Accreditation vs Certification: Understanding the Difference

Posted by Sophia Duplin
Accreditation vs Certification: Understanding the Difference

In the world of professional development and continuing education, two terms that are often used interchangeably are accreditation and certification. However, there are important distinctions between these two concepts that are necessary for educators and professional development specialists to understand.


On this page, we will delve into the differences between accreditation and certification, their purposes, and how professional development and educational institutions use them.


What Is Accreditation?

Accreditation is a process that evaluates the quality of an educational institution, program, or degree. It is a voluntary process in which an external accrediting organization assesses an institution or program against predetermined standards.


Accreditation ensures that the institution or program meets or exceeds specific quality standards and is able to provide a high-quality education. The process is typically rigorous and multifaceted.


Accreditation is important for institutions seeking to attract and retain learners, as well as for students who want assurance that they are receiving a quality education.


Understanding the Various Types of Accrediting Bodies

There are many different accrediting bodies. Organizations who wish to get accredited must go through their industry's specific accrediting body.


For example, if you are looking to get accredited to deliver continuing medical education to doctors, you will go through the ACCME. If you are looking to get accredited to deliver continuing education to business proffessionals, you will have to go through IACET.


Some industries have state-specific accrediting bodies. For example, if you'd like to deliver continuing legal education to lawyers, you will have to apply for accreditation to each state bar association to deliver CLE in that state.


If you are looking to get accredited to deliver continuing education, and unsure who your accrediting body is, you should check out our How To Get Accredited Official Guide. On that page, we outline 21 industries, their accrediting bodies, and first steps you can take towards accreditation.


What Is Certification?

Certification, on the other hand, is a process that evaluates the competency of an individual in a particular field or profession. It is a voluntary process in which an individual seeks recognition from an accredited organization that they possess the knowledge, skills, and experience required to perform a specific job function.


Certification often involves passing an examination that tests an individual's knowledge and skills in the field, as well as meeting specific education and experience requirements. Certification is important for professionals seeking to advance their careers or gain recognition within their field.


Educators and organizations have the flexibility to deliver certifications through online webinars, on-demand courses, or in-person events. This ensures that learners can access educational opportunities conveniently and adapt to their preferred learning styles.



First, Second and Third-Party Certification Levels

Certifications can also serve as a testament to the quality, safety, and compliance of products, services, or systems. However, not all certifications are created equal.


They can be broadly categorized into first-party, second-party, and third-party certifications, each differing in their level of credibility and acceptance.


First-party certification is essentially a form of self-assessment. In this case, an organization or individual assesses their own products, services, or systems against a set of standards or requirements, and asserts that they are in compliance.


This type of certification can be used for internal purposes, such as quality assurance checks, product development, and continuous improvement efforts. However, it may not always be recognized by external entities, given the potential for bias in self-assessment.

Second-party certification involves an assessment performed by an entity that has a relationship with the party being certified. This could be a business partner, a customer, or a trade association, for instance.


The certifying entity evaluates the products, services, or systems of the other party to ensure they meet specific standards or requirements. This type of certification is often used in business-to-business transactions, where one company wants assurance that a supplier's products or services meet its standards.

Third-party certification, on the other hand, is considered the most credible and widely accepted form of certification. In this scenario, an independent organization with no vested interest in the transaction between the first and second parties conducts the assessment.


These third-party certifiers evaluate products, services, or systems against internationally recognized standards or requirements. If the criteria are met, they issue a certificate attesting to the compliance. This type of certification provides a high level of trust and assurance, as it is carried out by an impartial and competent body. Examples of third-party certification include ISO certification for quality management systems or organic certification for food products.


What Is The Difference Between Accreditation and Certification?


One key difference between accreditation and certification is the focus. Accreditation focuses on evaluating the quality of an institution or program, while certification evaluates the competency of an individual.


Another difference is the level of authority. Accreditation is typically granted by an external accrediting organization, while certification is granted by a certifying or accredited organization.


Additionally, accreditation is often required for institutions or programs that receive federal funding or state licensure, while certification is typically voluntary.


It is important to note that accreditation and certification can work in tandem to ensure quality education and competent professionals.


For example, schools or educational programs may be accredited by an external agency, and also require faculty members to hold specific professional certifications within their subject areas. In this way, both accreditation and certification contribute to maintaining the overall quality and reputation of an institution or program.


Wrapping Up: The Key Takeaways on Accreditation and Certification

In conclusion, while the terms accreditation and certification are often used interchangeably, it is important to understand the distinctions between the two concepts.


Accreditation focuses on assessing the quality of an institution or program, while certification assesses the competency of an individual. Both processes are voluntary, but can contribute to maintaining the overall quality and reputation of an educational institution or professional field.


Educators and professional development specialists should be aware of these differences in order to make informed decisions and ensure the best outcomes for their students and professionals.


Accreditation and certification play vital roles in upholding quality standards and ensuring professional competence in various industries. By understanding their distinctions and exploring the available resources, individuals and organizations can make informed decisions that align with their educational and professional goals.


Leveraging BeaconLive for both Accreditation and Certification Needs

BeaconLive can help you with both accreditation and certification when it comes to continuing education and professional development.


Our team and platform will help you get accredited by your respective accrediting body. Once you're accredited, we then help you build courses, host online content and create certification programs for your learners. Our platform is completely customizable so it can tailor exactly to the certification program you would like to deliver.


Feel free to contact us if you would like to get accredited and deliver certification programs to your audience.


Whether you are a business, organization, or educator, our team is dedicated to providing you with the expertise and support you need to succeed.



Topics: BeaconLive Platform & Services, Certificates, Continuing Education, Education, eLearning, Professional Development

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What is the fundamental difference between accreditation and certification?

Accreditation and certification are two distinct concepts, although they are often used interchangeably. Accreditation typically refers to a recognition given to a whole institution, program, or department, certifying that it meets certain standards of quality and competence. On the other hand, certification generally applies to individuals, verifying that they have achieved a specific level of skill or knowledge in a particular field.

Is one more important than the other - accreditation or certification?

The importance of accreditation versus certification depends largely on the context. For institutions or programs, accreditation is crucial as it assures students and professionals that the education or training they will receive meets established quality standards. For individuals, certification can be vital in proving their expertise or proficiency in a specific area, which can enhance employability and career progression.

Can an individual be accredited or an institution be certified?

Typically, institutions are accredited and individuals are certified. However, there can be exceptions. For example, a training program within an institution could be certified if it meets the criteria set by a certifying body. Similarly, in some fields, individuals can be accredited if they meet certain professional standards or if they seek to deliver continuing education. It's essential to understand the specific terminology used within each industry or field.