Competency-Based Degrees: Coming Soon to a Campus Near You

Joel Shapiro, How-to-Geek, Feb 19, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

The Chronicle's take on competency-based learning is, not surprisingly, negative. "Traditional educators often find competency programs alarming—and understandably so," writes Joel Shapiro. "In fact, traditional educators should be alarmed." According to Shapiro, competency-based learning can only be as good as the assessment mechanisms they employ. But no assessment mechanism is a proxy for deep learning. "Great education isn’t just about content. It challenges students to consider others’ viewpoints, provides conflicting information, and forces students to reconcile, set priorities, and choose." Maybe. But on the face of it, both statements are demonstrably false. First, competency-based learning is about the learning that takes place before the assessment, and this learning can be (and typically is) significantly greater than the assessment. And second, the assessment even in great traditional learning rarely evaluates anything more (and far often less) than that of competency-based learning. You can get a degree from Harvard or Princeton or wherever without ever once considering others' viewpoints or reconciling and setting priorities. I've met many such graduates.

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