The “skills gap” is real and it’s growing. More than 90 percent of U.S. senior executives attest to major areas of weakness, with soft skills and leadership topping their list, according to recent research. It’s an unprecedented workforce crisis, but it can be turned around. Online competency-based education is key to bridging the gap, believes Michelle R. Weise, an expert in disruptive innovation in higher education. Her bold prediction: “It will revolutionize the workforce.”
Competencies aren’t new, she acknowledges in her recently published Harvard Business Review blog. Offline, schools have delivered competency-based education for decades. But without a technological enabler, such programs haven’t reached their full potential. Today, online competency-based learning providers are creating a whole new architecture of learning with serious implications for businesses and organizations around the world.
Most colleges measure learning in credit hours, meaning they are very good at telling you how long a student sat in a particular class – not what the student actually learned, explains Weise, a senior researcher at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation (the Institute). Competencies, on the other hand, identify explicit learning outcomes when it comes to knowledge and its application. Students cannot move on until demonstrating fluency in each competency, whether it is applying financial principles to solve business problems, or creating and explaining big data results using data mining skills and advanced modeling techniques. As opposed to the black box of the diploma, competencies mean something to an employer.
The concept is taking hold and proving its potential. Providers are consulting with industry councils to better understand what employers are seeking, and collaborating with businesses and organizations of all sizes to skill up their existing workforce and/or build a pipeline of students with the requisite skills needed. Major companies like The Gap, McDonald’s, FedEx, Oakley, and American Hyundai are just a few successfully diving into competencies.
“Online competency-based education has the potential to provide learning experiences that drive down costs, accelerate degree completion, and produce a variety of convenient, customizable, and targeted programs for the emergent needs of our labor market,” says Weise, co-author with Clayton Christensen of “Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution.”
As The Economist wrote about Weise’s research, “vocational innovation will certainly produce a more dynamic educational marketplace.” It is indeed a new world of learning, and if Weise’s prediction is realized, it will fundamentally change the way we think about the four-year degree.