Magazine article The Presidency

Competency-Based Education Is Not the "New MOOC"

Magazine article The Presidency

Competency-Based Education Is Not the "New MOOC"

Article excerpt

We seem to be bombarded every day with another new educational innovation touted as "future perfect," solving each and every of our challenges, or as a "golden age destroyer," changing everything about higher education as we know it. Who could forget "The Year of the MOOC," declared by The New York Times in November 2012?

After a couple years of experience with this more recent online variant, we know there is no one thing called a MOOC (massive open online course). As I have written elsewhere,1 we have entered something I call the MOOC 3.0 era, where the original, true MOOC form (single course, free, no admission requirements, no credit, and large enrollments) has disaggregated and hybridized into different forms: flipped, wrapped, small, private, distributed, etc. We now know that MOOCs attract highly educated individuals from around the globe who are expanding their already advanced knowledge for professional advancement or personal enrichment. Few complete the classes they begin, and few are earning academic credit for their efforts. By now, extreme hype has given way to a more nuanced reality.

Like MOOCs, competency-based education (CBE) seems to have become a media darling, with neardaily coverage about this pedagogical model's new programs, new adopters, and accreditor and Department of Education approvals. It would be easy to take a wait-and-see approach if one viewed CBE as the next MOOC. But CBE is not the next MOOC. Why do I say this?

IT'S NOT NEW: CBE is not a wunderkind. Western Governors University, a well-known online CBE-based institution, was conceived almost 20 years ago. DePaul University (IL) has offered its competency-based programs even longer-since 1972. And CBE is well entrenched in professional education training; Airline pilots and health-care professionals, for example, are required to master certain competencies before advancing to the next level of difficulty in their training.

OUTCOMES ORIENTATION: CBE aligns with higher education's current reorientation from high-quality inputs (e.g., great faculty, great students, and great buildings) to high-quality outputs, particularly documented student learning outcomes. Regional accreditors have contributed to this shift and will continue to do so. The current push for greater accountability and results in higher education from policymakers is another driver-institutions cannot simply opt out of these conversations.

EMPLOYER DEMAND: Employers, too, are weighing in on the preparation of our graduates for the jobs of today. CBE works particularly well in supporting mastery of job-related skills that can be easily broken down into discrete components, assessed, and validated. CBE is not limited to the vocational arena, though-it is also adaptable to broader noncognitive competencies or liberal arts skills. Lumina Foundation's Degree Qualifications Profile, for example, has served as the basis for a broader competency structure at many institutions.

THE LIST IS GROWING: Though CBE may have begun in the job-training environment and among more specialized adult-serving institutions, more and more mainstream institutions are adopting this approach, including the University of Wisconsin System, Northern Arizona University, and Lipscomb University (TN).

HIGH FACULTY ENGAGEMENT: CBE leads to academic degrees and credentials, and as such, individual faculty and their governance structures are directly involved in the creation and approval of these programs, including articulating competencies, creating curricula, and identifying appropriate educational materials and assessments. …

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