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The dos and don'ts of competency based learning

With most training courses, employees will attend en masse, attempt to acquire stacks of new skills or expertise, and then be tested at the end of the day to find out whether or not the program was successful. However, members of staff are rarely enthused by this type of training, get overwhelmed with just how much information is being force fed to them, and fail to reap positive rewards in the long-term.

Therefore, organisations are increasingly adopting new methods of teaching such as e-learning, microlearning and Spaced Repetition. These can be designed and customised for the individual and feature elements such as gamification to increase employee engagement. What’s more, they are perfectly suited to competency-based assessments, which have proved to be much better at evaluating the effectiveness of training.

But what is competency-based learning? How does it correlate with assessing the aptitude of employees? And what do you need to know when implementing this type of training for your own organisation?


The basics of competency-based assessments

Competency-based assessments allow businesses to accurately understand their workforce’s proficiency while also helping Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) to demonstrate the affect training has in meeting enterprise objectives. As opposed to traditional classroom teaching, these assessments provide a link between education and results by answering fundamental questions relating to the job roles of staff.

Even if an employee looks good on their CV, has all the necessary experience and expertise, seems like an ideal fit for the team and impresses during the interview, they may not be able to perform once getting the job. As a result, they are put through training, where the same thing happens again after appearing to understand the learning content and doing well on the final examination.

Traditional training attempts to furnish members of staff with new knowledge or additional skills, but in many respects it is an educated guess whether the teaching methods being used will have the desired effect. However, competency-based learning measures the workforce’s ability to perform in situations closely related to their jobs, giving managers much needed reassurances that training is meeting business demands.


The growing realisation that competency-based learning works

Competency-based learning isn’t limited to corporate training, as primary schools and graduate programs are also starting to recognise its benefits. In 2014, the US Department of Education encouraged colleges to experiment with competency-based learning, while Inside Higher Ed reported that nearly 350 institutions were offering or planning to offer degree-track competency-based programs.

As far as corporate training is concerned, organisations tend to focus on engagement and satisfaction levels instead of more practical metrics. A simple survey is great for judging an employee’s knowledge, but doesn’t exactly find out whether they could deal with similar circumstances outside of the classroom.

Take a job like software developer. Along with knowing how to code, software developers must also collaborate with others, communicate feedback to clients, conduct individual research and solve difficult problems. All of these fundamental skills can’t be gauged by a test or code review, but with competency-based assessments, it is possible to appraise the developer’s complete package, from technical and strategic to business and soft skills.


The dos of competency-based learning

When it comes to hiring, managers are turning their attention towards tools like Talentbuddy, Gild, and Codility to find suitable candidates in an increasingly competitive market. For occupations such as software developer, where technology moves at such a rapid rate, recruiters can’t rely on an applicant’s experience or technical skills alone. They must know how potential employees can apply their expertise in an agile environment under tight deadlines as well as finding out if they are able to competently communicate with team members.

But what about corporate training? Well, one possible approach is to create rubrics that subject-matter experts and mentors can introduce to learners. Although these tend to be quite complex and expensive in academic circles, they are much easier to implement for corporate training purposes. Rubrics can be less intensive yet closely related to job-performance assessments.

Even so, instructors need to learn rubrics quickly and constantly apply them to changing workplace situations. The result for learners is a practical focus combined with close mentor relationships that allow for the development of a complete skill set, which can be applied to the real world of work.


The don’ts of competency-based learning

Seeing as competency-based learning tends to be a lot more labour-intensive than traditional assessments, it needs time, effort, and resources to be introduced successfully. On top of that, it often needs working professionals to review the learner’s answers and evaluate them contextually. Therefore, don’t be fooled into thinking that competency-based learning can simply replace standard tests and examinations.

Also, avoid the temptation of giving learners a pass/fail type grade. Competency-based learning attempts to ensure that leaners are mastering a topic in ways that deliver added value to the business. Rubrics should be used to streamline this process, while also making it repeatable and scalable. So again, don’t think of these as rudimentary answer sheets.

At the end of the day, competency-based learning and assessments help to bridge the gap between talent acquisition and talent development. All around the world, CLOs are coming under more and more pressure to deliver evidence that training is working and that employees are fulfilling their potential. While teaching techniques such as e-learning, microlearning, and Spaced Repetition are on hand to improve engagement and satisfaction levels, competency-based assessments make sure they have the desired effect.