In a decade, online education may be recognized not for making higher education accessible to anyone with a smartphone—but as the midwife who delivered competency-based learning into the world. – For Online to Really Matter in Education, We Need to Redefine Competency

Given that online eduction has been booming over the past 15 years, it might be an overstatement to suggest it won’t matter unless competencies are redefined, or defined for that matter. But that click-bait worthy title isn’t the interesting observation of this short article. The interesting observation is something I have understood working with online courses over that same time period. Technology infusions in education reveal more about the underlying assumptions of one’s teaching in general more so than any other method. By moving a course to a radically different environment like an online site or application, one is forced to reconsider why those course materials and those assessments are the best to include.

To the point of the article, the technology is rarely the “killer app” in designing a course for online delivery, teaching, and learning. The payoff comes after the investment one has to put into rethinking one’s teaching and how students learn. This includes new ways of assessing if students are actually learning what the instructor wants them to learn.

Competencies are one clear way to measure this and are linked with course learning objectives and assessments. Before I taught online, I frankly did not have any of these terms in my back pocket. The design was the content I wanted to use, and then a couple of tests and papers after which I would determine if I thought the student learned enough to move on. The good news is that I started teaching online the same time I started teaching face to face. The first course I ever designed from the ground up started with clear definition of what I wanted the students to learn. When I learned about competencies, I re-wrote all of those definitions into objectives of what I wanted to observe the students doing.

The language of competencies has never been a “four letter word” for me. It has been a natural component in the evolution of how I design a course and guide students through it. Not only are students appreciative of the clarity in knowing what to do and how to do it, but in what I expect to see out of them with each lesson and assignment.

What are your thoughts about the word “competency?” Do you resonate with the author’s point of view which is, higher education has a resistance to competencies because they seem overly “vocational?”

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