Certificates of Completion Controversy

Udemy have started offering Certificates of Completion.

But not for my courses. I opted out.


Well, I have some issues with the notion of certification which I blogged about a long time ago.

But these are certificates of completion, not a certification!

True. But…

  • I don’t agree with the wording
  • I don’t agree with the definition of completed
  • I don’t agree with the use of the word ‘successfully’
  • I don’t like a facsimile of my signature being used without my permission
  • I think it incentivises the wrong behaviour
  • I will not devalue the course

Udemy created the certificate, and I have no control or configuration over the wording of the certificate:

Certificate of Completion

This is to certify that John Smith successfully completed the ‘course name’ online course on 04.15.2013

Signed, Instructor Name

That seems innocuous enough, doesn’t it?

Well, how do Udemy define “Successfully Completed”?

  • By triggering all the API calls sent at the end of watching a video

Yeah, that’s not ‘successfully’ in my book. That’s fast forwarding to the end of a video.

So what does Successfully Completed, really mean?

  • You watched all the videos you needed to
  • You worked through all the exercises
  • The code you produced for the exercises works and was ‘good enough’
  • You reviewed the code I wrote for the course and compared it against yours to learn how we approached it differently
  • You asked me for clarification on issues you weren’t clear on
  • You read the source code for Selenium WebDriver to gain a deeper understanding of the tool
  • You experimented with all the API calls covered
  • You started writing your own automation code on production projects and realised that you were able to do this

Yeah, that’s a little different.

With online training it is impossible for me to certify this:

  • I don’t get to see your work.
  • I don’t have time to review the work created by every student – certainly not at the low price I offer the course.

Since my definition, and Udemy’s definition don’t match, I can’t put my name on the certificate. If it was just the Udemy brand name on the bottom, then I wouldn’t care. You could have your certificate of completion, because it was issued by Udemy.

But my name is on it, with a forged facsimile of my signature. I will only put my name on things I agree with. I’ve been testing too long, to ‘sign off’ on things, I don’t agree with.

You might be able to get a certificate in the future if Udemy allow me to configure the certificate, i.e. take my name off, or let me change the wording.

So what wording would pass my review?

Certificate of Action

This is to certify that John Smith has triggered the 100% viewing API for all videos of the ‘course name’ online course, with the last API called made on 04/15/2013


I appreciate it isn’t as catchy, but its honest.

Apparently a lot of people asked Udemy to add these so they could prove to their company that they had completed the course. I don’t think it does any such thing. I think your company should be able to tell that you completed the course because you now have a set of skills that you didn’t have before.

If your company wants a piece of paper that says you now have these skills then ask them to contact me, and we can arrange a fee for my conducting a review of your automation code and approach.

I’ll point out where I think you excel, where you need work, and I’ll provide examples of alternatives and pros and cons for pursuing them. I can also interview you and we can verbally talk through your understanding. If we conduct the review on site then I can pair with you and get a much better understanding of the thought processes involved.

I will sign my name on any evaluation performed like this.

In the discussion on the Instructor forums, a lot of instructors couldn’t see any issue with the certificates. They felt that it would be good marketing and they would sell more courses. I don’t think many instructors on Udemy opted out of the Certificate of Completion ‘feature’.

But I did.

I had to.

I know what happens when you measure and report on the wrong things… You get the wrong results.

I know that gamification of the wrong criteria, leads to playing the game for the ‘achievements’ not the fun, the learning or the game play.

I was not prepared to devalue the course with a “Certificate of Completion” that certified no such thing.

So, if you wonder why my Udemy courses have no “Certificate of Completion”, now you know.

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49 Responses to Certificates of Completion Controversy

  1. Ash says:


    Although I agree with you on most of the part, I don’t think it’s unethical to get the certificates for the courses completed. I am currently doing my masters online and I hardly interact with my professor except he assigns and grades my assignments. I have learned a lot from video tutorial like java here in udemy.com than in my master’s online class.

    Also, I would assume most of the people that purchase courses in Udemy are very enthusiastic and very much inspired to learn and hence will learn all the videos.

    Having said that, I also wouldn’t put my name on selenium certificate as well because this is a open source project and no one can master this unless we are the committer on this project :).

    Just my 2 cents.

    • Alan says:

      Hi Ash, thanks for leaving a comment.

      Based on your comment, your professor measures your completion directly, by working with you and looking at your work, so he makes a decision to apply his signature to certify his assessment of your completion based on direct involvement. A different situation than the one I describe.

      I don’t consider it unethical to issue certificates for courses completed, in general. But in this post I describe a specific circumstance where that general consideration did not apply.

      Certificates of completion, Certificates of attendance; these differ from ‘certification’ (which I have a problem with, and which I describe in the linked blog post), and these differ from a Certificate of “Successful completion”.

      The certificate in question classes itself as a certificate of Successful completion and makes the claim that I endorse the measure used to determine the ‘successful completion’, which I don’t.

      Ethics relate to the person and the social frame involved. Because of my profession and my studies it seems unethical for me to allow the use of my name on something which clearly didn’t represent what it claims to. Other instructors can take a different ethical stance because of their profession and their understanding of ‘success’ and ‘complete’.

      In my profession, words count. Therefore the language used, particularly when ‘certify’ comes in to play, has to have precision. This certificate does not.

      In my profession, my signature counts. It represents approval. And I don’t approve of this particular certificate, or the measurement used.

      I hope that clears up the difference between the ‘general’ situation “Unethical to get certificates for the courses completed” which you mention, and which I did not comment on in the blog post, and the specific situation that this new feature forced me into.

      Again, thanks for leaving a comment and providing an example that, I think, backs up what I see as wrong with Udemy’s automated ‘successful completion’ certificate.

  2. Anil Fred says:

    Hi Alan,
    Very good, Keep it up. This is why I enrolled with your course. You are imparting the education which should not compromise with greed and false prestige. The honesty will pay you in long term and you will not be disappointed. Had you compromised with Udemy, I would have been the first person to opt out of your future endeavours. I believe you have done a good job in spreading the news and this blogs is well written.
    I congratulate you.


  3. Ben says:

    Good on you, I agree 100%

  4. Hi, I am one of your students on Udemy, and I totally agree with you on this.
    Personally I don’t think the Certificates of Completion mean anything, not only that I think the quality of them are also below average.

    What you have said is true, and these Certificates in no way mean you are competent in the course. I thought it was a bit dodgy that you can skip lectures, unlike a lot of other MOOC’s you have to complete the current lecture befor going onto the next one.

    Good on you for taking a stand ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. Mjrk says:

    I agree with u, mere reviewing the video doesnt mean one has mastered the contents.

  6. Josh Nankivel says:

    I totally support and agree with your position 100% Alan, and I respect your tenacity in standing up for this greatly.

    I shared information about MOOCs recently and had a sizable number of people respond with “do you get a certification?” etc. To which my response was “you are motivated by the wrong thing, bucko.”

    Personally, a certification would have to involve good measures of competency and probably internship/residency before I’d use it as a measure in hiring people for any role. Even then it’s tough to certify anything except for mere familiarity unless you test someone yourself with real-world scenarios.

  7. Duc DINH says:

    Hi Alan,
    I also agree with you. I don’t think this kind of udemy ‘s certificate is important for me. I only need knowledge.

    I hope that in udemy courses have not only video training but also exercise that student must done if want to passes the courses. And then student must pay a cheap price in order to have a paper certificate. And udemy share this value with the teacher…

    • Alan says:

      Hi Duc, thanks for the comment, I suspect the issuing of a certificate and the examination alongside it would probably cost more than the course.

  8. Sreenatha Reddy K R says:

    I agree with you Alan. Keep it Up.


  9. Rahul Verma says:


    Not really for certification/no certification, but for the reason that you challenged the system based on your own perspective. You took a solid stand about what interfered with your principles.

    At one point I was deciding about building some courses for Udemy, and then called it off. I evaluated various LMSs so that I can have close control on what completion means. It’d need more than videos or objective type questions. There is a lot of effort involved in the same, but when I do this, I’d certainly use/build a platform where I can control it.

    I have deep regard for what you did.

    • Alan says:

      Thanks Rahul.

      Udemy make it very easy to get your content out there quickly, and manage and amend it when live. The platform also supports some basic student engagement. All, out of the box, for no upfront fee, so it allows for experimentation.

      When I started, I looked at a lot of options, but then work got in the way and it took another year or so before I had time to put the content together. Since I couldn’t risk that work would impact the course production again, I focused on getting it released, rather than retaining the access control.

      There are now a lot more options for course hosting than there were two years ago, the online learning scene has changed quickly. Unfortunately all the LMSs I have looked at, have had a price structure that discouraged experimentation, and cost a lot more when you grow the student base. I would not have been able to afford releasing the free courses through the LMSs I looked at.

      When you get something setup, I’d be interested in learning what platform you choose.


  10. dpeeva says:

    Totally agree with you! Thanks for letting me know it’s not only me who feels awkward to tell I got ‘certified’ for some knowledge I was not even examined on. I felt stupid when I found the ‘Mark as completed’ button on the videos.
    There are other educational platforms, to get things somehow better. I used to take courses on CodeSchool, where there is some kind of examination efforts, although very elementary. Codeacademy are a wonderful place, for their practical manner.
    Udemy is a clear making money platform, but let us not forget what the real knowledge and skills come from. So, thank you!

  11. Raynay says:

    Thanks for taking a stand. Some people want a shortcut. Claiming a certificate of completion can be a shortcut. Then a hiring manager, also looking for a shortcut, can say, “And she has this certificate!”

    Funny thing is, if I showed my employer a certificate (of any type), it wouldn’t matter one bit. They’d want me to show what I can do, and talk about practical applications that serve our clients.

  12. Imran says:


    Thanks for such a wonderful course, I agree with you although i need certificates to groom my carrier, I am working on this tool since 6 months currently understand almost every feature of it i will share my work demo version with you soon.
    Also, I would assume most of people are learning seriously hence need to get certain benefits off course although selenium is open source tool so you generally don’t get any certification online but if there is an opportunity to get certified by instructor like you I would definitely go for it
    as it will be worth reflecting on CV.


    • Alan says:

      Hi Imran,

      Thanks for leaving a comment.

      I have never been asked for a certificate when seeking work, if that happens to you regularly then I can understand why you think you might need them for your career.

      However, I suspect you don’t need certificates.

      I think you need the ability to provide evidence of skill and communicate that skill. Put samples of your work on the internet for free and link to it from your CV e.g. use a blog, or a github, or bitbucket account.

      Longer term, a visible profile, highlighted at the top of your CV, that demonstrates your range of skills will perform better than a list of courses that provide certificates at the bottom of your CV.

      I never intended for a certificate to form part of the course. I never advertised that, or included it in the course features or benefits.

      As part of the course I do answer questions, and periodically amend code that people struggle with to help them move forward. The course fee does not afford me the time luxury to individually evaluate everyone’s work.

      I designed the course as a self-study resource, not as one which leads to certification.


  13. Danish says:

    Hi Alan,
    At first I was in disagreement with you for opting out of the certification program, but now since you have explained your stance I’m in total agreement. With that said, I would love to have your take on my understanding of Webdriver and for you to review my code, if at all possible.

  14. Kumar says:

    Well, though i agree that there is no use in either giving or getting a “Certificate of Completion” for a course, i am overall not against it either. It is up to anyone to offer the certificate or not and it looks like Udemy has given that right to everyone.

    I however am against the attitude of people who have become “known” to lot of people through popular platform like Udemy. I am sure Alan is known to many (at least to me) mainly because of Udemy. Therefore, it is not fair enough to go overboard in criticising Udemy and accusing that it is buggy now (what about all these days-was it not buggy then?).

    People make money out of Open Source tools like Selenium, Java etc but they wouldnt like to spare some time to help the testing community out there by offering some courses for free. If not for those broad minded thinkers out there, testing community wouldnt have got Selenium. Though it is up to the individual to offer courses for free or charge and it is none of my concern, i think being part of testing community for about one and half decades, i feel that there is nothing “great” in this decision not to offer a certificate, discount etc etc. Personally, i have done my part in imparting knowledge to many testers who have worked under me and shown them the right career path. Anyway wish you good luck in all your endeavours, Alan.

    • Alan says:

      Hi Kumar,

      I’m not against a “certificate of completion” for a course. I’m against a “certificate of successful completion”, issued in my name, by someone else, on my courses, when I do not agree with the measurement approach for success.

      Udemy will indeed, now manually amend their system to prevent certificates for Instructors who email them and ask for this to happen… because a few Instructors vocally raised the issue on the udemy instructor forums.

      I do use Udemy as a marketing tool, so I’m glad you found me via that route. If you haven’t yet visited my other blogs and web sites then I’ve written about other testing topics on those.

      • seleniumsimplified.com for WebDriver and Selenium.
      • EvilTester.com for opinions on general testing and technical testing.
      • CompendiumDev.co.uk has my conference papers and videos.

      Hope you find something useful on those.

      In some ways I can understand you thinking I’m going overboard in criticizing Udemy for being buggy since I didn’t provide any evidence of the bugs I’ve raised in my newsletter. Good to hear that none of the bugs instructors have raised have impacted your user experience. I’ve only used Udemy for 8 months so I can’t comment on how bug free it was before then.

      Since you’ve had a long career in testing you know that:

      • metrics gathered by other people about our work can give a false impression
      • counting ‘test cases successfully executed’ does not measure software quality, progress or thoroughness of the testing
      • we only sign off on things we approve of
      • we have to raise issues when we encounter something that concerns us (as you did here)
      • sometimes bugs and issues do not get fixed unless we raise them in an actionable and understandable form
      • and sometimes issues only get fixed when we publicly report them

      Glad to hear you’ve imparted knowledge to testers who have worked with you.

      Thanks for leaving a comment.


      • Kumar says:


        I did go through the sites you mentioned and I must admit that I found them quite useful. There are lot of free stuff out there and I do appreciate the effort you have and are spending to provide much of good testing stuff for free to the testing community. Kudos to your effort and keep it going.

        Best Regards

  15. Michael Powe says:

    Frankly, I don’t see the argument. A student who “cheats” by falsely clicking the ‘completed’ button on the videos, harms no one but himself. Certainly, no harm is done to the instructor nor to Udemy. Additionally, who has evidence that this behavior is even occurring?

    I’m sorry, but your attitude just seems to me like snobbery. People who are coming to Udemy and similar sites are, like myself, people who would like to keep learning and improve skill sets, but don’t have the thousands of dollars/pounds required to attend boot camps or other corporate training programs. Rather than assume we’re all thieves, why not assume that we’re all as honest as you yourself? The liar is always worse off than the person lied to; he bears the weight of his own lies.

    • Alan says:

      Hi Michael,

      I faced the argument “How can I issue a certificate that someone ‘Successfully Completed’ the course if I can’t honestly affirm that they ‘successfully completed’ the course?”. And I simply can’t.

      I used Udemy, and I’ll paraphrase your words because you said it well, to release a course for people who want to keep learning and improve their skill sets, and who don’t have the thousands of dollars/pounds required to attend boot camps or other corporate training programs. I consider certificates irrelevant to the process of learning and online training.

      I take issue with your statement that I “assume we’re all thieves”. I don’t think I called anyone a thief in the article. I think I complained about the wording of certificates, and someone trying to use my name without permission. You have read more into the article than I intended and personalized it far more than I intended.

      What harm to this instructor, had I allowed Udemy to issue certificates in my name, which bore wording that I did not agree with? I would have felt like a liar. And I could not bear the weight of those lies.

      Thanks for taking the time to put forward a different opinion,


  16. Nandini says:

    very much impressed and touched with ur honest comments ..

    This is making to learn more and get good quality knowledge than concentrating on getting certificates of completion so on on …

    Nandini S

  17. AB says:

    Well said Alan. Definitely appreciate your being candid. I have learnt Se from your course and even after having started creating automated tests @ my workplace, I come back and revisit the videos for deeper understanding.
    I completely agree with you – every point you make above just conveys your wisdom ; you rock !!

  18. I agree and disagree.

    If one is going to cheat and pay x amount of dollars for a course, only to fast track towards the end to get a certificate then that really is a pity…. On the other hand, getting a “certificate of completion” after working honestly through a course for weeks/months is a bit of a sweet feeling. Even though it sounds kinda lame, to me that represents all the hours I have spent hunched over my pc trying to figure out basic javascript etc…

    I definitely do agree that a real-world portfolio of real-world applications of learning should be more important than any certificate.

    Perhaps udemy should integrate a “premium” option, where real assessment can be done and students can get a real benchmark on there abilities, be it just for personal validation or otherwise…

    • Alan says:

      Which part did you disagree with? My decision? Or some of my reasons?

      Part of the issue was the Udemy don’t often act on instructor feedback so instructors had 2 options: Accept wording. Or opt out.

      There was no option to reword the certificate. And the only reason we received an opt out option was because I pushed the issue hard on facebook and in emails.

      Some people do have to ‘cheat’ to get the certificate, since not all the lectures are necessary or important for them, and they already know the topic covered. They have to ‘cheat’ to trigger the API call, otherwise they don’t trigger the certificate.

      I’m happy to offer a ‘premium’ option individually to anyone on the course. And I might even add a final lecture with a ‘project’ at the end, just for that purpose – good idea.

      Thanks Paul

      • Ryan says:

        I agree with most of what you’ve said so far, other than: asks questions about what they aren’t clear on part of what you think someone would need for a certificate of completion, and also on the last comment I read on here about how someone who knows a certain area of the subject matter and skips that part of the given material is “cheating”. It all boils down to finding a cost-effective way for you, as an instructor, to test your students knowledge.I know that is extremely hard to do with SO many students. I want to thank you for the time and effort you’ve put into the courses. I also want to thank you for the time and effort you’ve offered your students to broaden their knowledge of things they would like to know, and to help them understand what they’re being taught. Thank you for your time, and the ability to voice a few complaints about the wording of things.


        • Alan says:

          Hi Ryan, thanks for the comment.

          My use of ‘cheat’ was in quotes – because I’m using the word that other people were using in comments.

          If certificates were issued, people would have to find a way of bypassing the checks on ‘you must watch all videos’ because the video would waste their time if they already knew the topic. They would have to ‘rig the system’ or ‘bypass the controls’ i.e. ‘cheat’ the automated checks. All to claim a certificate that would be based on 100% completion rather than their ability to demonstrate their knowledge.

          I don’t think anyone can ‘cheat’ when doing online training because the value is in the learning. But if an automated system provides a certificate of completion there are many ways to fool the system into issuing the certificate without gaining any of the learning. Therefore bypassing the controls and the point of the course.

          Hope that makes sense.

          Unfortunately I didn’t really understand the first part of your ‘other than’ i.e. “asks questions about what they arenโ€™t clear on part of what you think someone would need for a certificate of completion”


          • Ryan says:

            Sorry about that, I realize it was difficult to understand the way I worded it. I was trying to say that thinking that someone needed to ask questions about what they didn’t understand in order to qualify for the “certificate” didn’t make sense for everyone. There might be people who were able to understand and retain the information you gave without having to ask questions for clarification. Hope this makes a little more sense than my last attempt to put this into words.


          • Alan says:

            Hi Ryan, I agree. I don’t think people would need to ask questions in order to qualify for a certificate. I added that in the list of behavior that someone engaging in the course might evidence. Were I to issue any certificates, then I would have to ask questions, but I don’t expect everyone on the course would need to ask questions. Thanks for helping me clarify. Alan

  19. Wassim says:

    I think it’s about how much ethical a learner can be.
    If you take the time to learn the topics, take notes, do a research, replay the videos,… then maybe the term “certificate of completion” is correct. However, for a certification junkie, fast forwarding videos won’t take him far.


    • Alan says:

      I think if the certificate of completion was issued in the name of the course host, and not my name, then I wouldn’t object to it at all. The only objection I have, is if my name is on it, then I need to see that the work has been put in (as you describe) and the topic has been learned. I agree, you have to put in the work if you want the results.

      • Elliander Eldridge says:

        I understand that. Right now, certain online schools have such a bad reputation for turning out ill prepared students that it’s better to leave them off a resume all together. The last thing that you want is for your name to become associated with failures in the workplace.

  20. Michael says:

    I think a better way would be to have students submit their workings and their own results towards the teacher. The teacher can then issue the certification once they have checked that all the necessary teachings that you wanted to provide are included in their submission. I do wonder though if this method would be feasible to apply in an online learning environment.

    • Alan says:

      Hi Michael. I agree the only way I could ‘certify’ would involve me seeing their workings. This would add quite a lot to the cost and I don’t think online course providers are setup to handle this type of interaction. Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Elliander Eldridge says:

    As a student who has enrolled in quite a few courses to be taken between university semesters to fill gaps in knowledge I am of the opinion that the certificates are not the best approach either. I don’t need (or want) potentially hundreds of certificates lying around and no interviewer wants to see a pile of anything other than verified diplomas.

    What I’d prefer is if my Udemy profile has a section showing which courses I completed and allowed me to link to an example of the work I created with the knowledge earned. That way when I go into a job interview I could reference that page to the interviewer as a place to see the courses I completed as well as what I did with those courses. I expect that the courses I take will only give the interviewer a basic idea of my competency and will still need to see work examples anyway.

    I don’t think it would add to their costs to allow something like this, especially since the profile system currently shows the courses I am enrolled in. They could easily connect with a cloud hosting platform for examples of work and those could be tied to the category the course fits rather than the course.

    I’m of the general opinion that 3rd party testing requirements in order to have a course considered complete would be a bad thing though, since my objective is to learn at my own pace without the testing anxiety I tend to get in normal university classes, and those can be cheated on anyway without paying for expensive proctoring. I only expect the Udemy courses to be a supplement anyway.

    That being said, lacking an integrated profile option, I’d take the certificates in if I had no other way to prove it, especially if I ran out of money for college and needed to try and get a job early. I’d still expect them to want to see my work though.

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