What Does Competency- Based Education Have To Do With Disruption?

Career College Central summary:

  • Earlier this month Education Next published its first paper in a two-part series on competency-based education. That paper investigates what competency-based education means in practice in New Hampshire, the first state to abolish the Carnegie unit and grant high school credit on the basis of mastery rather than hours of instruction.
  • What does that policy—and corresponding practice—have to do with the theory of disruptive innovation? Disruptive innovation describes a force by which industries that start off expensive, centralized, and complicated (they require deep expertise) become affordable, accessible, decentralized, and offer products that are more foolproof. When we talk about disruptive innovation in education, we often think about the explosive growth of online learning over the past two decades that has offered students a new paradigm in learning. Other innovations like peer-to-peer learning or early college high school models likewise may tug at the foundation of the traditional, centralized, factory- and time-based models that have dominated our education system for over a century.
  • Competency-based education can significantly expand the transformational potential of such new approaches. Competency-based education offers a philosophy of how students ought to progress through material; it frees students from the lock step, age-based progressions in traditional schooling. As such, competency-based education is not in and of itself a disruptive innovation, but rather a condition that can open up more and new opportunities for disruptions to take hold and grow. Moreover, competency-based education models stand to generate demand for new types and products and services in the education market. Here are three important ways we think such approaches expand the potential of disruptive innovations in education:
  • Disruptive innovations by definition offer new or over-served customers a product or service in a more efficient and cost-effective way than incumbent companies or institutions. This requires business model innovation—producing and delivering those products or services in a new manner, which drives down the cost of production and allows that disruption to scale upmarket over time. By removing time constraints from how we measure credit, competency-based approaches may allow students to move through material more efficiently—and in turn, more cost-effectively—than does the current system. That’s part of the value proposition we’re seeing emerge in higher education among online competency-based providers like Western Governor’s University and UniversityNow. Students at these institutions can earn their credentials as efficiently as they want, rather than on an expensive four-year schedule toward a degree.

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