5 steps to help CBE topple the credit hour

New report details a framework that could help bring a unified system of competency-based education (CBE) across institutions seeking to act as a stronger bridge between students and employers.

competency-framework-helpColleges and universities weary of the barriers currently associated with the credit hour may find an alternative CBE solution within a new framework.

The adoption of competency-based programs has become increasingly appealing to higher education institutions, as CBE, done right, could provide better learning opportunity’s for today’s students and their bank accounts.

However, though a recent high-profile report from the Carnegie Foundation criticized the credit hour system for hindering innovation in higher education, and some early competency-based education programs have proven successful, the credit hour is so ingrained for most higher education institutions that it has proven highly difficult to make such a radical transition; especially since an implementation strategy for how CBE could work as a total replacement of the credit hour is fairly non-existent.

Yet, a new report released by Tyton Partners in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, titled “Evidence of Learning: The Case for an Integrated Competency Management System” proposes an integrated and transparent competency management framework.

The report stresses that institutions honor a student’s “Evidence of Learning,” or the body of knowledge, skills, and experience achieved through informal activities that an individual accumulates and validates during their lifetime.

“As the bridge between students and the workforce, postsecondary institutions are uniquely positioned to find and deliver the best tools and resources to capture and communicate Evidence of Learning,” said Adam Newman, co-founder and managing partner at Tyton. “Colleges and universities must rise to this opportunity or risk erosion of a core value proposition in linking learning and employment and lifelong development.”

The report also identifies gaps that deter alignment of processes and systems, and aims to help college and university leaders link disconnected solutions to better serve their own needs, the needs of students, and the needs of employers.

The report ultimately calls for colleges and universities to take an active role in developing a more transparent and aligned system that enables students to fulfill their college and career goals.

“Establishing this framework needs to be a combined effort from the whole institution; faculty, centers of student learning and advising, IT & systems management and beyond all need to be involved,” Newman said.

(Next page: 5 building blocks to a CBE credentialing system)

“There’s no quick fix to this,” explained Newman. “Institutions need to think internally about how connected their own departments are to one another in order to provide an effective learning experience and about whether or not outside experiences are valued. That’s the first wave of this; institution-centric discussion.”

However, to get credit hour-weary institutions thinking about what the foundational building blocks of a CBE-based credentialing system would look like, there are five levels to consider:

Framework first level: Experience. Students should seek to participate in formal and informal learning and development environments, institutions must deliver learning opportunities that range from technical programs to more informal life experiences, and employers need to deliver function-, company-, and industry-specific education and training. Additionally, institutions need to help students connect with employers and validate what employers are looking for in their own curriculum to act as a bridge for giving students needed skills.

Framework second level: Validation, which may prove to be the most difficult to standardize, noted the report. Institutions need to confirm the extent to which learning and skills development have occurred, and deliver the proper credit. This is what makes the development of core competencies in every field so essential, as students will need to review and evaluate their experience through a range of assessment protocols that are equivalent across the nation. Employers can assist with both the development of core competencies and preparing students to pass them by confirming the possession of requisite skills and experience when students participate in internships and work-study programs.

Framework third level: Assembly of student experiences into an aggregated and personal narrative. It will be then up to colleges and universities to capture and maintain the individual, programmatic, and institutional records over time. Finally, employers must develop personnel files and profiles based on a diverse set of informational inputs.

Framework fourth level: Promotion of candidates and opportunities. Students need to present their narrative of skills in a professional manner to secure enrollment or employment goals, institutions must enable students to connect their aspirations and capabilities to post-institutional opportunities, and employers must attract and recruit candidates from their schools through job fairs and even on social media for open positions.

Framework fifth level: Alignment between student, institution, and employer. Students need to access feedback, coaching tools and services to confirm how well they understand what they are working on and how they are improving along their chosen path. Institutions must continually evaluate the effectiveness of their programs and student outcomes by keeping up with graduates and how well they felt they were prepared for their jobs. Additionally, employers should run performance management processes to provide workforce feedback to schools so that they can consistently prepare students for what they will need to do.

Newman noted that once colleges and universities have established their own valid and credible programs, they can begin to look at peer institutions and work with them to create a broader system of cohesive and standardized tools, competencies and measurements of learning.

A second publication, “Evidence of Learning: Understanding the Supplier Ecosystem,” provides definitions and commentary regarding seven markets – Accreditation Services, Alternative Education Programs, Assessment Services, Learning Authentication Services, Portfolio Platforms, Student Support and Success Networks, and Workforce Alignment Platforms – all of which together comprise the Evidence of Learning ecosystem. This complementary research reviews these markets’ intersection with the Evidence of Learning framework and highlights a selected index of companies and organizations active across the markets.

To read both reports in their entirety, refer to their white paper archive here.

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