A Hybrid Approach to CBE: Authenticated Skills™, Academic Frameworks and Higher Ed

Blog Post 16

This week, Michael Feldstein posted a new Blog entitled The Catalysts for Competency-Based Learning and Prior Learning Assessments Have Arrived.” In it, he creatively illuminates how shortages in the labor market are missed opportunities for a could be/should be doctor arriving to his new country of Canada. The newly arrived immigrant was prevented from continuing his medical studies as the academic structures in Canada demanded a complete redo of skills he had already mastered and been certified for in his home country. He finds success in an entirely different field, as he becomes an entrepreneur in the chocolate industry! Tragically, however, the doctor shortage in Canada rages on and the absurdity of failures to create better pathways to resolve the labor market shortages continues.

Frequently hearing of situations similar to the one described in Feldstein’s article raises important questions. How can prior learning assessment (PLA) expedite career pathways? And what does this have to do with competency based education (CBE)? Is there perhaps a hybrid option to CBE that post secondary education will more warmly embrace? One that blends authenticated skills into academic frameworks without abandoning all of higher education’s benefits?

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Increasingly, career pathways are becoming full of twists and turns and upskilling and reskilling are words we should all become familiar with. Particularly reskilling! Technology is moving so quickly in all industries and skills are changing rapidly forcing us to change the way we learn as well as what we need to learn to be effective and relevant in the job market. Employers are seeking authenticated skills(authenticated learning of skills via high contextualized authenticated assessment) and competency. The degree is being questioned as graduates fail to show up job ready. Not all is lost, however, as the degree is still dominant in overall lifetime earning potential. It is extremely likely that during one’s career path the degree alone will not suffice, but can these two paradigms coexist? A certain amount of reskilling is inevitable and the concept of being a lifelong learner will be a driver for success for most in their work life. Designing for authenticated skills requires a new approach to pedagogy.

Feldstein indicates that this environment demanding lifelong learning is finally a catalyst for embracing prior learning assessment and competency based education, but should the CBE of days past be redefined to go beyond its original purely academic outcome focus loosely coupled with employment required skills?  We should expect that the changing demands on the workforce will create a demand that can not be ignored to make skills more transferable (prior learning assessment) and more measurable and authenticated (skills aligned/data informed). Advancements in technology are fostering ways to make learning modular and skills aligned within your current technology. This is the subject of our webinar with OpenLMS. Ease Learning has been on a quest to make skills aligned learning measurable and attainable within your current LMS and to reduce friction points that have prevented CBE from taking hold in the past. 

When we look at what has held back a shift towards CBE in the past, three main things emerge:

  • Academic institutions are set up to use time and completion as measurements of degree or credential attainment. Governing bodies such as accreditors and the department of education are centered on time and completion as the holy grail. Financial aid is also tied to credit hour – more time and completion! Term durations, start and stop times of terms, and rolling admissions all present institutional challenges that need to be addressed across many stakeholders. The technology stack supporting enrollment, grading, transcripts, etc. also needs to support this level of flexibility.

  • The design of the learning needs to be transformed to align to skills and to measure levels of competency. Formative and Summative assessments in a CBE model of instruction require a more active approach to pedagogy, where learners are driving more of the experience with a full understanding of how their learning actually applies to specific sought after skills or required for their employment opportunities. Student centered learning tends to be more engaging for learners, provides more opportunities for practicing and learning from mistakes, and it drives better outcomes and mastery of key concepts and skills, but can feel very “out of control” for faculty who are more comfortable lecturing and controlling the narrative for a prescribed duration of time. Again, when students go at their pace there can be a strong need for differentiated instruction – also something that faculty may not be as comfortable providing. Approaching learning to address differentiation and choice to drive student centered learning is key. Pairing faculty with learning designers is essential to foster models of student centered learning.

  • CBE typically requires content to be chunked very logically around progression of skills and outcomes – not a traditional course structure model. The upside of this is that learning experiences can be made more modular and “stackable” and skills can be aligned to more traditional learning outcomes in different ways, making CBE designed modular content very reusable across different use cases. This tends to be a skill set of an instructional designer/learning designer – not something in which faculty typically have expertise. 

As institutions endeavor to overcome the challenges of embracing CBE, it is helpful to learn from those who have paved the way. Here is a helpful guide shared by the Competency-based Education Network (C-Ben) and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) through a grant funded collaboration sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit school-loan guarantor organization. 

To evolve further on hybrid approaches to CBE, two key ingredients are needed – learning design innovation and technology that supports skills alignment at granular levels, interoperability with present systems and scalability. With these more advanced tools, it is possible to conceptualize embeddable, skills-focused stackable pathways that connect non degree and degree options in unique ways. 


About Ease Learning:

Ease Learning has supported the development of skills aligned models for decades in the post secondary market with both software and services, helping partners tackle the barriers described above. Our Skillways platform  is a patented technology designed to provide authenticated skills . Skillways is LMS agnostic with a deeper integration in Moodle enhancing many of Moodle’s existing skills specific features. 


Sources cited in this article:
Utah will no longer require a bachelor’s degree for most state jobs
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