Online Competency-Based Education in 2021

Competency-based education is becoming increasingly popular thanks to its unique approach towards teaching and learning. But what does competency-based education involve and how is it for? Let's find out!

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What is competency-based education?

Competency-based education or learning is a type of education that aims to help students develop relevant and practical skills. The curriculum, assessment styles and classes all reflect this skill-based approach.

Competency-based education is usually designed with feedback from industry experts and employers. This process ensures that students learn skills that can be applied immediately on the job market, either to get a new job, take a more advanced role, or even make a successful career change.

What’s the difference between competency-based education and traditional education?

Traditional education usually — but not always — aims to help students memorise information, knowledge or concepts, which can then be applied in a work environment. This is also reflected in the tests, exams or other assessment methods, where future graduates need to reproduce what they’ve learned.

Competency-based education takes a different approach compared to the traditional classroom model. The focus is on helping students achieve mastery of skills. The evaluation methods seek to answer the question: How proficient is this student in this skill? It’s not about remembering definitions or (abstract) concepts. It’s all about showing how you can apply what you know to solve real-world problems.

Why is competency-based education important?

Competency-based education is important because it steps away from the traditional perceptions of education.

In the context of the changing job market and the quick advancement of technology, competency-based education is an opportunity to develop yourself professionally faster, with a clearer direction and a focused effort.

Who is competency-based education for?

Most universities and colleges that offer competency-based learning aim to help:

  • mainly adult students
  • people who don’t want to become stagnant in their professional lives
  • people who want a quick way to develop skills that can be applied in the real world asap
  • people who haven’t finished their higher education
  • people who have only partially finished higher education and want to combine their past credits with a competency-based degree

Advantages of competency-based education

  • In most cases, competency-based learning takes place online
  • You can study at your own pace from any part of the world
  • It’s not about memorising content, but about mastering skills
  • It allows you to study while working or developing your career

Disadvantages of competency-based education

  • Technology and streaming platforms aren’t always reliable
  • Lacks the traditional face-to-face interaction, socialisation and networking

Types of competency-based courses

Students generally need to choose between two types of competency-based degrees:

  • guided competency-based learning
  • flexible competency-based learning

Each university can use different names to refer to these two types of competency-based courses, but the main differences are:

  • Flexible courses allow you to study at your own pace, often without fixed deadlines
  • Guided courses have a structure and deadlines to help you maintain steady progress
  • Guided courses might involve more interaction with professors
  • Tuition fees are paid differently: often per credit/per course for guided education or a monthly/seasonal tuition for flexible education; some universities offer the option of paying a subscription fee for an all-you-can-learn model

Competency-based assessment methods

“That’s all great, but how am I evaluated during my competency-based studies?” Well, it depends on the type of skill you want to master. Here are a few examples of practical tasks used for assessment:

  • Create a report
  • Solve a real-life business problem
  • Create or edit a file using specific software or application
  • Complete a financial analysis

You won’t receive a grade on your assessments, as you’d expect in a traditional education environment. These tests and tasks are an opportunity to highlight how well you’ve mastered this or that skill.

For example, a university might use a grading scale that starts at ‘non-performance’ and ends at ‘distinguished’.

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Should I study a competency-based degree?

As always, we won’t offer a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The truth is it all depends on your needs and professional plans. What you need to keep in mind is that competency-based education is most popular in the United States, so the majority of courses are offered by American universities. Here are a few of them:

  • Capella University
  • Walden University
  • Western Governors University

Remember to keep your options open. There are other alternatives to advance your career, like nano-degrees or MicroMasters — so check them out before deciding.

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