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Are Microcertifications Worthwhile?

A new trend is emerging in the IT education market. Instead of pursuing traditional certifications, which can take months or years to earn and can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, some IT pros are choosing "microcertification" courses. These are narrow, tightly focused classes that allow students to improve their understanding of a particular technology or technique like subnetting, Linux fundamentals, and dynamic malware analysis in just a few days.

Linux Academy and Cybrary, two online IT learning providers that offer micro certifications, conducted a survey earlier this year that polled more than 6,000 IT professionals about their opinions of and experiences with microcertification. Here's what they found.

Microcertification benefits

Respondents who had taken microcertification courses reported generally positive experiences. More than half (58%) said they believed their microcertifications conveyed the same level of technical proficiency as traditional certifications. Students said they experienced a number of benefits, including:

  • Up-to-date knowledge. When asked why they had taken a micro certification course, 41 % of respondents said the courses help them keep up with changing technologies. This was the top response.
  • Manageable time commitments. The second and third most popular responses to the question about why they had taken the courses were "I could learn at my own pace" (selected by 37%) and "I have other responsibilities and lack the time to commit to a lengthy traditional course" (32%). Students said they valued the flexibility and shorter duration of these less-traditional classes.
  • Low costs. More than a quarter (28%) of survey respondents said that their microcertification course was free, and majority of those polled (58%) said their class cost $50 or less. Only about one in five paid more than $100 for microcertification. Eighty-two percent agreed that microcertification cost less than a traditional IT certificate.
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The downside

Despite the potential advantages, the microcertification trend faces some challenges. Because it’s fairly new, a lot of people are not familiar with the term. Of those surveyed, about 40% had taken a microcertification course, and among those surveyed who had not taken a class, 65% said they did not know what microcertification was.

In addition, it seems that employers are still more impressed by traditional IT certs than by microcertifications. More than a third (36 percent) of those surveyed said that their companies valued traditional certifications over microcertifications.

Still, even with this lack of awareness and acceptance, most of those who have taken microcertification courses seem satisfied with their experience. In the survey, more than 90%t of those who had attended the classes said they planned to take more in the future, and would recommend microcertification to a friend or colleague.

If their responses are typical, the microcertification trend may be here to stay.