Competency-based learning is no more


JULY, 2017


The start of a learning cultures highlights a lot of challenges. How do you motivate employees? How do you offer learning products? How do you chart aspects that motivate to learn? A lot of organisations forget that learning is a means, not an end. A strong vision on learning is connected to the company mission. One of things L&D does to achieve that mission, is to set a list of required competencies. That’s where the problem lies. The world changes too fast to allow this approach to exist.

The problem with competency-based learning (CBL) is the interpretations of competencies. They always differ. One course provider’s competency description can differ entirely from a student’s interpretation. There was a never a central ‘book of words’ on competencies. Different parties have different definitions for the same word. You can’t set up a ‘corporate university’ if the foundation is unclear. As humans, we have the tendency to put everything in to little boxes – especially when it’s hard to keep an overview. Learning is fragmenting strongly. New forms of learning are being developed, there are more providers and technology is increasingly capable in the knowledge transfer process. It’s no wonder we’ve been using competencies to process this reality.

How many interpretations of these words can you think of??

Much like learning, competencies are a means, not an end. Yet still they are evaluated as if they’re KPI’s. Competency-based learning was a way to bring order to learning wishes. But learning no longer works like this. The limits from a time long past, in which competencies were new, no longer exist. If you’re looking for the solution to a problem, what’s the first thing you’ll do? You’ll Google it. Targeted searches are also possible with learning products. One question remains: What replaces competencies?

“Don’t label learning needs – let them flow organically.”

Go back to basics. The most common method of learning is problem solving. A learning need exists because knowledge is required to solve a problem. Keep this in mind and employees can grow organically and autonomously, because they themselves have control over their learning process. Because (aspects of) problems can be made concrete, the learning need is clear. No more vague terms.

Ray Kurzweil

Lastly, competencies undermine the reality for organisations in 2017: The world changes increasingly quick. A learning model based on competencies means employees have to walk a fixed learning path to ‘complete’ their profiles. By the time they’re done, the world has changed once more. Ray Kurzweil (Google) calls this the ‘Law of Accelerating Returns’.

Just-in-time learning, as well as microlearning, play in to this new normal. Small, bite-sized learning moments help you learn quickly, so the problem you’ve run in to can be solved fast. All you need is the knowledge to solve your current problem. A learning path for a year is over-the-top. If you write messy e-mails, a training in ‘how do I write an e-mail’ is more relevant than a month-long course in communications skills. Despite further expansion on the already-large collection of learning products, technology grants an overview. With an effective learning-search machine it becomes much easier to seperate the forest from the trees. With this technology, employees become self-sufficient in their own development. Without labels and vague terms. So go back to the problem. Don’t label learning needs – let them flow organically.

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