Education that is focused on what students can do, rather than what they can learn about, is competency-based education. Training to become a competency-based educator requires studying various teaching and learning theories that focus on learning outcomes with specific, measurable definitions of knowledge, skill and learner behavior. Competencies are a set of skills, knowledge and behaviors someone needs to have achieved in order to perform tasks, jobs or activities in the world of work.

Competency Based Education

Selecting the competencies for the curriculum requires interaction and collaborative work between the subject matter experts (SMEs), the instructors (not always the same as the SMEs), the participants, and members of the business community. In order to choose the right competencies, the players all must understand just what it is that is needed to be successful once the students leave the school. Business and other community members will be able to identify what it is they want the graduates to be able to do, the SMEs will understand what competencies can be attained within the confines of the content, and the instructors will know how to teach the content so that the competencies are attainable.

Training Stakeholders to Identify Competencies

According to the Online Dictionary, a skill is an ability or technique that has been developed through training or experience. The ability to communicate is a skill; the ability to communicate effectively demonstrates competency in that skill. Of course, "effectively" needs to be defined as well, which will clarify the level of competency one has in the skill. In order to choose the competencies for a certain task, job or activity, the stakeholders need to first decide what needs to be done to complete the project. The next step is to determine the level of competency that needs to be attained for success. Rubrics are excellent tools for evaluating the level of competency a student has attained.

Evaluation of Comptency Attainment

Once the competency has been decided upon, it is time to evaluate it for level of attainment. Using a rubric at this stage will help the stakeholders as well as the student to determine what needs to be done to attain the level of competency needed in the skill in order to become successful. A rubric typically has four or five levels, sometimes stated as: Beginning, Developing, Accomplished and Exemplary. A fifth level might be No Evidence. Each of the levels would have a description of what it looked like to meet that level. There might be three or four categories that are evaluated in each level. The categories would be tied to the competency. For example, if the rubric was evaluating a competency in writing, the categories could be content, mechanics and evidence of research. Each of the categories would be evaluated according to the description of the level of competency to determine whether or not the student attained the proper level of competency for success.

Characteristics of Competency Based Education

A curriculum that is competency based will contain very specific outcome statements that contain the competencies to be attained. These outcome statements can also be thought of as learner goals and are measurable. A student in a competency-based program will continue in the class until he demonstrates a level of competency that shows mastery. There are typically multiple kinds of instructional styles used, including group activities, hands-on practice, individual performance, etc. The focus of a competency-based program is not on learning theory, but is more on the needs of the learner. Those needs are generally basic skills, the application of those skills and the attainment of higher skills. Competency-based instruction generally provides the learner with immediate feedback and is paced to the needs of the learner.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Competency Based Education

Learners using competency-based curriculum will build confidence in themselves as they move up in the level of competency attained. There is more time in a competency-based learning setting to provide individual attention and feedback, as well as time spent on actually practicing and learning the skill rather than listening to a series of lectures about the skill. Some drawbacks include sliding back into traditional teaching methods if there is not enough follow-up and training for the facilitators. If the competencies and accompanying rubrics are not carefully chosen and planned to ensure successful implementation, the curriculum will not be strong enough to support a true competency-based learning experience. A competency-based curriculum, if done right, will enhance the skill levels of professionals in white collar jobs as well as those workers in blue collar jobs.