Competency-based education offers an interesting shift in educational approaches that is based on a recognition of skills rather than time spent learning. And, let’s be honest, regardless of time spent learning, long or short what matters is what a person can DO at the end of it.
New Modes of Learning
The going model of education has remained the same for, literally, a 1000 years. A teacher gets up and lectures. Student take notes and learn. There are exams to pass. If students pass the exams they get the degree as long as they spent the minimum # of hours sitting in the lecture hall. In that system there was little room for flexibility based on student’s varying learning needs and prior knowledge. Maybe the student already knew the content, in which case, it was a waste of their time and money, but they had to sit through it anyhow.
Some students learn faster or slower, or differently, than others. If a student could not learn at the location and time designated by the institution, then they could not get the degree. Too bad for them.
But, competency-based education offers the possibility that students learn at their own pace, on their own time, and from their own location. As long as they can show proof of the knowledge and achievement at the end, if they can show they can actually DO the skills required, then, they can get the degree.
And, doesn’t that matter most? Who cares how long it took someone to learn something. Who cares where they learned it. Who cares how they learned it. Who cares what materials they used to learn it. This video or that one. This book or that one. Who cares about any of that?
What matters is that they can, at the end of the day, DO the skills and APPLY the knowledge and UNDERSTAND the concepts. If they can DO, APPLY, and UNDERSTAND, then, they have achieved the goal regardless of the path they took to get to it. If they can pass the same exams, and show proof of learning, then the means does not matter as long as the end is achieved.
This reminds me a little of managers who clock-watch their employees. So-and-so was not here from 8-4pm. Who cares? A person can be at work from 8-4 pm, Mon-Fri, and achieve absolutely nothing. I prefer deliverables-based management: give them projects, with goals, and clear deadlines and expectations. If they meet the goals with quality, then I do not generally care when, how, where, or what they did to get to the goal.
So where does technology come into this? Simple. eLearning offers even greater access to learning than ever before. When I completed my doctorate I did not need to sit in a lecture hall to learn how to do the statistical T-test. I found videos on YouTube, and step-by-step guides to using SPSS in a Google Search. I taught myself. eLearning and technology in education is precisely why competency-based is possible now more than ever before. It provides the delivery platform.
What matters is the end results, not the path to the end results. Competency-based education is kind of like deliverables-based management: it offers flexibility and goal-focused approaches.
It is likely to change education as we have known it for a 1000 years.
**Image by Vince at Flickr, used under the Creative Commons license.