Instructional Designers Should Take A Cue From Pittsburgh Steelers’ LB James Harrison

Over the weekend, I read this article about American football player James Harrison, and how he returned two trophies that his sons had received because they had not really done anything to earn those trophies.

It made me think of the certificates that are given after people attend a training workshop or a conference or completing an elearning module. What do those certificates even mean?  


Several years ago I attended a webinar in which the presenter suggested that instructional designers hold certificates until the learners have demonstrated proficiency in the topic at hand. This could mean that instead of simply designing a 1-day workshop, a learning experience could be marketed as a 1-month experience. Maybe there’s a webinar or a short elearning module or some other pre-work to start. Then the learning is reinforced and practiced during the 1-day workshop. Then the learners are challenged to apply the learning to their jobs and submit some sort of evidence of mastery within a month. Then, and only then, should a certificate be awarded to learners.

Announcing  a learning experience as a 1-month (or 3-month or 6-month) learning experience as opposed to a 1-day or 3-day workshop immediately shifts the mental model with which a learner will approach the situation. By spacing the learning over the course of  a month (or longer) and insisting learners do something upon their return to their office, it can also lead to better retention, not to mention the possibility for level 3 (transfer) and level 4 (impact) evaluation.

Instructional designers can indeed take a lesson from James Harrison and insist that their learners earn their certificates.

Have you found a way to make certificates more meaningful? Let’s hear about it in the comment section.

4 thoughts on “Instructional Designers Should Take A Cue From Pittsburgh Steelers’ LB James Harrison

  1. We just started doing this with one of our safety programs. Employees must attend the in-person class, which covers policy, demo and hands-on practice. This goes into our training documentation system. Their status doesn’t change to Completed until they have performed the procedure on the job and had a supervisor or other designee evaluate that they’ve done it correctly. A form is completed and signed off and once that is received, they are considered trained. I wish we had this format with all relevant topics, but we’re starting with this one. It’s especially appropriate in this case because not everyone that is required to be trained performs the procedure often, so it could be a week/month/6 months later and it’s important to make sure those that rarely do it still do it correctly and safely each time.

    • Thanks for sharing the specific example, Laura!!

      I especially think this strategy is relevant for compliance/safety training! If an organization (or the FDA or other regulatory agency) thinks it’s important… then people should probably demonstrate proficiency in it!

  2. GREAT idea! I send a special timer app to folks who email me with something they have used and implemented from the class but no more than 10% do so. Holding certificates until then is a great idea. Probably easier to enforce with a corporate in-house program than a public seminar.

    • The timer! Yes! Bob Pike used that as a hook to have me email him after I saw his session at TechKnowledge in 2008(?). It worked on me!

      Yes, in-house is generally easier to enforce… although a number of international attendees LOVE the certificates. And so for those who place value on the certificates, I think it can work even for public seminars!

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