Definitions and Terms

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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.