competency-based training

In recent years a lot has been said and written about the implementation  of 'competency-based education’. Nevertheless, there is still quite some uncertainty about what ‘competencies’ are and what competency-based education means. When asked ‘whether their teaching is competency-based’ most teachers only hesitantly answer.  In this note, we look at five common questions about competency-based education.
       1. What is a competency?

A competency is an integrated (basic) cluster of knowledge, skills and attitudes. While traditional education mainly emphasized the reproduction of knowledge, in competency-based education also skills and attitudes are of great interest. One of the main features of competency-based education is the alignment with the professional (field) reality. Students must be prepared, as good as possible, for a future labor market. To achieve this, a competency-based program not only takes into account domain-related competencies but also generic competencies such as communication, team work and self-assessment/reflection.  To train these competencies, learning activities are organized in forms of project work, group work or portfolios, for example, and students themselves and/or externals are asked to give feedback and assess the student’s work.

2. How to write learning objectives in competency-based education?

On Target

Most of the competencies postgraduate students are expected to develop are characterized by very high demands on the interactions and coordination of a series of high cognitive level skills, knowledge and appropriate attitudes. It is important to be aware of the importance of formulating a general goal first (i.e., begin with the end in mind… describe the desired performance). Writing sole specific learning objectives may have the danger of losing the holistic view of the competencies which a training programme wishes     students to develop. When writing specific learning objectives, it is strongly recommended to avoid writing a list of fragmented objectives without  indicating clearly how students should integrate them and perform. If the learning domain is only described in terms of a large number of specific objectives,  each of which focuses on a rather small learning task, in an aligned education system, naturally instructional activities are also designed for reaching each of the separate objectives. The pitfall of such an alignment is that the fragmented instructional approach may lead to students’ inability to integrate what has been learned in new situations, and hence result in a poor transfer of learning.
Note: Picture  "On target" by under CC BT 2.0


       3. What is meant by "integrated" learning approach?

Classic Learning

In traditional curricula students are expected to integrate themselves what they have learned, into their jobs. Integrating knowledge, skills and attitudes, however, appears to be one of the most difficult tasks. Integration takes time and often occurs late (or not at all) in training. Many students have difficulty integrating what they have learned. The best examples of this are the bachelor's or master's thesis projects. Students too often get loose 'knowledge-building blocks' through their training (e.g. Which are important elements for describing/defining a research problem), but haven’t learned (well enough) how to apply these (e.g. formulate a research problem / question themselves in a specific research context with a relevant scientific approach). In competency-based education integration happens, during training, and from the start. The complexity of the integrated learning approach increases throughout the training. For example, to define a research problem for a given unambiguous case and distill the principles of developing a research question, or vice versa, to apply the principles of defining a research problem and formulation of a research question to a more complex case. Working progressively, over different course components or modules, towards the capacity to write critical and well-structured research protocols.
Note: Picture  "Classic Learning" by Alan Levine under CC SA 2.0 

4. Are 'self-directing' and 'lifelong learning' not just beautiful ideals?

Learn _anywhere

'But are we not holding the student’s hand too much?' This is not what self-directed learning means, as it is neither the complete abandonment of students which is meant by self-directed and lifelong learning. Within competency-based education what is important is to gradually decrease the support a student gets. In the beginning they are strongly supported, for example, when the teacher gives the example (how he / she gives feedback on an assignment, what aspects are important). Then gradually this support is phased-out and the students are encouraged to do the job themselves (e.g., By introducing peer-feedback or peer-assessment). When a training pays attention to lifelong learning it pays attention to ‘learning to learn’. For example; learning to give feedback, learning to assess own performance, learning to plan own work and learning to work in groups. Such competencies are increasingly built into training programs.
Note: Picture  "Learn_anywhere" by Incase under CC BT 2.0  

5. Should each course-component assess competencies?

Steve Maraboli The Past Will Be Your Teacher If You Learn From It ; Your Master If You Live In It

In traditional training courses the different course components stand on their own while course components  in competency-based training strongly build on each other. Consider, for example the development of learning threads (e.g. transferable skills in a curriculum) or the assessment policy. A competency-based approach has an impact on the entire curriculum as course components strongly build on each other. Certain knowledge and skills can be taught separately to become integrated in later course components. When only a few course components take a competency-based approach, the impact of and support for this competency-based character will be limited. Whether a program is competency-based, is not a yes / no question. The degree to which programs offer competency-based education definitely can vary. Coordination between course components indeed requires the necessary support, time and resources.
Note: Picture  "Steve Maraboli The past will be your teacher if you learn from it; your master if you live in it" by BKe under CC SA 2.0  

Point 1, 2-5 are translated from: Echo-tips from ECHO University of Antwerp (FEB 2015);
Point 2 is taken from LINQED website: Beyond the semantics, getting to coherence in course design: a guide for producing an aligned course

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