Your Guide to Competency Based Learning - EmployeeConnect HRIS
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competency based learning

Your Guide to Competency Based Learning

Competency based learning tends to break free from the age old classroom model, where students study the same subject at the same pace with a group of fellow students. Competency based learning takes a step forward by identifying specific skills or competencies and enables the learners to master each skill or competency at their own pace by working with a mentor. According to this mode of learning, learners have the freedom to develop the skills or competencies that they feel the need for, or they can combine an entire set of competencies into a full-fledged qualification program such as a diploma, certificate or an equivalent degree. In competency based learning, learners need to work individually instead of working in groups. If learners can display that they have already mastered a certain skill or competency, by taking a test or some other form of learning assessment, they may be allowed to move on to the next level of competency without repeating a certain prescribed course for a competency which they have already mastered.

The value for developing vocational or practical skills is obvious, but competency based learning is being increasingly used for education that requires more academic or abstract skills development, which is sometimes combined with other combined courses or programs.

Competency-based learning is considered to be more appropriate for adult learners who have the edge of life experience and may have developed skills and competencies without any formal training or education. It is also apt for those who dropped out of school or college and now wishes to return to formal study, but they want their previous learning experience to be recognised. It is also good for learners who wish to develop certain skills, but they do not wish to take up a full-time program. Although competency-based learning can be delivered via a campus program, these days it is delivered completely online, because of students opting for such programs are either working or looking for work.

Advantages of a Competency Based Approach

Listed below are a couple of advantages in the competency-based learning approach:

  • This approach is able to meet the immediate requirements of professions and businesses. Students who enrol for the competency-based learning are either already working, and they receive a promotion within the company. If the students are unemployed, they are more likely to be employed once qualified.
  • This approach facilitates learners who have their family or work commitments to study at their own pace.
  • This approach helps to speeds up the course completion time for some students by enabling their prior learning to be recognized.
  • In this approach, students are entitled to receive individual support and help from their mentors.
  • The tuition fees of competency based learning are quite affordable, and the programs can be self-funded from tuition fees alone.

Disadvantages of a Competency Based Approach

The major disadvantage of competency based approach is that while it may work well with some learning environments, it may not work equally well for other learning environments. Listed below are some of the disadvantages of a competency based approach:

  • This approach focuses on the immediate needs of an employer and is less focused towards preparing the learners for a more uncertain future especially in times when flexibility is required.
  • This approach is not suitable for subject areas where it is difficult to prescribe specific competencies or where there is a requirement to rapidly accommodate new skills and new knowledge.
  • This approach adopts an objectivist approach towards learning.
  • This approach ignores the significance of social learning.
  • This approach may not fit into the preferred learning styles of many students.

Competency based learning is a relatively new approach towards learning, and it is gaining popularity amongst employers. It suits certain kinds of learners such as adult learners who are on the look out to re-skill or are looking for mid-level jobs that require relatively easily identifiable skills. It is not suitable for all kinds of learners though and may be limited in developing abstract skills and knowledge which requires creativity, decision making, high-level problem-solving, and critical thinking.

Byron Conway

Content Coordinator at EmployeeConnect