Definitions and Terms

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Able to do a task (this is ‘skill’).


The process of certification. ISO defines ‘accreditation’ as… ‘the formal recognition by an independent body, generally known as an accreditation body, that a certification body operates according to international standards.’

Anon., ‘Quality management systems – Requirements’, ASQ/ANSI/ISO 9001:2015. American National Standard. 2015. Also,


An evaluation and demonstration of understanding against the learning outcomes. Assessments are conducted against specified criteria. These criteria are specified by a subject matter expert: they are not based on other students’ performances.

An assessment can be:

  • Self assessment (e.g.,).
  • Written or oral examination.
  • Interview.
  • Hands-on demonstration.
  • Assessment of experience and training portfolio.
  • Etc..

An outcome-based assessment means the assessment must be evidence-based, and:

  • State the required competency and refer to its standard (i.e., a  Competency Standard). 
  • Provide clear assessment criteria for judging performance.
  • Specify the level of performance evidence required for the job.

Awarding Body

‘Awarding Bodies/Organisations issue certificates for qualifications to formally recognise the achievements of individuals.  They quality assure the delivery and assessment of those qualifications.’


Best Practice

‘Best practice’ goes beyond ‘good practice’, and would be expected to be the best available practice, supported by other practices that give a measured and demonstrable improvement.

Being ‘the best’ and ‘best practices’ are not the same thing. A ‘best practice; may have been accepted by the profession or industry, but there may well be a better practice in existence somewhere in the world, which eventually will be accepted as the new best practice, but in the meanwhile, it is reasonable to continue with the existing best practice, and it is not necessary to search for this more novel best practice.



Document (letter, card, or other medium) awarded to certificate holders that designates the successful completion of a certificate program’s requisites.

An assessment-based certificate is proof that a candidate has been provided with guidance and training, leading to specific competencies based on learning outcomes, and he/she has been assessed against these outcomes. The certificate is only awarded to candidates who pass the assessment. 

A ‘Certificate of Attendance’ is awarded to individuals who have attended or participated in classes/courses/programs. The certificate confirms the participant was present for the duration of the class/course/program: it does not confirm the accomplishment of the intended learning outcomes.


Certification is a process to show an individual is qualified in terms of particular knowledge or skills. It is the confirmation of certain characteristics of a person. This confirmation is usually provided by either:

  • Formal assessment (e.g., examination); or,
  • An external review.

ISO defines ‘certification’ as: ‘the provision by an independent body of written assurance (a certificate) that the product, service or system in question meets specific requirements’.

Certification is a 'stamp' of approval, usually be a third party organisation, which states and confirms a company is doing what it says it is doing, and can prove it. Certification shows that a process in a company has been audited against an agreed standard.


A specific element of a module/course with a learning outcome.


A co-requisite is a requirement that should be taken at the same time. Co-requisites usually contain information needed to allow a specified competency to be achieved.


Coaching is a one-to-one relationship, involving a series of conversations, just like mentoring. It may be confidential, but its main purpose is to identify opportunities for improved performance and practical ways forward. It is important: ‘A coach is someone who intervenes and is...designed to improve the performance of an individual in a specific task.’

This is different from a mentor a mentor is a... ‘... critical friend, or guide who is responsible for overseeing the career and development of another person outside the normal manager/subordinate relationship.’

Coaching does transfer knowledge, but it has a fixed agenda, related to a task, with a clear outcome, usually short term, and focused on a competency. Mentoring does not have a fixed agenda, it is related to the development of an individual, without a variable outcome, is long term, and focused on the individual.


The ability to undertake responsibilities, and to perform activities to a recognised standard. It is a combination of practical and thinking skills, experience, and knowledge. Developing and maintaining competencies involves education, training, mentoring, etc.. The traditional definition of ‘competence’ is:

Competence = skills + experience + knowledge

These three components of competency have overlap and dependency; for example, ‘knowledge’ is understanding gained through experience or study (see below).

The definition of ‘competence’ now includes ‘values’ or ‘behaviours’. ‘Behavioural’ competencies relate to the job holder (person), whilst ‘job-specific’ competencies relate to the job.

Competencies are specified by knowledgeable staff in the relevant function: these knowledgeable staff need to be ‘subject matter experts’ (see below) to ensure they have the necessary skills.

Competency Appraisal

This appraisal is solely linked to competency. It is not the ‘performance appraisal’ for individual employees which is conducted typically by line managers, focusing on the employee’s performance and development and the support they need in their role.

The ‘performance appraisal’ is still important (it is used to both assess recent performance and focus on future objectives, opportunities and resources needed), but the competency appraisal should not be linked to performance, progression, salary, etc..

Competency Level

Different tasks will require differing levels of competency. These levels will be specified in the Competency Standard. Levels could be: Foundation, Practitioner. These increasing competence levels correspond to increasing job responsibilities.

Competency Management System

The organisational arrangements to control, assure, and develop, competent performance. The aim is:

  • Ensure that individuals are clear about the performance that is expected of them;
  • They have received appropriate training, development and assessment; and,
  • That they maintain, or develop, their competence over time.
The system must include verification, audit, and review.

Competency Matrix/ Mapping

Competency mapping is:

  • Identifying and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of staff (both functional and behavioural competencies require mapping); and,
  • Identifying key competencies for a particular job.

The ‘map’ needs to contain the competencies needed to do a job (e.g., as listed in a job description), and these are compared to the competencies of the job holder, or prospective candidate. Any gap can be managed, then - in parallel - filled by training, etc..

The map is usually a simple ‘staff versus competencies’ matrix.

Competency Standard

Competencies of a job holder need to be assessed against a standard to ensure validation. ‘Competency standards’ provide a common definition of a competency, with its minimum requirements.


An individual (or organisation) is competent when he/she has:

  • Sufficient knowledge of the tasks to be undertaken and the risks involved;
  • The experience and ability to carry out their duties, and recognise their limitations.

Competent Body

An individual or group of individuals which can demonstrate appropriate knowledge, skills, and experience to perform the necessary assessments of the topic, skill, or competence under consideration.

Course: Awareness Level

The course gives an attendee an awareness of terms, concepts, techniques and processes. It gives an introduction of basic concepts, terminologies, and practices.

The course is appropriate for those who have no experience in the subject.

The course is appropriate for those who want to appreciate the subject but will not be required to select or explain the most appropriate actions.

On completion of the course the student will be able to carry out work with supervision from someone more proficient.

Course: Expert Level

This course/programme is appropriate for those who can perform actions associated with this competency without assistance.

Students taking this course/programme are typically recognized within their organizations as ‘a person to ask’ or ‘the go-to person’ when difficult questions arise regarding this specialty. 

The course/programme must:

  • Ensure the student becomes familiar with the ways in which systems have failed in the past;
  • Show the student is keeping abreast of technologies, architectures, application solutions, standards, and regulatory requirements in the areas of his/her expertise;
  • Show the student has sufficient breadth of experience, knowledge and deep understanding to be able to work in novel situations;
  • Give the student the skills to be able to train practitioner level students; and,
  • Show the student is able to deal with multiple problems under pressure.

Course: Foundation Level

The course gives basic skills in the techniques and concepts related to the subject.

The course is appropriate for those who have the level of experience gained in a classroom and/or experimental scenarios or as a trainee on-the-job.

On completion of the course the student will understand and be able to discuss terminology, concepts, principles, and issues related to this subject.

Course: Practitioner Level

This course is appropriate for those who have basic skills and experience in the area.

This course allows the attendee to understand the topic.

It gives the ability to successfully complete tasks in this competency as requested. Help from an expert may be required from time to time, but a practitioner will be able to perform independently in most situations. 

On completion of the course, the student will understand and be able to discuss the application and implications of changes to processes, policies, and procedures in this area.



Provide tangible evidence.



Work activities accomplished under the direction of qualified supervision, but excluding time spent in organised training programmes.

Indicates the workplace experience required to demonstrate competency. This will include years of experience, level of experience, and type of experience.

Experience is the process of obtaining knowledge and ​skills from doing and/or participating in relevant projects, and the accumulation of knowledge and skills leads to a competency.


Formative assessment

‘Formative’ assessment monitors student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. It contributes to learning through providing feedback.


Good practice

‘Good practices’ are practices, documents, and guidelines produced by: government departments; standards-making organisations (e.g. ISO, ASME, CEN); trade federations; professional institution; etc.. They are readily available, and recognised as current practice. They can be considered ‘minimum’ requirements.

Guided learning

Learning (e.g., by experience) that is guided by an individual (a coach or a mentor).



Understanding gained through experience or study. Conversely, experience is the knowledge that comes from personal involvement.


Learning Objective

A learning objective gives the way to meeting the aim (intent) of a course/program of learning.

Learning Outcome

A Learning outcome identifies what the learner will know and be able to do by the end of a course or programme. The learning outcomes give measurable results from studying the course or program. Assessment is against the outcomes.

ASTM E2629-17 considers a learning outcome as a ‘statement of what learners are expected to know or be able to do as a result of the certificate program’s learning event or program (recognizing that actual learning outcomes may or may not be those intended)’.

Learning program

Description of the training, mentoring, and relevant experience needed to gain a particular competence.



A trusted adviser, with the necessary knowledge and wisdom to provide advice and guidance.

A mentor is: ‘[a]... critical friend, or guide who is responsible for overseeing the career and development of another person outside the normal manager/subordinate relationship.’

Coaching transfer knowledge, but it has a fixed agenda, related to a task, with a clear outcome, usually short term, and focused on a competency. Mentoring does not have a fixed agenda, it is related to the development of an individual, without a variable outcome, is long term, and focused on the individual.

Mentoring Activities

Advice and direction given to staff by a recognised mentor. It is ‘guided learning’.


A collection of classes with a clear learning outcome.



Qualifications must be 'portable': as staff move jobs, the qualifications they obtain need to be recognised by all companies. A problem with 'job' qualifications (e.g.,) is that they are often studied for, and awarded by companies. This means they are ‘self-certified’: the pipeline companies organise the training and assessment of staff. This leads to a problem with ‘portability’: staff move jobs often, and the qualification they bring with them into another company may not be recognised by the new company.

Qualifications need to be standardised, with common assessments, and a common certification process. This will give robust, credible qualifications, and complete portability.


The required knowledge or conditions that should be satisfied before being considered for a competency. A pre-requisite is a requirement that should be met before attempting a competency.


A specified group of modules leading to a qualification.



An official record or document (such as a certificate or diploma) which shows a person has completed a course of study or training and is qualified to practice a profession or activity. A qualification is expressed in a formal document (e.g., a certificate, degree, diploma, or award).

According to the European Commission a qualification is ‘a formal outcome of an assessment and validation process which is obtained when a competent body determines that an individual has achieved learning outcomes to a given standard’.

Qualifications for technicians/operators can be considered ‘occupational’ and provide a standard usually in the form of a list of competencies (‘vocational’ skills), corresponding to the main tasks and functions of an occupation. These qualifications/standards differ from qualifications/standards in education where the focus is on what people need to learn, how they will learn it, and how the quality and content of learning will be assessed. In educational qualifications/standards, the competencies are organised in learning fields (or teaching units), following the logic of progressive accumulation of knowledge and skills: the aim is to steer the learning process.

These differences are necessary as some competencies required in the workplace are beyond the scope of educational and assessment processes.

There is often confusion over the terms ‘qualification’ and ‘certification’. Engineering standards ask for ‘qualified’ personnel (‘qualified’ through training and/or experience) to produce the products to the required standard. Standards such as ASME B31.4 ask for these qualified personnel, but never ask for ‘certified’ personnel.

Companies often decide who is ‘qualified’, by assessing their personnel’s training and experience against their own processes and criteria. The customer must trust the companies’ processes. These processes and criteria are documented but they are not usually ‘certified’ (a verification that the product, service or system in question meets specific requirements). These ‘employer-based’ qualifications will lead to a variety of criteria, inconsistency, and lack of credibility.

A better approach is for an independent third-party certification body to certify the qualification, based on a central certification standard, or agreed processes and criteria.

Qualification Descriptor

A statement of outcomes which are to be assessed, and which a student should be able to demonstrate for the award of the qualification.

A statement of the wider abilities that a typical student would be expected to have developed, to give a wider view of the capabilities of the holders of the qualification.

Qualification Level

Qualifications are usually grouped into levels; for example, in England and Wales academic qualifications range from entry level to level 8:

  • Levels 1 to 3: e.g., qualifications awarded at high school level.
  • Levels 4 to 5: e.g., under-graduate qualifications.
  • Level 6: e.g., bachelor’s degree.
  • Level 7: e.g., post-graduate certificate/diploma/degree (masters).
  • Level 8: doctorate.

Qualifications at the same level are a similar level of difficulty, but the size and content of the qualifications can vary.


An individual that has been evaluated and can perform assigned tasks.


Shelf Life

Competencies do not last a lifetime. They have a time limit: the actual time depends on the competency, as some competencies change frequently (e.g., IT competencies).


What you can do. An ability to perform a given task well, arising from talent, training or practice.  A demonstrable competency to perform a given task well, arising from talent, training or practice.

Subject Matter Expert (SME)

An individual recognised as having a special skill or specialised knowledge of a process in a particular field, or of a piece of equipment. The SME must have demonstrable:

  • talent.
  • education (study).
  • training.
  • practice/experience.

Summative assessment

‘Summative’ assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of a program by comparing it against some standard or benchmark; for example an end-of-module examination.


Ability to manage staff with these skills and/or understanding.



Ability to train staff with these abilities and/or understanding, and/or supervisory abilities. ASME B31Q states that the trainer must have demonstrated knowledge of the subject matter; for example:

  • the individual is a ‘Subject Matter Expert’; or,
  • he/she meets the education, experience, and training requirements to be qualified for the skill;
  • or, possesses the knowledge, skill, and ability to provide the training using the selected training materials.



Able to understand and explain the task (this is ‘knowledge’).