Competency-based education has been around for a few decades, so it isn’t a new fad in higher education. But it’s an emerging one, and the online component of CBE is going to revolutionize workforce training, Michelle Weise of the Clayton Christensen Institute wrote last week in Harvard Business Review.
What is competency-based education? In brief, it’s a flexible way for students to receive a credential (or stackable credentials) for the skills they already have attained or ones they master on their own time, outside the structure of the traditional credit hour-based system. (See a fuller definition from Blackboard and the American Council on Education).
CBE and its modular approach to learning is catching on in higher education as an alternative to traditional degrees, partly because students can test out of some credits and get a degree faster and more affordably than though traditional avenues.
Weise also notes that CBE can better prepare workers who meet the needs of the labor market. Business can have a say in the competency training that best fits their needs, thus making them more confident they are hiring people with the right skillsets.
For these reasons, Weise argues that online competency-based education “is the key to filling the skills gap in the workforce.”
Here’s why business leaders should care: the resulting stackable credential reveals identifiable skillsets and dispositions that mean something to an employer. As opposed to the black box of the diploma, competencies lead to a more transparent system that highlights student-learning outcomes.
Weise probably dismisses diplomas too easily. Many community colleges and universities, after all, work hard to survey employers and use local labor market data to establish short- or long-term programs that produce in-demand graduates. But CBE is intriguing enough that 11 community colleges in five states are working with Western Governors University on a pilot program to develop competency-based programs.
In addition to Harvard Business Review, NPR also recently took a comprehensive look at competency-based education. It quoted Excelsior College President John Ebersole as saying that employer input is the key factor in whether CBE will take hold.
“Ultimately it’s the employer who is going to be the judge of whether we’ve done a good job,” Ebersole said.
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