of watchdogs against corruption and negligence- protecting and warning the public. This was the primary reason that tenure was developed - to prevent the termination of a faculty member who took an unpopular position.

The same should be true of any brand-name certification. Yes, it is fine to encourage excitement about a product, to the point that individuals share that excitement with others. But, if a company wishes to benefit from such excitement, they must also be willing to listen to the constructive feedback of that same group when they have missed the mark.

Are corporate certifications a good thing? In most cases, yes. I believe that Apple, Google, and Microsoft (as the three most dominant tech companies in education right now) are positively impacting education through their certification programs. However, as educators, we do need to recognize our role as independent thinkers and ensure that our commitment to our students and communities comes before our allegiance to a corporate super power.

Have you earned a corporate certification? Did your experience line up with the three principles I outlined above?


  1. Hi there John. I just passed my very first of these awards - the Google Certified Educator Level 1. I feel that I learnt a lot through the experience and found out a bit more about some of the parts of Google I don't use as frequently. It was helpful to see how I can use YouTube more effectively, and make better use of Google Forms. I think it's important for us to keep in mind that these companies are not the answer to all of our problems, but are each tools in our teaching toolbox that we can draw on to help us be more effective and engaging teachers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

    1. Hi Penny! Thanks for sharing your experience - I completely agree that we should not look to these commercial entities as the solution to challenges in education. Congratulations on passing the level 1 exam!


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