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Competency-based Education: Prepare Your Students for the Future of Work

Apr 17, 2023 | Learning Analytics

Competency-based Education: Prepare Your Students for the Future of Work

Due to the fast-changing environment and the development of new technologies, the education sector is facing lots of challenges. A recent study by McKinsey discovered that youth unemployment is increasing as young people are being held back because of the lack of skills relevant to the workplace.

According to Gallup Poll, only 11% of business leaders agreed that graduates have the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace.

Employers need to work with education providers so that students learn the skills they need to succeed at work, and governments also have a crucial role to play.

Why don’t we know what works in moving young people from school to employment? Because there is little hard data on the issue. This information gap makes it difficult to begin to understand what practices are most promising – and what it will take to train young people so that they can take their place as productive participants in the global economy.

The search for better teaching strategies to address the problem will never end. As a school leader, you probably spend too much of your time thinking about how to improve the learning experience and learning outcomes of the students that pass through your school throughout the years and how to prepare them for future work.

One-to-many, subject-based teaching is still the norm in most educational institutions, however, recently a competency-based approach has been advocated as a more effective option, encouraging students to develop important skills and skills of their interest while reducing inefficiencies in teaching by moving away from traditional subject silos and implementing cross-curriculum learning. The basic purpose of competency-based education is to give every student an equal chance to master required skills and grow into successful individuals.

Competency-based education, in its most basic form, means that rather than focusing on grades, subjects, and yearly curriculum schedules, the primary focus is spent on whether a student learned the necessary competencies. It measures skills and learning rather than time spent in a classroom.

During our many years of experience with large Learning Analytics based transformation projects, our EDLIGO team found out that a competency-based approach to education can be of real benefit.

Competency-based education versus traditional education

Let’s analyze the traditional learning approach and compare it to the newly advocated competency-based learning:

  • Instruction and teaching methods

In traditional education, each classroom has a teacher who plans and delivers the curriculum with little differentiation.

In competency-based learning, teachers collaborate with community partners and students to create a personalized learning plan for each student based on their interests, learning requirements, and real-time data.

  • Assessment system

In traditional education, assessments are performed at set times to evaluate and classify students based on the information learned during each course or subject. Quite often the assessment cannot evaluate the practical knowledge of the students or whether the students can apply the knowledge.

A comprehensive evaluation system that tries to measure competencies can assist students in determining whether they are learning the necessary abilities. Daily instruction is guided by formative assessments. Summative assessments are used to demonstrate skill improvement through flexible pathways and diversified approaches.

  • Grading policies

Grades are norm-referenced, reflect course requirements, and are often based on weighted quarters and a final exam in traditional education.

Grades in personalized learning represent the level of competency mastery. If students do not receive course credit, their records show that competencies must be re-learned rather than the full course.

  • Learning continuum

Students are expected to master grade-level college and career readiness benchmarks in traditional education.

Students are required to master competencies connected to college and career preparation requirements with clear, transferrable learning objectives in competency-based learning.

  • Learning pace 

In traditional education, students progress at the pace of the teacher, regardless of proficiency or the need for more time.

Students in competency-based learning receive individualized support both in and out of school to ensure they receive what they need, when they need it, to graduate college and career ready.

The important elements of competency-based education

Competency-based learning provides opportunities for a student-driven, practical learning environment, and it successfully engages young people in their learning. The important elements of competency-based learning include:

  • Student as a prime mover

Competency-based learning progressions empower students by giving them more control over their learning pace and direction. So, it is important to create a learning process equipped with tools that are taking into consideration learning needs and giving recommendations on how to advance. Teachers must give personalized instruction, feedback, and support to each student. Students should be taught in a way that builds on their prior knowledge and engages with the material in different ways such as through practice, dialogue, and project-based learning.

  • Proficiency assessment

Competency-based learning goals are organized into progressions based on explicit standards. Standards create a roadmap while assessments and demonstrations give feedback about progress and pace toward mastery over expectations required for graduation. This design allows empowered students to advance ONLY based on a demonstration of competence. Finally, assessments must demonstrate mastery of the subject, allowing all students to advance when they’re fully competent.

  • Personal pathways

The instructional system in competency-based learning can support both common and unique learning experiences (in school and out of school). Competency-based learning institutions can also allow for multiple ways for a learner to demonstrate competency.

The school systems (whether they be state, district, or other educational networks), have the responsibility to shape and sustain competency-based education systems in the schools they work with.

When school systems get involved in determining the framework of their schools’ competency-based education systems, this provides uniformity and coherence across the network. This helps teachers to have a clear definition of what mastery looks like, which competencies are important, and the assessments they should be using, while still giving them flexibility at a local level.

The benefits of competency-based education

Over the past decade, the movement to adopt competency-based education has gained popularity in many countries including, the United States, Brazil, and many European Countries, as more educators, parents, and educational leaders recognize that strong educational preparation is essential to success in today’s world. Institutions use competency-based learning to raise academic standards, ensure that more students meet those expectations, and more students will be better prepared for adult life.

To help schools establish the foundations of their processes, here we discuss the basic benefits of competency-based education

  • Schools offer an equitable range of learning experiences

Equity does not imply that each student receives the same treatment as the others. Instead, it entails providing each student with the resources they require to achieve the same result.

Because competency-based education aims to analyze and eliminate bias in school leadership, this is a key principle. Students are taught and encouraged based on their unique talents and weaknesses, ensuring that everyone has an equal chance of succeeding. As a result, accomplishment can no longer be predicted based on culture, social class, household income, or language. Competency-based teaching also contributes to the development of a welcoming culture in which all students feel safe and respected.

  • Transparency helps students take ownership

Both students and parents should be aware of the learning objectives specified for the class (and for the school as a whole). When students first enter a competency-based education class, they should be aware of three things:

–       What they need to learn

–       How mastery is defined

–       How they will be assessed

Students will take more responsibility for their education if they know what they want to achieve in the end. For example, a student recognizes that he must put his math knowledge to use by completing a project involving the design of a tiny garden. He’ll need to use his math skills to calculate the size of the area and the number of plants that will fit.

If a student understands exactly what he needs to accomplish to be successful and progress in the class, he will feel more in control of his education. Then, when he encounters a problem in the project or lacks the knowledge to do it properly, he will recognize that he requires assistance on his own.

Students who have clear goals and outcomes are more likely to take charge of their learning. As a result of their ownership, they can learn more effectively now and in the future.

  • Students get the support they need individually

Students should have a framework in a competency-based education setting to understand how long they should work on a task before asking for help and when they can approach the teacher during class time.

As previously stated, competency-based education works through bias to promote equity. As teachers engage with students to address their various deficiencies and assist them to build on their strengths, each student progresses toward mastery in his or her own unique (but equally successful) way. This individualized learning experience ensures that each student has an equal chance of succeeding.

Teachers must be available to assist kids for this process to run effectively. Furthermore, they cannot rely just on students seeking assistance; teachers must be completely informed of each student’s progress.

  • Teachers assess for growth and mastery

There are many different types of assessments. Three types of examinations are particularly beneficial for competency-based learning:

– Formative assessments: These assessments assist teachers in determining where each student is in the learning process and making appropriate adjustments to their instruction.

Formative assessments allow teachers to make real-time adjustments by highlighting critical areas where pupils need to improve.

– Authentic assessments: Another fantastic technique to demonstrate mastery is to have students apply what they’ve learned in class to real-life circumstances. Furthermore, students gain abilities that will be useful in the future.

– Digital content assessment: Assessment becomes much easier in the classroom when technology is used. Many classroom software packages contain assessment and progress reporting features, allowing teachers to monitor where each student is in the learning process.

  • Students move forward when they demonstrate mastery

Teachers can identify where each student is in the learning process by adding regular assessments and data-based progress reporting.

It’s time for students to move forward when they display a clear understanding of the material, demonstrate their ability to apply that understanding, and demonstrate how they’ve developed crucial skills.

How to make a move towards competency-based education

To make a smooth move towards competency-based education, based on the important elements that a skills-based approach should involve, we recommend the following shifts to be performed:

1.           From Content-Driven to Skills-Driven: Since skills and competencies are the core components of competency-based education, developing competencies frameworks and graduate profiles is essential and will help organize learning at your school around durable, transferable skills.

2.           From Time-Based to Performance-Based: Reconsidering how time disproportionately dictates how assessment systems work at school is important, as learning in competency-based education is personalized and driven by each student’s performance. Schools should use reassessment practices to build more flexibility into that system.

3.           From Grading to Feedback: Educational institutions should drive into the robust research on effective grading to establish more transparent, equitable, and meaningful feedback practices.

4.           From Lessons to Experiences: Summative assessments should be redesigned to consist of more relevant tasks for performance evaluation.

5.           From Educator Designed to Co-Designed: Schools should create opportunities for students to set, pursue, and reflect on their own goals, not focusing only on the goals of teachers and schools.

Change often succeeds in a series of small steps, and this is particularly true in competency-based learning, where it is important to spend time helping educators, students, and families understand what a competency-based environment means, and how to benefit from it. Changing how school should work must be combined with unlearning how the process was done before and educating the stakeholders about competencies-based education, and we can’t underestimate the value of time, patience, and support in that effort.

Competency-based learning assists students in gaining and demonstrating mastery of a topic, promotes fairness and inclusion, and prepares students for life beyond the classroom.

While this system poses adoption challenges for school leaders, the benefits of successfully overcoming those challenges greatly outweigh the time spent doing so.

Using the EDLIGO learning analytics students can check their results and see how their work is progressing. The dashboards are simple and intuitive to use for various age groups and display a wide and comprehensive set of data.

Student data is linked to educators’ dashboards, allowing them to track progress and identify problems and students at risk. Educators can see how far their students have progressed in each area, providing them a complete picture of what is going on in their classes. Moreover, educators also get recommendations on how the content can be improved and which tasks were the best to assess the students’ progress.

AI is used to recommend tasks and approaches for students to reinforce what they’ve learned or to improve on areas that require improvement based on personal needs and abilities.

Moreover, EDLIGO provides targeted academic support and drives timely actions for focus groups (e.g., students at risk, gifted students), evaluate whether/how students are learning and offer individualized learning experiences, identifies areas for improvement related to international benchmarks & accreditation plans sharpen identification of professional development needs for faculty/staff, and optimize resource allocation and make better-informed decisions boosting institutional performance.

Contact our EDLIGO team to learn more.

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