Why Are People Pursuing Professional Certifications?

by Amy Farmer

Despite an ever-expanding catalog of professional learning opportunities, over 400 association professionals choose to take the Certified Association Executive exam every year. While the raw data regarding the number of individuals that pursue the certification is illustrative of its significance in the association management world, this data alone does not provide a complete picture of exam takers and their motivations. 

Little is still known regarding the reasons association professionals choose to sit for the CAE exam. While research exists regarding the motivations of professionals pursuing certification, none of that research is focused on the association management world nor on the CAE exam. 

Understanding Testing Motivations

There’s a lot we know and a lot we don’t. In an attempt to remedy this lack of research and gain some clarity, I have designed a study to identify and classify the motivations of association professionals that choose to sit for the CAE exam using Cyril Houle’s typology of adult learners. 

Houle’s research determined the motivations of adult learners fell into three distinct categories: 

  1. Goal-oriented learners – participate in continuing education programs as a means of accomplishing clear-cut objectives.
  2. Activity-oriented learners – motivated by the amount and kind of human relationship the learning activity provides. 
  3. Learning-oriented learners – driven by a genuine love for learning and view it as a habitual activity.

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