Lessons from the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

The Allure of Quick Completions vs. The Value of Quality Certifications:

In the 1972, Stanford researcher Walter Mischel conducted a famous experiment known as the “marshmallow test.” In it, children were given a marshmallow and told they could either eat it right away or wait 15 minutes and receive an additional marshmallow as a reward for their patience. The results showed that children able to delay gratification and wait for the larger reward tended to have better life outcomes down the road.

This iconic study highlights an important concept that applies to education and career development – the value of resisting the temptation of quick rewards in favor of pursuits that may take longer, but reap bigger benefits over time.

Consider the common dilemma faced by aspiring professionals today. On one hand, there are abundant online courses that promise completion certificates after just a few short hours or days. On the other hand, respected certification programs deliver more thorough, rigorous training, but require weeks or months of concentrated study to complete.

When faced with this choice, it’s tempting to opt for the quick hit of achievement and satisfaction from breezing through a short online course. But like the marshmallow test, delaying immediate gratification and investing time into a quality certification program often pays off down the road in several key ways:

Deeper Expertise

Certification programs rigorously cover all aspects of a skill or field. This helps certified professionals develop mastery grounded in comprehensive knowledge. In contrast, short online courses often provide high-level overviews without going into depth. Certifications lead to expertise, while course completions suggest basic familiarity.

Stronger Credentials

Certifications from respected institutions carry significant weight and credibility with employers. They indicate holders have met high standards and possess skills that align with industry needs. Generic course completion certificates simply show basic participation, but don’t signal meaningful capabilities.

Career Advancement

Studies show those with certifications earn higher salaries and are more likely to be promoted than non-certified peers. Investing in quality certifications pays off in the form of better job opportunities, higher pay and greater earning potential over a career.

Ongoing Relevance

Whereas course completion has a limited shelf life, certifications remain meaningful credentials for years after they are earned. Certified professionals demonstrate an ongoing commitment to their field versus chasing after whatever is newest or trendiest.

Networking Opportunities

Quality certification programs provide access to networks of like-minded professionals, instructors, and alumni. These contacts can be invaluable for career development through mentorships, collaborations, and new opportunities.

Satisfaction in Achievement

Earning a certification requires focus, determination and sacrifice. But surmounting challenges to meet high standards leads to immense satisfaction and pride. Quick course completions provide fleeting rewards, while certifications bring lasting fulfillment.

When faced with the temptation of easy completions versus meaningful certifications that take time, remember the marshmallow test. Resist short-term gratification in favor of pursuits that build real skills and knowledge.

Here are some additional tips for maximizing the value of certification:

  • Research which certifications are most respected and recommended within your industry. Look for programs aligned with industry skill standards.
  • Be selective – a few meaningful certifications from reputable sources are more valuable than a laundry list of unfamiliar ones.
  • Consider stacking certifications, such as getting foundational ones first before advancing to higher levels. Plan a progression.
  • Complement certifications with real-world experience. Apply your learning wherever possible.
  • Maintain certifications by completing any required continuing education. Renew them when needed.
  • Promote your certifications on your resume, website and other materials. Also display certifications professionally in your office.

Quality certifications require dedication but deliver immense rewards for those willing to invest the necessary time and effort. Like the children who waited patiently for two marshmallows, the payoffs of rigorous certifications are sweeter for those able to delay quick fixes in favor of meaningful accomplishments that create long-term value. Patience and discipline do pay off when it comes to building expertise and career success.