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Innovative learning using competencies

By Caitlin Leishman on May, 1 2017
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Caitlin Leishman

We often talk about using competencies in business, but what about competencies in education?


Competency-based education is becoming increasingly popular in post-secondary education and higher, as institutions strive for more effective ways to measure student learning and make education affordable.


What is competency-based education?

Traditional models are time-based; students only advance after spending a certain amount of time in a course, whereas competency models are learning-based; students advance by demonstrating their competence.

Students acquire and demonstrate their knowledge and skills by engaging in learning exercises, activities and experiences that align with clearly defined outcomes. Students will exit school with a set of clearly qualified skills that they can share with employers, which is more meaningful than a transcript only containing letter or percentage grades.


What are the benefits vs traditional models?

Competency-based education allows students to study and learn at their own pace. Unlike a one-size-fits-all approach it allows students with differing amounts of learning and experience to apply their knowledge, moving quickly through material they already know and focusing on what they still need to learn.

This saves both time and money. Many colleges and universities see the potential to better plan, organize, and deliver educational opportunities and experiences at the program level than are available through traditional academic instruction.


What does a competency-based education model need for success?

When implemented effectively, competency-based education can have many benefits. To achieve these benefits, we must focus on the following:

  • Use technology to individualize learning for each student.
  • Change the faculty role from that of a lecturer to a guide; instruction takes place at the learners’ pace rather than students conforming to scheduled lectures.
  • Define competencies and develop reliable assessments.
  • Deliver the content in a modularized approach, allowing the student to prioritize the modules and allowing the institution more flexibility in delivery.


How is competency-based education evolving?

Competency-based education is rapidly changing, and new models are constantly emerging. In most competency-based programs, learning can occur in a wide variety of forms and settings, and students can receive regular support and encouragement along the way.

One of the fastest growing facets of competency-based education is the online platform, which is marketed as a way to quickly fill skill gaps in the workforce. Online competency-based education is more flexible than ever before, and providers can easily combine varying educational modules to create a unique learning experience for every student.

Business leaders should pay attention to this evolving system, as competencies create a more transparent system that clearly reveals what potential employees know and can do.