This feature first appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Imagine you are setting out to explore a certification training program and need guidance on what certification might be best suited to your experience and career path. What certification might boost your earning potential or get you noticed in your current job? Could you possibly get a promotion if you obtain a certain certification? What certification is hot right now?
There are many possibilities out there for sites and programs. How can you tell which is right for you? Let’s take a look at product reviews and how you can use them to determine which credentials (and training materials) will best suit your needs. We’ll also consider what you can do to make your own reviews helpful to others.
There is a vast pool of knowledge available to consumers from reviews. Reviews can be overwhelming, misguided, fake, or genuinely helpful — provided that you know where to look and how to interpret what you find. Where should you look for sound information? What are the signs of a trustworthy review, and how can you tell when a review is totally fake?
Also, suppose that you have already taken a helpful training program, one that has benefited you greatly. How can you best write a review of your own that will help the next person following the same path? There are points you should cover in order to provide a quality review, one that helps the reader, and other items that need not be included.
Where to look
Let’s start with the most basic of skills in the technology world: Google. You can connect with many reviews by simply clicking a link on Google. If I were starting entirely from scratch, then I would search for “reviews of [certification product or platform]” and really start to sift through the pile. Using Google can help you jump straight to reviews of a training platform or certification program that you can read.
If you know what you’re looking for, then you can jump straight to the good stuff. When you are searching around for a good review of a particular certification or a training program, don’t skip the social media basics. Popular forums and aggregators like LinkedIn, reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and even Pinterest offer a wide array of opinions from many different backgrounds.
You can create an account and search for a topic to get the most pinned, or most posted, or most replied-to posts. Remember, when searching for opinions, that people on social media sites won’t hesitate to give them. These users may also give more honest opinions, seeing as how there’s no kickback of any sort and reviews can, in many cases, be largely or entirely anonymous.
You’ll also find links to sites like G2 that only do reviews. The reviews on such sites are often at least somewhat transactional. Though at least nominally independent, these sites often foster a relationship with product owners, which in this case would be certification programs and training platform providers. Such sites often offer bonuses that essentially pay people to contribute a review.
This doesn’t mean that information available from such sites is unreliable. Most have various protections in place to ensure that people who submit reviews have actually used the products they are reviewing. For me, these sites rank squarely in the middle of the spectrum of sources for reviews of certification programs and training platforms.
Training and reviews together
Now we come to the training sites themselves. In my opinion, these are the absolute best places to pick up a useful review. Who better to explain a platform’s best features than the people who are using it? The best place to find people who are “on” a given platform, or who actually took a given class, is on the forums and message boards hosted by those same training providers.
The 360 Training e-learning platform focuses on industry-related training. The company started by providing online traffic school courses in 1997. Today, 360 Training provides courses on topics including workplace safety, food and beverage service, IT and software skills, HR and compliance work, business skills, and real estate education.
In researching this article, I stumbled across a review for this site that exhaustively detailed its best features. I had not used this site in the past, but after reading the reviews, I am going to give it a try. The reviews are usually broken out into “pro” and “con,” positive or negative, and are laid out in an easy-to-read format.
I imagine the reviews are brokered and edited for content before they are posted to the site, since they read quite smoothly and the grammar is spot on. Here is an excerpt:
“The programs available through 360 Training are great for refreshing skills or learning about new areas specific to your occupation. They offer a few subscriptions with packages perfect for developing discrete skill sets. For example, there is an IT skills associate subscription that gives you access to 418 courses for $24.99 per month. Many of the courses come with official certifications such as the OSHA 10- or 30-hour training.”
Another amazing site that provides both training and training reviews is Udemy. The Udemy online course platform is one of the most well-known sources of education via the internet. It’s been around since 2010, when it offered approximately 100 courses. Udemy now boasts more than 40,000 options for online training. After choosing a course, you watch videos and/or presentations, have access to reading materials and/or discussion boards, and may then be tested through quizzes.
Khan Academy is another location that matches Udemy’s reviews and has reviews that let visitors see how their platform stacks up against competing platforms. Khan Academy was built with the intent to provide totally free education to everyone in the world, so it is widespread and doesn’t have to buy reviews.
The platform focuses on training through short YouTube videos. But Khan Academy also offers machine-graded assessments and comment threads. There are a wide variety of courses, which tend to focus on academic subjects (mathematics, history, physics, and biology). If you want to branch out from tech, then this is the way to go — and reading reviews from users who did just that was what encouraged me to follow suit.
Another option is Coursera. This is my go-to for all types of training from well-respected locations, schools, and individuals. Two professors from Stanford University founded the Coursera learning platform in 2012. Each course is designed like an interactive textbook, featuring prerecorded videos, quizzes, and projects.
You can choose whether to sign up for on-demand courses or courses with set schedules that range from four to twelve weeks. This platform also offers specializations that are based on a sequence of courses with a final project. It aims its courses toward adult learning. I took a finance class on Coursera, based on a review posted by another Coursera user.
Finally, there is LinkedIn and its platform for learning, called Lynda. This service is a treasure-trove of reviews that are meaningful and helpful. Because Lynda is joined at the hip to LinkedIn, reviews are directly connected to a verifiable individual. Before becoming a subsidiary of LinkedIn, Lynda began as an online platform that focused on topics like software and web development, design, and business.
How to recognize a trustworthy review
We’ve established that there are numerous places where you can find reviews. But how can you tell which reviews are worth the pixels they’re written on? What are the elements of a good review, and what are the indications that a review is trustworthy, or even real?
Generally speaking, people on the web trust product reviews. Online consumer reviews are typically viewed as being more reliable than anything but direct recommendations from close friends and family members. So we know that people are reading reviews and that they care about them.
So how does one judge whether a review is trustworthy? Here are a couple of points to ponder. First of all, look at the site where a given review appears. Who is permitted to post reviews there? If the most reliable reviews are those created by people who have actually used the product, then you should look for evidence of gatekeeping. Are reviews verified by the site where they are posted? Is a login or product ID required to post a review?
Next, consider the source. Are there multiple reviews given by the same user? Do separate reviews contain the same language, or similar grammatical miscues? These are fairly reliable indicators that a bot or a paid reviewer has been posting.
Finally, consider whether the site where you find a review has clear rules about posting reviews. If a given site is clear about its ground rules, then I generally find reviews at that site to be reliable. Pay attention as well to what the reviewer has to say about his or her own credentials. Reliable reviewers often specify their background and prior experience to establish credibility.
Write your own review
What should you include when writing a review of your own, and where should you post it? I believe that to do the most and have the highest possible credibility — to really provide something of value to the next person who comes along — your review must be honest. To be perfectly clear, never review a course you haven’t taken or a training product you haven’t used.
Beyond that, include details, discuss features that you did and didn’t like, and provide specific feedback. Remember to include any academic or professional credentials. I’m a stickler for achievement so I automatically read more carefully when reviews are given by people who have degrees or certifications.
No matter what training platform or program you decide on, approach reviews with an optimism that the person who wrote each review has your best interests in mind. Pay attention to the nuances that indicate whether a review is authentic. Most of all, if you write a review of your own, be sure to include all of the information that you’d expect to find in a review yourself. Thank you for your contribution and happy certifying!