For longer than I want to admit I have designed training, educated workforces, and missed the point of identifying competencies needed for performance success. Success meaning when the person performs their role at a consistent high level of quality that is measured and evaluated – not by the multiple choice test taken in class or via “e” or “m” learning but on the job over time. Competencies describe the skills and behaviors needed for a job, or role, and are effective management tools to establish performance and development success criteria in functional areas as well as in leadership development. When in school, or in training, how often have you been focused on the skills and abilities needed to advance forward? More importantly, was the learning experience centered on the “cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge, and skills that enable a person (or an organization) to act effectively in a job or situation”? Enter competency-based education, or CBE for short. Competency-based education has been around a long time however has recently been re-discovered. CBE has a core focus of measuring success by demonstrating performance, what is called “direct assessment” of the behavior and skills needed. In the organization culture there is an obvious link to performance however the CBE model is challenging to many educational institutions. While approaches to CBE can vary, most programs focus on the attainment of competencies in a variety of different areas, rather than taking individual classes collecting the necessary number of credit hours. The key difference when using the CBE model is how you earn your college degree. CBE moves you forward only when you demonstrate, at a pre-defined criteria level, proficiency in the required competencies rather than simply taking classes and adding up credit hours. So you could take a long time to demonstrate proficiency, or a short time, but you only move on when you can demonstrate skill, not the ability to sit in a room, which is a value most organizations would appreciate in the hiring process to know what you can truly do. CBE is at a crossroads I believe. Done properly a CBE program takes time to design, to facilitate, and to assess. While the value of an employee capable of demonstration of performance is high for an organization the time is a cost concern. For educational institutions the model based on demonstration of skills rather than sitting in a classroom to earn credit hours is contrary to their model and viewed by many as a threat to their business model. I believe the tipping point for CBE is now and education must create an authentic partnership with business. This updated CBE model is based on the performance needs business has, the workforce that needs to be proficient, and the resources and research education offers and provides. Statistically there are more adult, underemployed working adults than high school graduates forecast for the next few years. The flexibility CBE provides the working adult to gain proficiency at the defined competencies at their own pace, working with instructional facilitators, online tutors, and success coaches makes CBE programs attractive for the adult who needs flexibility but also needs support. Programs like College for America and Learn on Demand have incorporated support within the school, think high touch for high tech. Learning generally takes place outside of the classroom and the individual can fit school around work and life schedules. Finally, and what I believe is where the highest value add is for the working adult, the emphasis is on demonstrating competence, rather than hours spent in class, so the older adult, who may have acquired a level of proficiency during their life and work years, can “test out” of some required competencies and will save time and money. CBE offers flexibility of time, the ability to learn at a distance, and a focus on competence meeting the contextual need adult learners have to make education immediately relevant. In future posts I will explore the ways education and training can become competent together.
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