DETC’s Fall Workshop in Austin, Texas just ended and provided a robust agenda for distance education institutions. On Monday, EduCred Services co-presented a session on competency-based education, theory and practice.
The first half of the presentation provided a background on the history of competency-based education and how institutions can benefit by either adopting the model in part or in whole.
Today, the American higher education system is facing the task of proving its perceived quality.
- Students are questioning the meaning and value of a college education as a result of increasing costs and personal debt.
- Employers are questioning the quality of graduates who are entering the workforce without the skills they need for entry-level positions.
- The public wants schools to be more accountable for the funding they receive to create quality educational programs and student services.
This model contrasts with the current higher education model which is based on the credit hour or “seat-time” model. In this model, students successfully complete courses, earn a set number of credit hours, which eventually allows them to earn the total number of credit hours, in the right combination needed to graduate. The problem with this issue is the amount of credit hours earned does not always adequately convey the amount of student learning that has taken place. Consideration is being given to moving beyond the credit-hour framework and are helping institutions to rethink the higher education system in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, and fairness.
With the increased scrutiny on perceived quality, a call for proposals is being sent out across the United States to find a way to move beyond credit hours to competency based education. This shift would focus on the demonstration of pre-define competencies and the student’s ability to apply college-level skills and knowledge rather than accumulate a prescribed number of credit hours (or “seat-time”). This is not a perspective offered in favor of competency-based education to the exclusion of other educational models, but it is an opportunity to look at what the competency based education model has to offer.
Given these discussions in the media, competency-based education is once again re-emerging as a model which could provide a solution to the perceived quality question. Competency-based education is gaining interest, but from a slightly difference perspective than before. It is no longer solely discussed as being the primary educational model to recognize prior learning or assign credits to online courses, but now competency-based frameworks are being developed in response to questions about academic quality.
A focus on outcomes within education is in part a result of the shift from the Industrial Age to the Information Age in which a complex, technologically dominated, multicultural, constantly changing world demands far higher learning results from schools.
The workplace now requires employees to be a part of adaptable, effective working teams, and therefore, employees need to have much more than knowledge of technical skills. They need:
- Interpersonal competence; and
- Ability to deal with open-ended issues
This shift also resulted in a new definition of organizational excellence. Excellent corporations are tightly focused around organization purposes and goals; rather than on systems, processes, and roles. Based on this shift within the corporate structure: it requires institutions to focus on achievement, standards, performance, and learning.
Once every couple of years a solution is presented and discussed at length which has the potential to create change within higher education, but rarely does change actually occur. Competency-based education has several required elements that could guide institutions in better demonstrating their perceived quality. This model and the issues surrounding its creation and implementation is worthy of the attention it’s receiving especially within distance education since the challenges faced by both are similar.
It’s an opportunity right now in higher education to learn from the past and apply that knowledge in order to change the present and cultivate a better future.
What elements of a competency-based education program could help better communicate the academic qualities of your programs?