Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Competencies for Competency Education

iNACOL's Chris Sturgis recently blogged about the organization's efforts to define a framework of competencies for implementers of competency-based education and a system of training and "badges".  This is important work at a time when state and local policy makers are re-examining "seat-time" requirements and opening doors to competency-based alternatives, when schools are piloting new competency-based models, and when new post-secondary delivery models are emerging, such as that of Southern New Hampshire University's College for America.  

Education leaders face significant challenges in transforming the culture and work processes within existing organizations, and in collaboration with external entities, to successfully implement competency-based models.  iNACOL is asking what competencies education leaders need to successfully transition their organization, and then to successfully manage the competency-based delivery model.

For educators, competency-based delivery requires professional practices that are different from what has worked in seat-time-oriented instructional models.  What competencies are needed by educators to facilitate competency education, and what training is needed?

My suggested approach is to start with an understanding of the process models for competency-based education and the work functions within those models.  How do schools that have successfully implemented competency-based education do it?  What does the process look like?  What are the inputs and outputs of the process? What are the critical work functions and process steps within the model?

One reason why I think it is important to break down the work elements as functions within a process is  because emerging blended and online learning models distribute the work of teaching and learning in new ways.  In the past, we could define the set of teacher competencies needed to teach within a subject area or grade range.  The assumption was that a classroom teacher would be for the most part an independent practitioner within the classroom, having full responsibility for the many teaching functions. Emerging models allow for and require more collaboration  and specialization, instead of one role, the professional roles vary by model and implementation specifics. Greater professional specialization and differentiation of educator roles is not only a key to success for some competency-based instructional models, but is also providing new opportunities for educators that can result in higher levels of job satisfaction and compensation.  Information systems also change the nature of the work, e.g. reducing the burden of manually tracking individual learner progress.  The competencies required by educators may also vary based on the information systems used.

The process for delivering competency-based education has some work functions that are common regardless of the model or implementation environment, such as advance-upon-mastery-decision-making, diagnosing misunderstandings or skill deficiencies, making prescriptive recommendations, and delivering remedial instruction.

A good starting place for defining the "competencies for competency education" is to discover those work elements that are common across delivery models.  A next step is to discover the skills, knowledge, and  "habits of practice" needed to perform the work elements effectively.  The resulting set of competencies, grouped by work elements, would provide a flexible framework.   Each implementation may assign work elements differently to specialized jobs, taking into account the role of technology and implementation-specific factors, and then be able to reference the needed competencies for the person filling each job.

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