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Why Companies Want Competency-Based Education

Given the critical importance of employee competence in today’s workforce, competency-based models are becoming increasing important for employers, as this approach to higher education ensures that employees both understand the concepts being taught and can apply them in the work world.

Five major threats to a business have been identified by Express Employment Professionals. Through information shared with them by Gallup, Ernst & Young, The Aberdeen Group and others, Express Employment Professionals lists the following as the most pernicious problems that will cause a business to fail:

  • The inability to innovate
  • Losing competitive advantage
  • The high costs of reckless hiring
  • Poor leadership and communication
  • Regulatory nightmares

Of the five threats all but regulatory nightmares can be linked directly to employee competence or the lack thereof. With so much at stake, it is no wonder that companies find competency-based educational models so attractive!

Competency-based educational models are constructed of clearly-defined learning outcomes. Articulating precisely what knowledge, skills, and abilities are to be mastered and to what degree they will be mastered are the hallmarks of credible competency-based programs. This transparency is very attractive to employers for several reasons.

Employers need capable and creative people who know how to solve problems and communicate effectively. Successful competency-based educational models inherently foster the development of higher order critical thinking, problem solving, organization, innovation, and communication skills. The nature of competency-based education requires that students demonstrate the ability to apply what they know and have learned. The more credible competency-based educational models such as Western Governors University and New Charter University utilize robust and multi-faceted projects, portfolios, and assessments. Skills demonstrated through these types of learning artifacts provide significant evidence that an employee or potential employee has the ability to contribute to corporate efforts to be successful through innovation and competitive advantage.

When hiring people who have been educated in competency-based programs such as WGU and NCU, employers can be more confident that the employees can actually do what they claim they can do. Most competency-based programs require students to demonstrate sufficient mastery of every competency in their educational programs. Students cannot pass a course unless they have met the established standards required for all components of that course. All courses must be passed in order to receive a degree. Having employees with substantially developed skills sets is a valuable commodity to an employer. The less time employers have to spend training and re-training employees the more time their business can reap the benefits from an employee’s expertise. This is very important to employers who want to avoid the costly consequences of hiring under-qualified individuals and other associated reckless hiring practices.

Another advantage of competency-based educational designs is that by the very nature of the competency curriculum development process, educational clutter is reduced or eliminated. Educational clutter includes information, activities, busy-work, and other extraneous elements that are not aligned to the objectives of a lesson, unit, or program. Traditional curriculum design practices where a topic is identified, broad goals are articulated, and lessons and units are built from that foundation tend to result in significant amounts of extraneous elements. As interesting and useful as these extraneous elements may be, they often waste precious time and resources.

Competency-based curriculum, on the other hand, is designed using what Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, and others refer to as backwards design. Basically this means that specific competencies and how they will be assessed are identified first and then the rest of the curriculum is designed backwards from there. Backwards design provides a precise target to which all to align all instructional efforts and assessments. Well-aligned curriculum saves time, effort, and money for all involved. Money, effort, and time saving models are extremely attractive to employers who are allowing employees release time from their job responsibilities and are footing the bill for employee education.

Lastly, another huge benefit to employers is the asynchronous modes of instructional delivery frequently utilized in competency-based educational models. Some of the most notable competency-based educational institutions, such as Western Governors University and New Charter University, were explicitly designed to maximize the benefits of asynchronous education. Asynchronous education means students can work on their schooling any time and any place. Students are in control of their time, resources, and effort. When students have control of their time, resources, and effort, they are much more able to successfully balance work and school. Healthier balance means healthier, more productive employees. More productive employees mean more successful business and a better bottom line!

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