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Why technology shouldn’t be king for competency education

By Jade Roth
March 28th, 2016

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CBE expert pushes for the prioritization of content on competency education learning platforms.

Competency-based education (CBE) is no longer a new concept in higher education. Community colleges, state university systems, private colleges and institutions around the country and globe are embracing the model, putting the final nails in the coffin of “one size, fits all” education.

The CBE model brings a number of benefits to the learner—from flexibility and accessibility to personalization and adaptivity. We have seen students graduate with bachelor’s degrees in less than nine months, met adult learners who completed  the degrees they never thought they would have the opportunity to finish, and talked to faculty who have reclaimed direct one-to-one interaction with students through CBE’s ability to connect students and professors at the perfect moment for learning.

Because these advances have been spurred by new technological capabilities, conversations around ed-tech and CBE often center on code, platforms, and how the technology products themselves change the learning experience.

When we go down this path, though, we lose something critical. The technology is an enabler for learning—a platform with which the student interacts—but it is the content and the educator that are at the center of the learning experience with the student. In many ways, the technology is the starting point and the content is what makes the journey.

Certainly advances in technology give us the ability to engage students in new and innovative ways. In CBE programs, students are no longer tied to a Tuesday/Thursday 9:30 class, and can move through course material more quickly (and therefore affordably) if they already mastered the relevant material in the course of their jobs or other experiences. Advanced algorithms can also put content in front of students that is appropriate for their level of knowledge, and measure when they are ready to move on.  When done correctly, these capabilities help students absorb content more efficiently.

The Hurdles of tech-prioritized CBE

However, when technology is deployed solely for technology’s sake, it can create additional hurdles for students. For instance, while a new interactive video may be an exciting tool conceptually, if accessing it forces students to leave the platform to download, they are removed from the immersive learning experience and forced to navigate in new ways. As a result, study sessions are derailed.

And, if we design new assessment techniques without considering differences between teaching English and teaching computer science, there is a good chance the result will be generic multiple choice questions instead of interactive engagement with the content.

(Next page: Why content should be king for competency education)


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