One of the biggest challenges faced in education today is understanding how instructors can best communicate information to their students while ensuring it has been absorbed and can be applied in practice. Over the years it has become more and more evident that the status quo just isn’t working. As a result, we’re seeing a very exciting shift from the traditional learning models of the past, towards a competency-based learning model that allows for better learning, retention, and application.

A Strategy of Hope

For decades, we’ve been focused on the traditional learning process, which goes something like this:

  1. There is some content I want to teach you.
  2. I share that content with you by telling you everything I know about it, and when possible, showing you parts of that content.
  3. Afterward, I give you an assessment (multiple choice, or some other format) and hope that you will be able to apply the knowledge in your own work.

This is what I refer to as, a strategy of hope. I don’t really know if you can apply what you’ve learned in your practice, I’m just hoping that because you’ve consumed the knowledge and taken an assessment, that you will be able to apply it in practice.

Professional development for educators has been the same. We send teachers to workshops or conferences to learn, but if you think about it, it’s the worst possible way to learn. It’s usually a four or five-hour endeavor where someone communicates a ton of content to a bunch of people sitting in an uncomfortable room, and no one really wants to be there. You might engage with one another a little bit, but the chance of you taking notes and then applying it to your own work is incredibly low.

Blended Learning – Why It’s Only Half the Solution

For the last ten years, people have been excited about shifting from traditional lecture-based learning models to a blended learning model where content is delivered via online mechanisms. The problem is that blended learning is simply taking what people were consuming offline and moving it online. If you’re not changing the focus to the actual practice, versus the content, blended learning only gets you halfway there. It may be an easier, faster, modality to access and consume content, but it doesn’t actually change the foundational principles of what that practice is.

The Shift to Competency-based Learning and the Core Theory Behind It

Today, we’re seeing an interesting shift towards focusing on the practice and the outputs. By focusing on the output, people no longer have to focus on a single potential input methodology. As it turns out, people are a lot smarter than we have historically given them credit for. If you let them learn in many different ways, they will pick the ways they are most comfortable with. Once you set their focus on the output and on the practice, that’s when you’ll actually see gains–they become bigger parts of their own improvement and learning.

This personalized, competency-based approach is based upon a lot of interesting motivational theory. Drive, a book written by Daniel Pink, is a good reference for this type of motivational theory. The idea behind Drive is that people are not motivated by what you would expect in terms of extrinsic motivators (e.g. economic incentives and salaries), but humans beings are really motivated by the idea of having three things:

  • Purpose – People need to understand how something connects to their own life.
  • Autonomy – Providing the autonomy to learn, struggle, and engage in the problem at hand. Let them learn on their own terms in the ways that they want to do it.
  • Mastery – Can you show someone that there is a path to becoming a master or expert in whatever the area of focus may be.

Taking this motivational theory and applying it to the lens of instruction is where the idea of personalized, competency-based learning comes in. Almost every teacher knows their purpose; they joined the profession because they want to help change the lives of their students. Competency-based approaches require educators to master specific content by applying it to their practice and collecting evidence of their learning, versus spending a set amount of time in a classroom discussing content. Finally, the educator has the autonomy to choose how they want to learn, whether that be by consuming content, collaborating with peers, attending workshops, or other means.

How to Make the Shift to Competency-based Learning

Moving from traditional learning models to a competency-based approach is a large cultural shift and requires buy-in from across your organization. BloomBoard has helped dozens of organizations make this shift and over the next few months we’ll be using our blog to share some of these learnings as well as information and resources about competency-based learning supported by micro-credentials. If you’re interested in following our journey, be sure to subscribe to our blog.

Photo of Jason Lange

Jason Lange

Cofounder and President at BlooomBoard