“Open” in the Age of Competency-based Education

I’ve just started working on a major competency-based education (CBE) initiative with Lumen (specifics coming soon), which has helped me see that the principles of open education are, generally speaking, nowhere to be found in the competency-based education space. To be clear – many institutions are using OER in their CBE programs, but almost every institution doing CBE seems to hoard their competencies like the family recipe for a secret sauce. You know what this made me think…

As part our new project, Lumen will be creating openly licensed competency maps. Not just openly licensed lists of competencies, or even the imperceptibly more nuanced indented lists of competencies. We’ll be openly licensing full on, multi-dimensional maps of each competency space, complete with membership information about which competencies fall along which dimensions of expertise (based first on a theoretical model, and then continuously improved over time using statistical models driven by empirical data) together with difficulty estimates of each competency in each dimension (again, based initially on a theoretical model, and then continuously improved over time using an IRT-based model driven by empirical data). These continuously improved, openly licensed competency maps will provide much deeper insight into the multiple trajectories from novice to competence in each domain, together with a characterization and ordering of the smaller competencies inside each dimension of competence.

If you don’t know my work on Quantitative Domain Mapping, you can see the technique applied to first semester music theory in this working paper from 2001, which also draws out some of the pedagogical implicatons of discovering that the relationships between the smaller competencies in your domain are not actually what you thought they were. (If you’re really interested, the QDM line of my work actually began in my dissertation, where it’s described in pages 59-67.) My thinking has of course evolved over the years, but it’s exciting to be picking up this strand of work again. The synergies between DQM and openness are amazing and full of promise.

I believe work of this nature – that is, bringing the principles of openness, sharing, and continuous improvement – into our work on the competencies themselves is some of the most important work lying ahead of the field in the next five years. It is utterly absent now, and we need to integrate openness into our work on competencies while this body of work is still relatively young and flexible.

2 thoughts on ““Open” in the Age of Competency-based Education”

  1. I can’t speak for anyone else, but at Thomas Edison State College, it was our exploration of open resources that led us to competency-based education. If you are deemphasizing course-based progress in favor of competencies, then you should be able to acquire them anywhere in any format, regardless of source. Once we saw how OER could get our students to their academic goals much more flexibly and quickly, we had to embrace CBE. True, we have not made our competency maps open yet, but that’s only because we are still developing them, one area of study at a time.

    • Mark, thanks for sharing this. I’ve clarified the language in the post. Many of the schools engaged in CBE are in fact using OER, as you mentioned. But there doesn’t seem to be much cognitive dissonance yet around the use of openly licensed resources in support of closed competencies. We need to bring the principle of openness to bear on our competencies themselves, too, if we want the cycle of energy, growth, and innovation to continue.

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