Competency Based Education.

May 1, 2017

By: Tonya Riney, Ph.D.

Reading Time: 2.4

As the demands for education continue to intensify, LMS providers must change with the demands of the academic market. Although CBE has been within the lexicon since the 1970s (or earlier), in the last five years, verbiage surrounding “learning objectives,” “learning plans,” and “competencies” has gained steam and established new protocols for delivering and reporting upon the “effectiveness” of educational delivery.

Competencies were introduced heavily into medical education curricula ( to (obviously) improve the varying skills medical professionals were expected to possess upon graduating. Because employers are now seeking employees/graduates with demonstrable skills across all professions, competencies are likely to continue to be a prominent factor in education delivery models for years to come.

When implementing CBE, training and/or higher education courses are re-engineered to identify the specific targeted skills that a learner should possess upon completion, and identify the learning pathways and assessments that ultimately demonstrate learner “competency” for that course. (Semantic

The community-at-large doesn’t necessarily agree on the definitions for competencies and the categories/types of competencies, e.g. core, functional, and organizational (Functional Competencies); however, the semantics of this discussion are more academic than practical. Ultimately, and candidly, we simply want

1)   people (trainees, students, learners) to learn

2)   learners to demonstrate effectively what they did learn.

These competencies provide individual value for the learner, and collectively (directly or indirectly) for the organization. Competencies include measurable or assessable knowledge, skills, and abilities – and can include personal characteristics such as values, motivation, initiative and self-control (Shippman, 2000; Spencer, McClelland, & Spencer, 1994).

Writing competencies can become a complex undertaking, but it need not be. One way to imagine this process is to view the course creation process in-reverse. When we begin with the end in mind, we can begin to build course elements that support those competencies.

A great example of a functional competency “worksheet” is from Mitchell (2005). The table represents the competency label (for functional competencies, this represents specific knowledge or a skill that directly correlates to successful on-the-job performance), important tasks related to the ability to perform well, and specific descriptions, or related Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Personal Attributes.

Important tasks, in this example, relate specifically to successful performance. Employee Training Specialists should be able to “write behavior based instructional objectives…research training content…and write training content.” Depending upon the nature of your organization, these tasks may be more or less detailed. Higher Ed institutions may not write these tasks as concretely: learners in an English 101 course may have tasks that are rather generic. The more detailed the task, the more restrictive the corresponding activities that demonstrate the learner’s competence.

In later posts, we’ll explore how these “important tasks” and corresponding descriptions work within the Moodle framework, and how educational institutions/training organizations can use them to better evaluate their learning efforts.

Did you like what you read? Please share!

Tonya Riney, Ph.D.

Ann McGuire is an experienced marketer with more than 20 years creating content, marketing communications programs, and strategies for tech firms. She reads, writes, and lives in New Haven, CT with her husband and two needy cats.


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