I went to hear a talk the other day. It was about competency-based education (CBE) for organizations. Ostensibly. And, while I’m now affiliated with IBSTPI, it’s not like I’m a competency expert. And maybe I expect too much, but I really hope for people to be clear about the concept. Alas, that’s not what I found.
So, it started out reasonably well, talking about how competencies are valuable. There were a number of points, and many made sense, although some were redundant. Maybe I missed some nuance? I try to be open-minded. It’s about creating clear definitions of performance, and aligning those with assessments. Thus, you’re working on very clear descriptions of what people should be doing.
It got interesting when the speaker decided to link CBE to Universal Design for Learning (UDL). And it’s a good program. UDL talks about using multiple representations to increase the likelihood for different learners to be able to comprehend and respond. This, in the talk, was mapped to three different segments: engaging the learners in multiple ways, communicating concepts in multiple ways, and allowing assessment in multiple ways. And this is good. For learning. Does it make sense for CBE?
To start, the argument was, you should make the rationale for the learning in multiple ways. While in general CBE inherently embodies meaningfulness in the nature of clear and needed skills, I don’t have a problem with this. I argue you should hook learners in emotionally and cognitively, and those can be separate activities. There was a brief mention of something like ‘learning styles’, but while now wary, I was ready to let it go.
However, the talk went on to make a case for multiple representations of content. And here the slide explicitly said ‘learning styles’ and used VARK. And don’t get me wrong, multiple representations and media are good, but not for learning styles! The current status is that there’s essentially no valid instrument to measure learning styles, and no evidence that even if you did, that it makes a difference. None. So, of course, I raised the issue. And we agreed that maybe not for learning styles, but multiple representations weren’t bad.
The final point was that there could be multiple forms of assessment. At this point, I wasn’t going to interrupt again, but at the end of the session raised the point that the critical element of CBE is aligning the assessment with the performance! You can’t have them do an interpretative dance about identifying fire hazards, for instance, you have to have them identify fire hazards! So, here the audience ultimately agreed that variability was acceptable as long as it measured the actual performance. Again, I don’t think the speaker was clear about the concept.
There were two major flaws in this talk. One was casually mashing up a couple of essentially incommensurate ideas. CBE and UDL aren’t natural partners. There can be overlapping concepts, but… The second, of course, is using a popular but fundamentally flawed myth about learning. If you’re going to claim authority, don’t depend on broken concepts.
To put it another way, I think it’s fair to expect speakers to be clear about the concept. (Either that, or maybe the lesson is that Clark shouldn’t be allowed to listen to normal speakers. ;) Please, please, know what you’re talking about before you talk about it. Is that too much to ask?