Employers are experiencing an unprecedented gap between the skills they need and the skills their employees have. In a survey conducted last year by Adecco, 92 percent of U.S. senior executives reported a workforce skills gap.
The apparent disconnect between what students are learning in their degree programs and the skills that employers require has sparked interest in competency-based training programs. The same goes for digital learning environments like MOOCs that can greatly facilitate this training. Businesses need employees with skills, and they need them now.
Learning happens every day, all day long, for most people in the workplace. Yet, we are challenged daily in our efforts to develop skills and competencies that will enable us to be more productive and satisfied at work.
How do we address this gap and ensure that the learning that does take place is meaningful and effective?
For years we have been conditioned to believe that learning happens in structured settings and figuring out how to apply that knowledge in the workplace comes afterwards.
Due to advances in technology and easier access to information, formal learning is being eclipsed by a host of resources that enable us to learn at work, rather than in the classroom.
Let’s be clear, there is and always will be a need for structured learning. We certainly don’t want pilots flying airplanes after watching a YouTube video.
However, we do need to ask these questions:
- How do employees get the skills and competencies they need to do their jobs well TODAY?
- What resources are most valuable in acquiring certain skills and competencies?
- Most importantly, how do we know when a person achieves an acceptable competency level to perform certain tasks?
Competency-based learning (CBL) holds promise in finding those answers.
So what is CBL?
CBL is often a term interchangeable with competency-based education. It focuses on ‘mastery’ of skills and learning outcomes, rather than simply providing new information and testing for recall. Participants master skills or competencies during the learning process. In an enterprise learning environment, CBL truly is a process rather than a learning event. That process may include a formal learning event but mastery typically takes place during a series of informal learning opportunities. For example, during on-the-job training, and/or project-based learning, often referred to as ‘Action Learning’ in the workplace. Supporting resources are readily available and contextualized to ensure that the learner gets what they need, when they need it, to support the learning process. Through the contextualization process, the learning becomes highly personalized to meet the specific needs of the employee and the demands of the job.
For CBL to be effective and demonstrate value, the learning objectives or outcomes must be clearly defined and granular. This can be a challenge as reflected by Dr. Aaron Brower, Provost and Vice Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, “Ensuring that learning objectives are measurable and that the competencies can be demonstrated is not a trivial undertaking…”
Once clear objectives are defined and competency rubrics are developed to measure progress, learning activities can be tied to competency measurement to assess levels of mastery through learning. This is a huge step forward in tying mastery into your learning and development offerings, and can contribute to an overall picture of competency development in your organization. Meeting the challenge of developing mastery can yield healthy rewards for organizations in terms of productivity and engagement. People tend to be more engaged in their jobs when they are challenged. Learning that is focused on specific goals is where they can find success.