Competency-based approach: what is it, and characteristics of its educational model?
Summary of the characteristics of the educational model known as the competency-based approach.
New educational models are continually emerging in search of greater efficiency in transmitting knowledge to students.
One of the most recent is the competency-based approach.. With this article we will be able to better understand the fundamentals of this methodology and thus discover the immense potential of this technique, which is already used in many educational institutions.
What is the competency-based approach?
The competency-based approach, or competency-based learning, is an educational methodology whose foundation is to facilitate that students to acquire the contents of each subject through practical situations and experimental environments.. This system, therefore, contrasts with the classical models of education in which a syllabus is presented in an eminently theoretical way and students have to memorize the data to be evaluated later.
It is easy to see, according to this comparison, that the competency-based approach follows a much more dynamic and participative methodology on the part of the students, who play an active part in the acquisition of knowledge.It can be easily appreciated, according to this comparison, that the competency-based approach obeys a much more dynamic and participative methodology on the part of the students, being an active part during the acquisition of knowledge and not mere passive subjects that attend to the teacher's lesson, which can be more or less pleasant, but under a rigid methodology and without much possibility of interaction.
It has been demonstrated that these traditional methodologies, based only on the memorizing capacity of the students, are not an entirely effective system and do not produce a quality processing of this knowledge, which in the long term can be very deteriorated. However, methods that involve putting into practice the subjects being taught, such as the competency-based approach, are more conducive to the acquisition and retention of knowledge.
For example, when it comes to evaluation, traditional methods opt for an exam or test with which to assess how much has been learned, or in fact, how much has been memorized, how much you have been able to memorizeIn many tests, it is not even necessary to reason about the concepts studied, but simply to express them as they appear in the textbook or as dictated by the teacher during the corresponding lesson.
On the contrary, with the competency-based approach, evaluations, evaluative tests are practical activities in which the student has to demonstrate, in an active way, that he/she has acquired these skills, and does so through a test that implies, irremediably, having achieved the required competence to be able to pass it satisfactorily.
How to implement it in the educational context?
We already know the rationale of the competency-based approach. Now we could ask ourselves how it is possible to implement this model, since the educational subjects are very varied and apparently not all of them fit into this practical evaluative system we have described.. The key to this lies in the concept of prior modularization of education.
What does this mean? That all the contents that we want to transmit to the students must be, first, divided into their simplest parts, in order to be able to transfer them in a progressive way. In this way, until the student has acquired the most basic competencies of a particular subject, he/she will not move on to the following ones, which need the previous ones as a basis to be understood and assimilated in their entirety.
This system offers an advantage over the traditional model, which normally involves a cascade of data in which it is not difficult for the so-called snowball effect to occur. This occurs when a student has problems understanding a very specific point of the lesson and this means that he/she does not assimilate correctly everything that comes afterwards, since it is a cumulative issue. This leads to frustration and loss of interest.
On the contrary, with the competency-based approach, until the student has demonstrated that he/she has assimilated the material presented in a correct way, the next level will not be reached.. In this way, no student is left behind and at the same time, personalized support is offered to each student. If any of them experience difficulties at a given moment, we will know exactly which competency is involved and will be able to help them.
Continuous evaluation system.
This is also transferred to the recoveries. In the usual system, if a student fails a subject, he/she is forced to prepare it again in full to be evaluated in a recovery exam. The competency-based approach has a different approach: if a student has failed a test on a specific skill or knowledge, we will offer him/her a test to be retested on that specific part..
Therefore, the continuous evaluation system would govern, as opposed to the single evolution that is used in a large number of academic institutions. What is avoided with this methodology is that the student is a passive entity that only tries to assimilate the knowledge at the last minute, trying to memorize a syllabus. that only tries to assimilate knowledge at the last minute, trying to memorize a complete syllabus in order to be able to pass the proposed test.
Even if this is achieved, it does not guarantee quality learning, far from it. On the other hand, if we use the competency-based approach and propose assessments for each knowledge module, we will be making sure that the students have completely internalized the questions we have posed before having to move on to the next phase, so they do not run the risk of suffering the snowball effect because of a concept they did not understand well at a given moment.
Is this a new methodology?
If we think about the principles of the competency-based approach, we will realize that this teaching style is not really something new, since it is the methodology commonly used to facilitate the learning of skills or techniques, such as playing an instrument, practicing a sport or a martial art, different styles of dance, learning to operate a program or a machine, or even learning to drive.
Therefore, it is not that what the competency-based approach proposes is a revolutionary idea, but it is a great opportunity to take advantage of a methodology to learn to use a new methodology. is a great opportunity to take advantage of a methodology that has proven useful for teaching techniques and to transfer it to formal educational institutions.. In fact, in recent years this has already been done in many of them.
For example, the concept of continuous evaluation is common in schools. Although the figure of final exams is still maintained, it is true that throughout the course it is common to carry out partial tests that sometimes even free the student from having to restudy the topics included, in the case of passing the exam. In other cases, these partial controls are also carried out but the final test, with the complete syllabus, is maintained.
Even in the university environment, which has traditionally been the most rigid in this aspect and resorted to standardized tests at the end of semester The system has been modified thanks to the implementation of the so-called Bologna Plan, a standardization at European level that was completed in 2012.
One of the pillars of the Bologna Plan is precisely the continuous assessment system it proposes, very much in line with the competency-based approach. Not only that, but it also gives great importance to practical teaching, which meant a change from the classic master classes, where the student remained passive, as we have already mentioned.
In this way, theoretical teachings continue to be given, but they are increasingly supported by practical learningIn this way, theoretical teachings continue to be given, but they are increasingly supported by practical learning, where each student must demonstrate that he or she is capable of carrying out what the teacher has previously explained in the classroom. Likewise, if he/she has difficulties to overcome some practice, the teacher will give him/her the guidelines he/she needs to achieve it, so he/she should not get stuck in the process.
Criticisms of the competency-based approach
Despite all the advantages that the competency-based approach apparently offers, some authors do not fully agree that it is really such a useful and innovative methodology. This is the case, for example, of Ángel Díaz, who raises the question of whether competency-based learning is really nothing more than an illusion of change. To begin with, he states that the very term "competencies" generates doubts, since there is no standardized classification of these competencies..
He also has doubts about the capacity of the school system to fully adopt such a practical methodology when many of the contents are theoretical and require a more traditional method in that aspect. It is therefore complicated to create a curriculum design based on this set of competencies, which are not even entirely clear what they are, beyond very general concepts.
However, it does recognize the advantages in some respects and the potential of the competency-based approach, if a satisfactory method of incorporating it into the educational system can be found.
- Díaz, Á. (2006). The competencies approach in education: An alternative or a disguise for change? Educational profiles.
- Perrenoud, P. (2009). Competency-based approach: an answer to school failure? Pedagogía social. Revista interuniversitaria.
- Rodríguez, R.L., García, M.M. (2007). Compendium of strategies under the competency-based approach. Technological Institute of Sonora.
- Rueda, M. (2009). The evaluation of teaching performance: considerations from the competency-based approach. Electronic journal of educational research.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)