Thursday, May 30, 2013

Competency-Based Education: Partnerships Are a Must

Many colleges and universities are moving toward competency-based education, and developing opportunities for students to earn credit based on demonstrated mastery of skills and knowledge areas. This moves far beyond the "credit by exam" model and even portfolio evaluation, to a deeper level of skills and broader subject matter areas. 

Dr. Robert Mendenhall, President of Western Governor's University, describes competency-based education in an article that explains the reasons for its emergence and popularity: What Is Competency-Based Education? (

Capella, the College for America, and other universities are embarking on competency-based education. Other colleges, such as Excelsior College, have had credit-by-exam programs since the 1970s, and are expanding them. Whatever the form, new approaches are being developed and implemented

In theory, competency-based education could not be more practical. It tests an individual’s ability to apply knowledge, and can assess skill levels. Above all, it’s flexible, affordable, and does not require four or five years of slow-paced education. Further, competency-based education focuses on content that may lie outside a traditional degree program, but which is very useful in the workplace and/or for new technologies.

However, when it comes to highly technical careers that are in high demand, colleges and universities may find themselves unable to develop high-quality courses in a timely manner if they try to build them from the ground up.

To be cost-effective, timely, accurate, and relevant, the following strategies can be developed for competency-based education for high-demand technical education:

--- Up-to-date texts, which may consist of articles, manuals, reports, and software packages

--- Subject matter experts who review the content and assessment strategies

--- Instructors who are experts in the field to review materials, provide assessment services

--- An assessment strategy that privileges projects and synthesis / application of knowledge and skills

--- Partnering with professional associations or societies to take advantage of high-quality articles, peer-reviewed materials, recognized subject matter experts, professional certification.  For example, the demand for geoscientists and engineers is in no way met by traditional geology and engineering programs. The knowledge that is desired by industry is specific and can be provided by associations such as SEG, SPE, and AAPG.

--- Assessment should be coupled with reliable, relevant, and timely internships (which can be virtual) which include tasks that relate to the skills and competencies required by industry, and which are assessed in the program.

Colleges and universities can forge productive partnerships to assure that any competency-based offerings developed are legitimate, high-quality, and can forge relationships with potential employers. The most effective route involves partnering with professional associations that have a solid membership base of knowledgeable experts, and a wide array of corporations and other institutions that can provide graduates with experience and jobs. 

Ideally, the professional associations and societies that colleges and universities partner with are global, to assure the greatest number of opportunities for students, and the widest breadth of knowledge and perspectives. 

At the Great Wall of China, April 2013, after a conference on pre-Ordovician petroleum systems organized by AAPG, with sponsorship by PetroChina and other companies. 

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