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Will Microsoft's Planned Badges Someday Replace MCSE and MCSA Certifications?

The revamp of Microsoft's certification process is under way and the newest offering will come in the form of skills-specific badges for those who don't want, need, or see the value in MCSE or MCSA certifications. For those who do want to pursue MCSE and MCSA certifications, Microsoft is rolling out major improvements to the testing process, to include performance-based exams and the ability to take them anywhere using the company's new online proctoring capability.

Liberty Munson, Microsoft's Principal Psychometrician, outlined the new certification initiatives in a fireside chat earlier this week at the TechMentor conference, taking place on the company's Redmond campus. TechMentor, like Redmond, is produced by 1105 Media. The fireside chat was moderated by Greg Shields, conference cochair,  Redmond columnist and author-evangelist at IT training company Pluralsight.

"We're continuing to evolve the program, and as a result we're going to make some changes where we start badging skills," Munson said. "So we're going to really focus on learning paths, where you pick the skills that you want to go and learn. Some of these courses you will be seeing you can take specific skills and you can get badges and those badges will show up on your transcript and you can show people that you're skilled in certain areas."

The badging training curriculum is likely to roll out in January, according to Munson, and the initial focus will be on Windows Server. Asked if these badges will one day diminish the requirement or desire to seek MCSE or MCSA certifications, Munson told me after the keynote session that it's addressing a generational shift. "The millennials are really about bite-sized chunks, and so we're trying to address that need," she said. "But as a result, certification becomes more difficult of a sell to them because of their learning mind set."

Elaborating on that point, she added: "I think you are going to see fewer people get certifications in the future. If we look a decade from now, two decades from now, certification is going to be something -- I'm going to call it like self-service -- where somebody goes in and they pick the skills that they want to be certified. They design... their own exams and their own certification. I think what we need to do to appeal to that younger generation is give them the flexibility to choose what they want to be measured on so certification takes on a whole different meaning in that potential future. And quite honestly, if certification is going to survive, I think it has to do something like this, it needs to break this mold. Otherwise the millennials are not going to buy into it."

Shields agreed with her, telling me that the notion of badging is a novel approach that many hiring managers and candidates alike may prefer to broader, more extensive certifications that don't necessarily prove specific skills. "As a hiring manager, the ability for someone to look at the badge or to see that someone has certified or passed an assessment in a very particular technology is something that very directly will help him as he goes through finding the right people for the right jobs," Shields said.

At the same time, Microsoft is rolling out a number of significant new capabilities to those who still see and value more traditional MCSE and MCSA certification, Munson emphasized. The new performance-based testing, which is also slated to roll out in January, will represent Microsoft's second attempt to offer exams that go beyond traditional multiple choice questions, enabling candidates to showcase their actual skills.  Microsoft's first stab at performance-based testing years ago was a bust primarily because the underlying infrastructure supporting it wasn't reliable. Given the rollout of Azure, Munson says she's confident that issue is now resolved.

"We think we cracked that nut with Azure in the cloud and really leveraging some of the big things that Microsoft is really focused on right now," she said. "Right now we're in the proof-of-concept phase with our performance-based testing. We probably will start with Windows Server and you'll start seeing elements where performance-based requirements are part of the certification process on the Windows Server exams."

Microsoft is already in the midst of rolling out online proctoring, which eliminates the need for people to have to travel to testing centers. Depending on where a candidate lives,  under the current guidelines, he or she might need to travel hundreds of miles to take an exam, whereas the online proctoring allows people to take them at home or any place they can be monitored to ensure they're not cheating, Munson said. "You have to make sure you're going to be in a location that's going to be uninterrupted," she said. People can take the tests at "home, work, wherever, it doesn't matter.  You can be in your PJs, but you do have to be dressed, because there is a proctor that is going to be watching you."

Online proctoring is already available in 53 countries and Munson hopes to have it rolled out by the end of the calendar year.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/06/2015 at 11:57 AM


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