Monthly Archives: November 2014

Competence above knowledge

Educators give us knowledge, Employers want competence

competenceMost qualifications test our knowledge of a subject; indeed we use the word ‘read’ to introduce the subject we are studying at university. Yet most employers want to know what we can do, that is our competencies. Why is there such a miss-match and what can we do about it?

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In an insightful blog posting on the Harvard Business Review web site Michelle Weise claims that there is a disruptive movement in education called online competency-based education. She describes the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as just an extension of the existing education business. But the competency based education movement is addressing the needs of employers by delivering people with not just knowledge, but also skills that are then tested by achieving explicit learning objectives.

A competence is more than just knowledge (knowledge is necessary but not sufficient). To demonstrate a competence a student must select appropriate knowledge to solve a real problem and then apply skills and tools to deliver that solution. The student captures evidence to demonstrate they have met the practical learning objectives. A small number of universities in the US are re-designing their education programmes to go both on-line and competence based. Weise claims this is a disruptive innovation.

Nothing New

This is not as new as you might think; though that doesn’t mean it will not be disruptive if it can catch on. We are already delivering this new mode of education. All of our course learning objectives reflect the practical application of knowledge in the workplace, and our assessments require our candidates to capture evidence of that application. Also our courses are on-line!

A conspiracy of incompetence

What we find is that most people ask for knowledge based training because they are not challenged about the purpose of the training. It is a conspiracy of incompetence through which most training budgets are wasted. This is what often happens:

  1. An employee seeking training asks for a ‘well known’ qualification that looks good on the CV because they don’t have time or the inclination for more research.
  2. Not asking what is the real purpose of the training the HR department goes shopping for a ‘well known’ qualification because that’s the easy way and what they always do.
  3. The training company, on receiving a request for a ‘well known’ qualification doesn’t ask any questions but rolls out its standard course for the exam because that’s what they always do.
  4. During the course the employee acquires considerable knowledge to be memorised for the exam; which they pass to get the qualification.
  5. Back at work they don’t do things that way so the knowledge atrophies, and often the employee uses the new badge on the CV to get a better job.

This behaviour is a classic example of the ‘default’ bias in thinking. Humans tend to prefer the default option in preference to seeking information to improve the decision outcome. Of course, if anyone had asked what is the purpose of the training and how will we know it has been achieved; then result would have been completely different.

The challenge for employers paying for the training and the industry supplying the training is how to overcome the bias in their thinking.

Where do you stand?


Contact us @C4ChangeMgt