Anyone who has ever been to Disneyland and taken a spin on the Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster ride can probably hear in their mind's ear the voice of the old timey prospector encouraging visitors to ride safely: "Now then, hang on to them hats and glasses, 'cause this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness!"
A similar word of warning may be appropriate to those in the IT certification community, now that IT industry association CompTIA has taken the fairly monumental step of offering its first 'round-the-clock, anytime-anywhere online certification exam.
There's been a healthy debate on the topic of online IT certification testing for several years, but a rush to implement similar offerings could soon lay all that to rest. It seems highly unlikely that other IT certification programs will simply stand by as CompTIA delivers a major innovation that seems certain to be popular with exam candidates.
The newly-refreshed Project+ exam, CompTIA's project management credential, is officially the first rat to enter the maze, though online access to Project+ testing is currently available only in the United States and Canada. CompTIA is partnering with ProctorU to make the leap into the online testing realm.
CompTIA is not the first major player in the IT certification game to embrace the convenience (for exam takers) and cost-savings (for exam deliverers) of online testing. Microsoft Learning embarked on its own online endeavor with a handful of exams almost three years ago.
CompTIA isn't waiting around, however, to see how its experiment plays out. While CompTIA officials note that CompTIA exams will continue to be available at traditional testing centers, it's clear from the language of CompTIA's press release announcing the change, that a major shift is underway: "The number of exams available via the online testing program will be expanded in the coming weeks."
Exam security is generally viewed as being the biggest hurdle to widespread online certification testing. How do you prevent exam takers from cheating and, perhaps more importantly, how do prevent the theft of test questions by black market resellers intending to repurpose the material for brain dumps?
CompTIA officials seem confident that they can meet the challenges. CompTIA CIO Randy Gross said in the press release that CompTIA exams offered online will be identical to those made available in testing centers. "Regardless of the setting, the test-taking experience will meet our high standards for integrity and security, Gross said.
CompTIA's decision will likely be welcome news to the many proponents of online testing in the IT certification realm. There's no guarantee of what lies ahead, but it would appear that change is imminent. Hold on to your hats and glasses.