3 Stages of Creating a 
Continuous Learning Journey for Your Candidates'
 Long-Term Success

The professional learning journey has three crucial stages: Learn, Practice, and Certify. Does your certification training program encompass all three stages?

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Over the past few decades, we’ve witnessed a cosmic shift in what guarantees a successful career. The value of a four-year degree is steadily eroding and being replaced with an emphasis on growing (and proving) job-related skills to stay competitive.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation that followed have only accelerated this change. And for the associations and certifying bodies that help professionals build and boost their marketable skills, this accelerated shift presents an incredible opportunity for growth and impact.

Continuous learning is here to stay, and the organizations who understand and embrace the entire continuous learning journey for their candidates and members will be here to stay, too.

Here you’ll discover the three continuous learning journey stages and how they can help candidates find long-term success.

What is Continuous Learning?

Continuous learning is the ongoing expansion of knowledge and skill sets. Developing and honing new professional skills is the best way for people to advance their careers. Working professionals regularly seek opportunities to expand their skills as new technology and trends emerge, which means associations are well-positioned to help their candidates (and their candidates’ employers) achieve the following:

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Continuous Learning Journey Stages

Through the continuous learning journey, learners rotate through three stages as they prepare to achieve their next professional milestone. Each stage is crucial in a learner’s ability to absorb, retain, and apply the knowledge they’ve learned. It’s important for associations and credentialing organizations to guide candidates along each of the three stages of the continuous learning journey to set their candidates up for long-term success—in turn, enabling them to advance with their certifications in the professional world.

3 stages: 1 learn, 2 practice and 3 certify
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Stage 1: Learn

Learning is about acquiring knowledge, and in the case of professional certifications, going one step further and mastering that knowledge. According to the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, we forget almost 80%
 of what we’ve learned within the first month. This means that if learners don’t actively apply or review new knowledge, they’re at greater risk of forgetting it.

To the right is a visual representation of a learner’s journey through a certification training program, likely in preparation for some kind of learning event such as an exam. This graph assumes that a learner starts a course with little to no proficiency on the topic being taught. As they progress, it’s assumed that their proficiency increases, and levels out at (hopefully) a high level upon completion.

This is when the Forgetting Curve sets in.

As the learner moves beyond their learning event and back to their day-to-day activities riddled with distraction, much of this gained knowledge is lost, especially when that knowledge isn’t immediately put into practice.

There are several ways certification training programs can enhance their candidates’ ability to learn and remember crucial information. Spaced learning, microlearning, omnichannel delivery, and personalized learning pathways are all methods of enhancing recall and memory of key points required to master an area of study.

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Spaced Learning

One proven strategy for conquering the forgetting curve is spaced learning; repeated exposure to information over designated periods helps you retain and store more knowledge in your memory. Flashcards are a powerful tool for learning and a prime example of using repetition to memorize key phrases or terminology.

When designing a certification training program with spaced learning in mind, you’ll repeat the following process many times:

  • Introduce a concept to your learners
  • Allow some time to pass (hours, days, months)
  • Present that content again to reinforce the lesson

One widely used practice involves repeating new and more difficult concepts more often while limiting repetition for older, easier topics. Those old and easy topics were new and challenging at one point. Thanks to spaced repetition strategies, learners will have committed the information to their long-term memory.

Did you know? The spacing effect is a proven learning strategy that can improve learner retention by up to 170%forgetting curve with spaced repetition
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Microlearning breaks long-form content into bite-sized modules, ranging up to 20 minutes at a time.

But there’s more to microlearning than simply chopping your long-form courses down into smaller chunks. First, take a step back to define your course objectives. Then, tie all of your content to a specific objective, and classify which information is essential in helping the learner understand each objective. Include only the most pertinent information in the course to ensure your learner’s don’t get distracted by lessons and information they don’t need. If everything seems essential, dial into a few microlearning best practices to assist you further.

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Omnichannel Delivery

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the entire world online, we learned a valuable lesson in the power of omnichannel delivery for continuous learning.

For instance, people spend far more time on their mobile devices than on their laptops or desktop computers. Therefore, mobile-friendly modules may be the only effective way to reach most learners where they are—on their phones.

According to Towards Maturity’s InFocus report titled Mobile Learning at Work, 47% of organizations currently use mobile devices in their training programs.

Mobile capabilities encourage learners to engage and study when they have spare time.

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Personalized Learning Pathways

Digital training programs encourage learners to choose how and when they learn, thus providing a more personalized experience. Learners determine the skills they wish to strengthen rather than being lumped into the rest of the class.

Personalized learning is also more engaging. Letting learners decide where to start is often more effective than dictating it to them.

It’s no secret that too many learners click through training modules they deem irrelevant just to get them over with. On the flip side, personalized learning plans intend to keep adult learners engaged with the information that is the most important to help them achieve mastery of the subject at hand.

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Stage 2: Practice

Learning new content alone is not enough. Candidates also need to leverage practice questions, self-assessments, and mock exams to put their new-found skills to the test. Ideally, these practice scenarios help build confidence—confidence in the material they need to know to achieve their career goals, and confidence that they’ll pass the final examination with flying colors.

Psychology writer Malcolm Gladwell suggests dedicating 10,000 hours of practice toward a skill to master is. While learners likely won't have to allocate 10,000 hours towards a certification training, they'll still need ample time and opportunity to practice the material they've learned before test day.
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Benefits of Practice Questions

Practice questions are crucial to reinforcing the learning experiences from the Learn stage. Practice tests ease learners’ stress and anxiety on exam day while providing them with valuable feedback in a mock exam atmosphere. Certification training providers must provide learners with as many practice opportunities as possible to set them up for success.

Practice helps learners pass their certification exams

Mock exams allow learners to self-assess and redirect their focus toward the subjects they’re struggling with. Ensure you’re mixing practice exams and quizzes into the continuous learning journey to help candidates retain and apply what they’ve learned in your modules.

Practice helps learners feel prepared and confident on exam day

Learner confidence is one of the most important metrics you can track as candidates move through your training program. When taking practice exams, have learners denote how confident they are in a given answer on a scale of very confident to not confident. While a good guess can still be a correct answer, it indicates a lack of knowledge retention. Depending on the subject matter, incorrect answers could be as costly as life or death, such as in the case of a medical certification.

Practice experiences are what learners want, demand,
 and crave the most

Your learners want to put their knowledge to the test before exam day. Whether they grew up playing sports or studying in school, they know
 the value of practice.

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Practice Test Strategies

Employ these practice exam strategies to maximize learner outcomes:

Use mixed-format practice exams

Mixed-format refers to exams with various question types, from multiple choice to fill-in-the-blank. Research shows that mixed-format exams are the most effective for preparing learners for the final exam, even if the exam is in only one format.

Leverage distributed practice

Several short exams conducted over time, specifically after the learner diverts their attention elsewhere, require mental processing andrecall, leading to deeper learning and retention.

Provide feedback

Feedback is crucial to achieving your learning outcomes. This is especially true for the window immediately following the practice exams, as researchers found that delaying feedback was not as helpful as instant feedback.

Spaced repetition vs. cramming

Spaced repetition involves breaking practice tests into shortersessions over a longer period. You’re more likely to rememberinformation that has been spaced out and repeated.

The opposite is massed practice, which involves fewer, longer sessions. Cramming the night before would be an example of massed practice. It might help candidates remember lessons in theshort term, but they won’t retain them long term.

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Additional Benefits of Practicing

Learners that feel prepared are significantly less likely to drop out of a course. And by providing online practice exams modeled after the real exam, you’ll also be able to boost learner confidence.

Furthermore, the benefits of practice exams don’t end with the learner. Real-time data tells you how your learners interact with and perform on their practice exams. You can easily identify trends among your learner base and see where you can make changes in the lessons to help convey information more effectively.

Practice exams help learners identify their strengths and weaknesses, adding another layer of personalization to the entire certification program. Self-assessment is the final critical piece of practice and has the learner go back to review their exam. When learners have to grade their work, they can identify where they went wrong and which parts of the lesson they misunderstood. Stumbling upon your own mistakes is the best way to correct them.

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Stage 3: Certify

Once learners migrate through the Learn and Practice stages, they will be ready to take (and pass!) the certification exam.

The certification and credentialing industry must be amped and ready to pick up speed as we adapt to the new skills-based economy. Now is the perfect time for associations and credentialing organizations to capitalize on a wide-open market.

Industry-leading learning companies have already made significant headway in a growing market. Such companies see the increasing evidence suggesting strong interest in skills-based, digital credentials, especially among diverse adult learners and lower-income backgrounds. And since four-year degrees have recently taken a back seat to job-specific skills training, learners enrolled in such programs will have a leg up on the competition.

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Benefits of Credentials for Professionals

In an increasingly competitive job market, professionals are constantly seeking ways to enhance their marketability and credibility. Gaining industry-specific certifications has become a crucial strategy to achieve this and yields several benefits.

Building Trust and Reputation

When professionals are approached for the first time regarding a new career opportunity, their credentials and certifications provide an extra layer of trust and expertise. One unique strategy we have seen work well is called ‘stapling’, where professionals staple a certification to a degree or staple a certification to a job.

Standing Out in the Crowd

Verified credentials and certifications have become a form of currency, especially for professionals looking to stand out in a highly competitive workforce.

Even if their field doesn’t require special certifications, learners who take the time to earn one will remain one step ahead of the competition. If you were a hiring manager looking at two identical candidates, but only one earned a professional certification in their field, who would you choose?

Increased Earning Potential

Professionals can easily use their certifications as a bargaining chip to negotiate higher salaries and career advancement. On the flip side, employers can rest assured knowing their credentialed employees will bring in more revenue for the company—a win-win for everyone involved.

In addition 87% of executives believe people with alternative credentials bring value to the workplace. They also believe alternative certifications are crucial to professional development and those who earn said credentials gain more credibility. In their minds, credentialed professionals are better performers.woman with glasses smiling at laptop wit a popup of her current skill levels

What's Next?

The Role of Continuing Education in a Continuous Learning Journey

Once candidates take the final steps toward achieving their professional certifications, taking and passing their certification exams, they then loop back into the Learn stage as they seek to sharpen skills or develop new ones with continuing education opportunities.

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Organizations are making great strides in looking to bridge the skills gap between themselves and professionals by offering continuing education pathways, additional certification training, credentialing, and more.

It’s also imperative that organizations highlight credentials during the hiring process. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), most applicant tracking systems (ATS) used by hiring managers don’t account for credential information. In fact, SHRM Foundation President Wendi Safstrom found only a small percentage of HR professionals use ATS screening systems that recognize alternative credentials.

According to McKinsey, 87% of global companies either "have a skills gap, or expect to within a few years." Organizations across every sector struggle to find talent with the most in-demand skills. These businesses must discover more efficient solutions to meet the growing needs.

Empower Candidates with Engaging Continuous Learning through BenchPrep

As the demand for licenses, certifications, and credentials increases, organizations must adapt to the continuous learning journey to bridge the
 skills gap. Candidates crave these learning and practice opportunities, and they want them from the certifying body itself, not some third party they've never heard of.

BenchPrep is the only platform purpose-built to help credentialing organizations eliminate barriers to completion for their certifications, manage and support the candidate journey with actionable data, and grow their certification programs with high-powered mock-exams exams, question banks, and practice experiences. BenchPrep's award-winning learning and assessment experience improves candidate confidence and unlocks insights to drive program growth.

Whether you need a powerful practice product, comprehensive certification practice courses, or ongoing continuing education, BenchPrep can take your certification programs to the next level.

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