In recent years, considerable attention has been devoted to the realisation of ‘competence-based education’. A substantial amount of uncertainty nevertheless remains with regard to the concept of ‘competences’ and what exactly is entailed in competence-based education. Informal surveys indicate that most teachers give very indecisive answers when asked ‘whether their teaching is competence-based’. In this tip, we address five frequently asked questions with regard to competence-based education.

What is a competence?

A competence is an integrated basic cluster of knowledge, skills and attitudes. Whereas traditional education places primary emphasis on the reproduction of knowledge, competence-based education also assigns importance to skills and attitudes. Coordination with the professional field is one of the most important characteristics of competence-based education. Students should be prepared as well as possible for the future hiring market. Techniques for achieving such coordination include project work, group work or portfolios, in addition to calling on students and external parties to provide feedback and assessments.

Are knowledge and lectures unnecessary in competence-based education?

One common criticism of competence-based education is that students will do nothing but master skills and that their base of knowledge will remain limited. On the contrary, knowledge constitutes an indispensable foundation for a competence. The knowledge underlying skills and attitudes remains crucial, and it is therefore explicitly included in assessments. Students are expected to be able to apply knowledge with a particular attitude. For example, in addition to knowing which recommendations should be given to customers in a particular assignment (knowledge), students must also be able to demonstrate this (skills) according to particular standards (attitudes). It is not enough for students to know how to do something. They must also be able to explain the knowledge underlying that particular ability. Knowledge is therefore interpreted differently within the context of competence-based education: it is no longer an end unto itself. This also means that activating (and other) lectures retain a clear place in competence-based education. 

Aren’t ‘self-direction’ and ‘life-long learning’ just nice ideals?

‘We shouldn’t always lead our students by the hand’. This is not what is meant by self-direction, but the intention of self-direction and life-long learning is also not to leave students completely to their own devices. Competence-based education assigns considerable importance to gradually decreasing the amount of support that students receive. At first, they are heavily supported, as when the teacher provides demonstrations (e.g. how feedback is given on an assignment, which aspects are important). This support is then decreased gradually, and students are expected to work on their own (e.g. by using peer feedback or assessment). When programmes devote attention to life-long learning, they direct specific attention to ‘learning how to learn’ (e.g. learning how to give feedback, learning how to estimate one’s own performance, learning how to work in groups). Such competences are increasingly being incorporated into programmes.

Want to know more?

Rowan, B. (2015). Defining Competencies and Outlining Assessment Strategies for CompetencyBased Education Programs. Retrieved from Pearson Education website.