Reactions to an idea discussed in an
by Elizabeth Ciabocchi, Ed.D.
Competency-based learning (CBL), along with advances in technology, could ultimately help bring about a separation of concerns that might lead to a university structured very differently from the entity we know today.
: CBL could decouple the university's role as grantor of accreditation -- gatekeeper -- from its many other functions. It could lead to the separation of other entities from the university as well.
CBL can enable decentralized education, where the student is the focus, not the university. A student can combine MOOCs, tutoring, self study, life experience, meetups, social networks -- in short, knowledge gained from any source -- to earn a credible and recognized academic degree. The cost should be very significantly below that of one obtained by traditional means.
The CBL paradigm is about the structure of an academic program rather than the technology that it uses. But it can only work in domains in which competencies can be accurately assessed. Currently those domains are a small subset of the realm of human endeavor. But advances in psychometrics, Artificial Intelligence, and other disciplines (perhaps not yet defined) should extend that subset.
CBL might reduce the cost of student accreditation, which could become the responsibility of entities separate from the university. I see the politics of exclusion in an increasingly stratified society, and the educator-as-gatekeeper role, as a threat to the free and open exchange of ideas.
: According to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities
(APLU), tuition covers only about a third
of the cost of student education at these schools. I have read that "students are the fly in the ointment of a university". Perhaps decoupling instruction as well as accreditation from a university's functions could actually benefit the institutions in some ways.
: The role of archiver of knowledge could perhaps also be separated out. The nature of archives is changing drastically with ongoing digitization of educational assets, the ever-declining cost of digital storage, the ever-increasing availability of high-speed electronic data transmission, and the exponential increase in the quantity of knowledge that must be stored.
: The university's function as a forum for the free and open exchange of ideas has already been significantly altered by the Internet, where such exchange is more free (in the financial sense) and perhaps too open.
With the cost of the publication of a book being reduced to that of putting up a website, the "publish or perish" dynamic of academic careers could gradually disappear.
In general, the intellectual marketplace could be democratized -- no longer the exclusive realm of a privileged elite. This is not necessarily or fully A Good Thing.
: The university might be left with adding to the sum of human knowledge through experimentation and research, and acting as a moderator in the intellectual forum (physical or virtual), as perhaps its major roles.
: To succeed, the new CBL structure must compete. It must produce as-well-educated (by some measure) and as-"successful" learners at a cost well below that of more traditional models. CBL's success will, in a great part, depend on the development of the technologies necessary to support it. The consequences of such success could be far-reaching to a system of universities that is already threatened by the explosion of knowledge and the runaway cost of education.
UW Flex, a competency-based learning offering of the University of Wisconsin and its UW-Extension program, is first mentioned at 35:05 of the Seminar Vialogue
, and briefly discussed at 35:35. At present, UW Flex offers a handful of degrees and certificates, with the most advanced degree being a Bachelor's.
There is no formal coursework. Instead, there is an ordered series of competencies -- defined by UW to be "the skills, abilities, and knowledge required in an area of study". As the student achieves each competency, as measured by an assessment, they move on to the next until their goal is reached. The assessment may be a test, thesis paper, interview, or hands-on demonstration.
More information about the UW Flex program is available here