MET:Competency Based Education

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This page was originally authored by Jason Gourley (2014) Kristin Ross added a visual artifact (2018).

"In the 21st Century, the quantity of manpower is not such critical importance. What is more important is quality , and for this is, it is crucial to cultivate the talents and abilities of all individuals and further develop their potentials” [1]

Defining Competency Based Education

According to Moon[1] there are two purposes to education. The first is focused on the learner and is to identify and cultivate their individual abilities. The other is a societal focus. In order to maintain and advance society the balance of the needed labour force needs to be maintained. Moon argues that in order to preserve an education system that is relevant it is important to maintain a balance between the two functions. In a competency based model the education system goal is to develop an individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Competency based education is an approach to instruction that focuses on a learner’s knowledge, skills, and abilities that they are required to perform at a level where they can demonstrate they have mastery.[2] These are defined through the use of performance based statements are observable and commonly referred to as competency statements. Often these are related to occupational requirement and are defined by the tasks needed in the workplace. In many cases these competencies are defined by grouping competency statements within standards created through collaboration to ensure a common vocabulary between employers, employees, job seekers, and training programs. By working with these groups to define the knowledge, skills, and attitude and create the common language the groups are better able to work together on performance and training objectives to create a more competitive industry.[3]

“We are in the early stages of a learning revolution. New learning pathways have been forged by intense competition from organization whose sole purpose is to deliver learning (anytime and anywhere) and by rapid advances in information technology. Forged by expediency, these paths no longer lead automatically to institutions of higher education. Instead they lead most directly to learning opportunities that are intensely focused and are populated by learners and employers who are chiefly interested in the shortest route to results."[4]

Competency statements

Competency statements are written in much the same way as learning objectives, but competency statement is always based on performance. Competency statements can be thought of as a way for a learner to provide evidence that they are able to meet learning outcomes. Usually competencies are defined by employers, human resources manager, current workforce, educators, government representatives, unions, and other stakeholders [2]

Competency Based Assessment

“Within a skill standards or competency-based system, assessment is the generation and collection of evidence of performance which can be matched to specified explicit standards which reflect expectations of performance in the workplace. There are two main forms of evidence—(1) evidence of actual performance— (2) evidence of underlying knowledge, skills and abilities.” [3]

An important feature of competency assessment is that a learner needs to master a competency and be able to demonstrate it. Assessments for competencies may vary depending on what needs to be demonstrated. However Holt and Perry noted that any process for assessment there needs to be some requirements that should be considered when providing any competency assessment models. According to Holt and Perry the assessment needs to be repeatable, transferable, measurable, based on best practices, and tailor-able. [2]

  • Repeatable – When assessing competencies it is important that the assessment can be repeated in an identical way for each learner. With a repeatable process an individual learner can identify changes in competence than occur in their learning journey. This is also useful for employers when they are comparing the different competencies of individuals.
  • Transferable Results – It is important that competency assessment is transferable among assessors. Whether a student, faculty, or an employer the results of a competency assessment should be able to assess a competency. Holt and Perry use this to explain a person transferring from company to company.
  • Measurable – When designing competency assessments it is important that any measurement of competency be measurable. If a competency is vague or ill defined the usefulness of the assessment is diminished. Therefore it is essential to remember when defining competencies this is something that should be taken into account.
  • Based on Best Practice – Basing any assessments on established standard or processes that are well known is a way to build confidence in any credential. Ideally a standard would be defined which would identify competencies. Creating industry validated standards is a common method for certification programs and these often occupation based.
  • Tailor able – There is a final balance between having a generic assessment based on best practices and tailoring for a specific business or industry.

If a learner already has an artifact that demonstrates a competency then they should have no need to demonstrate the competency again. The strength of a competency based model is to create these forms of evidence that can be used in a portfolio. By addressing specific competencies and defining the evidence that demonstrates the use of the knowledge, skills and abilities a competency based system allows the individual learner is able to provide a record of their accomplishments reducing duplication of learning and creating a more efficient system.

Competency Based Education and Existing Norms

Traditional education systems, post-secondary and secondary, rely on a course based system. There are a few core differentiations below presented by Voorhees [4] that illustrate the difference between how a competency based system and a course based system work.

  • Assessment - Course based assessment has a couple of major differences in how they would be assessed. For one, a learner can pass a course without gaining all the competencies associated with the course. A student can pass a course easily with only 70% of the learning outcomes being achieved. In a competency based model a student would continue to work on a competency until mastery is achieved. In addition, course base assessment depends on the professional judgement of the instructor, or designated teaching assistant. In a competency based model the assessment needs to be measurable and unambiguous. This feature combined with the common vocabulary emphasized in a competency based model takes the professional judgement out of the equation. Student, faculty, external experts, and employers all have common evidence to evaluate competencies.
  • Duplication - Competencies provide students with a direct path to their end goal. Competencies, once demonstrated, would not need to be demonstrated again. Although there are some articulation agreements in place, and there are PLAR program designed to limit it higher education today in Canada, and countries with similar systems, allows for a great deal of duplication of learning. In a competency based system a learner would be able to build each competency upon the last building toward an ultimate learning goal.
  • Meeting the Need - There is a demand for recognition of competencies and certifications built from those competency recognition systems. With technological advances there have been changes in the expectations of learners both in how learning is presented to them and how it is acknowledged. Adelman, in 2000, estimated that certification in the Information Technology sector alone at 1.6 million certifications awarded between 1997 and 2000.[5]

The Direction of Competency Based Learning

Competencies and Skill standards have gained attention in a number of educational jurisdictions and a number of industry groups.

Australia has created Technical and Further Education (TAFE) courses that help learners to plan their path to qualifications. These courses are provided by universities and other training providers and are considered a competency based system.[6]

New Zealand has created a system that acknowledges the competencies of learners that can lead to post graduate certificates, diplomas, and degrees. The learners who are able to meet the standards are acknowledged no matter how the gained the defined skills.[7]

Canada has established a number of sector councils that have worked to define National Occupational Standards for select industries. The Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council has worked with industry representatives to create competency standards for 48 tourism occupations, and created 29 certification programs based on those standards.[8]

The Direction of Digital Competency Based Learning

Learning is Everywhere. Description of what Tin Can API can track.[9]

Tin Can API

Tin Can API, also known as the Experience API, is a step forward in digital learning. This learning technology has the goal of documenting all of the learning experiences that a person can have. If they are online or offline, the idea behind Tin Can is that evidence of learning should be collected and documented to reference for learners and employers.[10]

Digital Badges

Eva baker, President of the American Educational Research Association first raised the idea of having some sort of digital badge. It was her view that school systems should focus on authentic learning where students could earn qualifications represented as badges. This system would allow students to have evidence of skills and achievements that demonstrate life skills.[11]

Anatomy of an open badge [12]

This idea inspired the Mozilla Foundation started the Mozilla Open Badges Project. Through this project a learner can provide evidence of a competency to an organization that issues a badge than can then be displayed as part of a profile [13] . Within this badge there is metadata than cannot be altered after the badge is created. The data contained is the information that provides the recipient, potential employers, and learning institutions with the reassurance that they can trust in the claims that are being made.

Competency Based Example:Teamwork


  1. 1.0 1.1 , "Moon, Yong-lin. "Education Reform and Competency-Based Education." Asia Pacific Education Review. 8.2 (2007): 337-341.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Holt, Jon, and Simon Perry. A pragmatic guide to competency tools, frameworks and assessment. Swindon [England: BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, 2011. 37-38. Print.
  3. 3.0 3.1 [1],The Boeing Company, Center for Learning Connections Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, W. S. (1999.). Guidebook Volume II PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT and CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
  4. 4.0 4.1 [2],Voorhees, Richard A. "Competency-Based Learning Models: A Necessary Future." New Directions for Institutional Research. 110 (2001): 5-13. Print.
  5. [3], Adelman, C. A Parallel Post Secondary Universe: The Certification System in Information Technology. Washington,D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 2000. Web.
  6. [4],Technical and further education TAFE Australia. (n.d.).
  7. [5],New Zealand Qualifications Framework.(n.d.).
  8. [6],emerit skills training and certification. (n.d.)
  9. [7]
  10. [8],Overview – Tin Can API. (n.d.). Tin Can API Homepage – Programmable E-learning and Experience Tracking. Retrieved March 9, 2014
  11. [9],Baker, E. L. (2007). 2007 Presidential Address The End(s) Of Testing. Educational Researcher, 36(6), 309-317.
  12. [10],Bowen, K. (n.d.). Open Badges Anatomy. Class Hack. Retrieved March 9 2014.
  13. [11],Mozilla Foundation., & Peer 2 Peer University. (2012, August 27). An Open Badge System Framework. An Open Badge System Framework. Retrieved March 9, 2014

Links, Resources, and Further Reading


Australian Qualifications Framework

Canadian Skills Alliance

Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council

New Zealand Qualifications Authority

Further Information

Competency-Based Education: Fred Hurst

Competency Based Education | Learning Beyond Letter Grade

Competency-Based Learning Models: A Necessary Future (Voorhees, 2001)

Competency-Based Learning or Personalized Learning

Mozilla Open Badges

Setting the Standard: Accepted Principles and Recommended Practices for National Occupational Standards, Certification Programs, and Accreditation Programs

SPARK - The Tourism Educator Resource Guide

The Layers of the Tin Can Onion (Rustici, M.)