Certificate Term and Its Rationale in Relation to ASTM E2659

Blue ribbon on certificate program accredited to ASTM E2659-18 for long certificate term.

The “certificate term” is so important in the ASTM E2659-18 standard that not only does it define “certificate term” but it also gives the phrase its own section (see 6.1.4 Certificate Term and, importantly, Note 4). This article will discuss the certificate term and how to document its rationale.

What is the Certificate Term?

To the certificate issuer, the certificate term is a critical aspect of a certificate program. From a financial standpoint, certificate term (or simply “term”) establishes the periodicity of the certificate. For example: “When can we expect the customer to buy our course again?” and “What will the update schedule look like?”

From the learner standpoint, certificate term answers the questions “How long is my training good for?” and “When do I have to take the course again?”

ASTM E2659-18 defines:

certificate term, n—length of time for which the issued certificate program’s content is considered current and relevant”

ASTM E2659-18 para 3.1.14

Generally, the certificate term is stated in years, but it can be “valid for life.”

The Certificate Term is Established by the Certificate Issuer and Based on a Number of Factors:

Program purpose – What does your program do?

Program scope – What are the boundaries of the program? For example, who is your target audience?

Intended Learning Outcomes – What will the learner be able to do when they have successfully completed the program and you have issued them a certificate?

Anticipated rate of obsolescence of program content – When do you expect the learner will need to revisit or update their training?

When the Certificate Term Factors Are Boiled Down, the Following Questions Are Asked:

How long will the learned content be relevant and up-to-date?

When will the learner need to re-attend or update their training to keep on top of the subject matter?

What does the law require (when mandated in law or regulation)?

Certificate Term Requirements in ASTM E2659

Suffice it to say, certificate term is evident throughout ASTM E2659-18: in the Needs Assessment, Advisory Group Responsibilities, Records, the Instructional Design Plan, Certificate Term (and rationale) and, of course, Certificate Issuance and Use sections.

Needs Assessment – When you study your content (and market), you must address obsolescence (6.1.2(2)).

Advisory Group Responsibilities – Include that these smart people provide “input” into the certificate term (

Records Requirements – Dictates that you determine how long you will keep certificate records. This period is based on the “term” ( You also have to keep up with and make the “term” and the issuance date, which starts the “term” clock (5.7.1), available to learners.

Instructional Design Plan (also called the Certificate Program Instructional Design Plan or CPIDP) – We already talked about the Needs Assessment, but it needs to be maintained (pardon the pun) and the resulting “term” plays a big part in the schedule you set for updating the needs assessment (6.1.2(2)). Also, your CPIDP will need to show how the needs assessment “informed and continues to inform” the certificate term (in other words, how the needs assessment supports the certificate term).

Certificate Issuance and Use – the “term” is required to be stamped on the certificate. It tells everybody that this learner completed and passed the training and that you provided them with content that should be good for the “term.” It also lets the learner know when they will need to update their training (

Certificate Term Rationale – ASTM E2659-18 added the requirement that the certificate term “rationale” be documented ( This falls in “6.1 Certificate Program Instructional Design,” logically, it should be documented in the Instructional Design Plan.

This rationale is simply stating the term and providing your justification for it. As an expert in the field (having authored the needs assessment, with input from subject matter experts and the advisory group), the certificate issuer should be able to justify the certificate term.

Some certificate terms are driven by law (such as food handler). In this case, the law is a reasonable aspect (of the rationale), but it is not the rationale. The rationale is based on why the law set the term at a certain number of years (the food code is updated every four years, which is based on updates to food safety requirements).

On the other hand, “Valid for Life” is reserved for that content that does not change over time. In other words, the rate of obsolescence would be greater than the expected lifetime of the learner. 

Certificate Term Evidence to Support Certificate Program Accreditation

  • Certificate Program Instructional Design Plan section and paragraph providing:
    • Policy identifying the certificate term and your rationale for how you came up with the magical number (or why “valid for life” fits the bill)
    • Policy for how long you will keep learner records (beyond the term)
    • Discussion showing how the needs assessment supports the certificate term
  • A learner certificate showing that the certificate term is included on it
  • A learner record showing the term for a certificate issued
  • Minutes (or similar) where your Advisory Group discussed and provided “input” to the term

Documenting your certificate term (and rationale for it) is pretty straightforward. Based on the needs assessment, your certificate term is generally determined very early in training development. Program purpose, scope, intended learning outcomes, and content obsolescence are all important considerations in setting the term. Evidence that the certificate issuer is meeting ASTM E2659-18 is generally contained within the CDIDP, records database, learner certificates, and, importantly, the needs assessment and Advisory Group Minutes.

Contributing Author: Kevin Swartz

Kevin Swartz owns and operates KS2 Consultants LLC which provide curriculum and instructor/teacher development program assessments and training to improve education and training in government, corporate, and private/public education. These assessments are based on Instructional Systems Design (ISD) and Certified Technical Trainer (CTT) methods in addition to published assessment criteria. Kevin can be reached at jks_2006@yahoo.com or on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/Kevin-Swartz-KS2-Consultants.

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