Design Blended Learning

Competency-Based Education

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What is Competency-Based Education?

In educational literature, the terms Competency Based Education (CBE) and Competency Based Training (CBT) date back to at least the seventies of the last century. In CBE and CBT, the goals, teaching & learning methods and assessment of an educational program are derived from a set of ‘competencies’ which pertain to the profession the program educates for. In the early days of CBT, these competencies were quite narrowly defined and derived from a detailed breakdown of professional tasks, often resulting in educational programs in which separate skills were trained on a one-to-one basis. The CBE movement in countries like Australia and The Netherlands has a much more holistic approach to using professional competencies as the basis for educational programs.

CBE starts from the notion that every profession can be described in terms of a professional profile. The professional profile can then be analyzed, resulting in a limited set of competencies a professional can deploy. An educational program should enable its students to acquire this set of competencies to perform the job as a beginning practitioner successfully.

See also Option 52. Competency-based education

What is a competency?

In the educational literature, there are many definitions of what competency is and there is no clear univocal concept. One of the definitions which has proven its practical value in education in The Netherlands is the following: Competence combines critical professional skills, knowledge, professional attitudes, norms and values.

There are different types of competencies. Some competencies are specific to a given profession and others are pretty general. For instance, a specific competency of a civil engineer could be ‘to coordinate and manage the building process of a high-rise building’. General competencies are shared with other professions, including communication, cooperation, information processing, reflection and learning.

Examples of competencies in which the attitudinal component is strongly present are initiating, being energetic, daring/taking risks, strategic thinking, international orientation, being innovative, stimulating working methods, responsible for results, creative, inspiring, cost-conscious, results-oriented working (planning and organizing). ), people-oriented, problem-solving ability, teamwork, collaboration with other professionals, market orientation, customer orientation, professionalism (keeping up with the profession and developments) and cultural and social sensitivity.

Examples of competencies that are important for academic courses are curiosity and wonder, patience and inner distance, creativity, willingness to question one’s insights, willingness to formulate social consequences,  willingness to make an effort and perseverance to achieve the necessary expertise to study.

Although there are many definitions of what a competency is, research shows that there are six characteristics they all have in common:

  • competencies are context-bound,
  • they are indivisible (knowledge, skills and attitudes are integrated),
  • they are subject to change,
  • they are connected to activities and tasks,
  • learning and development processes are conditional for competencies,
  • they are interrelated.

Competent persons

Competent persons need to have relevant knowledge and skills. These are described in the skill and knowledge learning objectives. However, what competent persons do, will be partly determined by their professional frame of reference (their norms, values, attitudes, attitudes) and the characteristics of the person. Competency is the ability of a student to display adequate behaviour and, therefore, function excellently as a researcher or professional.

Why is Competency-Based Education important?

Traditional education is usually content-driven and often very theoretical. Students learned through memorizing and training isolated specific skills (such as pH measuring techniques in chemical engineering.) After graduation, students were probably experts in a field of study but usually not well-equipped novice professionals. Employers, if they were able to recruit personnel that had the potential to grow into professionals, often complained that “it takes them at least a year to forget about school and to understand what the real professional world is all about.” Even if they had done an internship before their graduation, these students had not learned the right things, nor had they learned them in the right way.

According to many, CBE offers a systematic approach to live up to the above challenge: “The main reason for the popularity of the competence concept is the expectation held by many stakeholders in the VET field that the gap between the labour market and education can (and will) be reduced through competency-based education. The underlying idea is that academic and professional education should enable students to acquire the competencies needed in their future professions (and in society as a whole). Additionally, while working as a professional, they should continue to develop their competencies to react to and anticipate future developments in their work (and outside).

Based on:

Henk Frencken and Jan Nedermeijer (2007) Competency Based Curriculum Development in Education in the Netherlands. Paper presented at the International Forum on Higher Vocational Education, July 2007, Qingdao, China.

Nedermeijer, J., & Pilot, A. (2000). Beroepscompetenties en academische vorming in het hoger onderwijs. Wolters Noordhoff, HOreeks [in Dutch].

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