This paper argues that there are many elements of the competence based approach to learning that higher education, which focuses upon student thinking and learning skills, might benefit from reviewing and incorporating.
The current withdrawal and resistance to the competence approach has been largely based upon the perceived restraints that it would introduce to both institutional control and student learning direction and flexibility.
This paper suggests that on the contrary, there are many effective learning principles within the competence approach from which higher education could benefit from incorporating, in recognition of the fact that this approach is destined to be the dominant educational and learner perspective. Rather than opposing the movement, higher education needs to focus upon the adaptation of the diverse educational philosophies which the approach encompasses, in order to enrich the current higher education experience, specifically in the area of cognitive strategy development.
It is specifically the changes in the assessment structure which have the capacity to develop more student centred reflective learning. The establishment of clear outcomes should be seen as not a limiting and constructing framework, but a motivating target which allows the learner freedom to learn. There is in fact a compatibility in terms of philosophical stance between the true aims of higher education and the competence approach.
The challenge for HE is to utilise the benefits of such an approach in a structure that can facilitate more effective student learning. This approach might incorporate many of the major elements of the competence approach but could be viewed more as outcome based development. Here the outcomes would specifically focus on cognitive development as well as content replication. Such a system might provide a more effective learning experience for students and a more rational articulation to the surrounding educational and development environment.
While some learners may question continually, many actually accelerate the emphasis on content by demanding facts, concrete answers and "off the shelf" strategies for future situations. Where we concede to their demands, many will develop only limited learning skills and continue to be largely analytically and critically unaware. The proposal of this paper is that the competence based approach, far from restricting student learning, offers an agenda for development towards such real learning (Biggs, 1991).
Currently the government is placing considerable resources (Keating, 1992) at the disposal of the vocational and educational and training sector (VET) to restructure towards a competence based agenda and meet the deficiencies that they perceive exist between the system and future national needs (Finn, 1991). There are similar pressures on Higher Education both to respond to related articulation issues and to be more precise in terms of outcomes (Guthrie, 1994).
There is no reason why such pressures should be viewed as cumulative and in addition to the perennial struggles to facilitate more effective learning. The proposal of this paper is that by taking a fresh look at the opportunities offered by a competence based approach some answers to both the need to clarify outcomes and the need to enhance the development of student cognitive strategies may be forthcoming. There must be a recognition that some incongruities do exist between the current national competence framework for Vocational Education and Training and the aims of the Higher Education system. However this paper takes the view that there are sufficient flaws in the current delivery of higher education to indicate that further examination of any system which might enhance real student learning should be pursued (Carmichael, 1993).
The competence approach should not simply be viewed as a national system as defined by the NTB (1992) in Australia or the NCVQ (1991) in the UK. It has its roots in the dissatisfaction that a number of writers felt with the current system in the sixties and seventies and their suggestions for structural development. Exploring the more recent literature to locate the germination of the competence approach is not an easy task as there is a poverty of academic justification but considerable government rhetoric (Duffy, 1992). Research would suggest that the following figures from diverse fields have been the most influential and have contributed the main thrusts of the competence approach. They produced the four main components that interlink to provide the conceptual development of the competence approach currently in implementation.
|Carroll (1963)||Mastery Learning||Emphasised the need for individual learning programmes not fixed to time periods|
|Mager (1975)||Behavioural Objectives||Founded the basis of vocational educational programmes being tied to workplace outcomes|
|Assessment||Glaser (1963)||Criterion Referencing||Consolidated an alternative approach to the existing norm referenced assessment process|
|Tofler (1971), |
|Lifelong Learning||Proposed that the response to post industrial Ed. needs was a flexible one which replaced front end loading by continual learning|
The competence approach is therefore based upon a diverse and complex conceptual framework.. Governments have drawn these components together to form prescribed competence based educational systems (NTB, 1992). However there is no reason why these underlying components could not be examined and reinterpreted in a framework more suitable for the educational aims of Higher Education.
The government has proposed that the country requires skills for tomorrow and lifelong learners (Moran, 1993). Logically in an environment of rapid change that should equate to flexible learning skills and aligns with the traditional aims of Higher Education (Berryman, 1993, King 1993). How can a competence based approach deliver such goods? Let us examine what kind of learning benefits an approach based upon such principles and needs can bring to learner development. The change in the assessment process is at the heart of such a system (Jessup, 1991, Thompson, 1989, Knowles, 1983).
The stated outcomes of the competence approach provide visual goals for the learners giving motivation and security to the learning process.So why has a system that offers such andragogical benefits not been embraced (Knowles 1990). There are two main obstacles. The first is that the approach is still erroneously viewed as rigid in structure and the second that the implications for institutional change are realistically daunting.
The transparent and continuous nature of the assessment process promotes ownership by the learners and responsibility for evidence collection. As Winter (1989) has suggested they also seek to remove the educational glass ceiling by providing greater access for the culturally disadvantaged.
The individuality of each learners' needs is recognised in charting personal learning patterns towards the learning outcomes giving each learner choice and responsibility.
The continuous assessment and planning process provides the opportunity for reflective learning through the continual review of process and promoting the development of cognitive strategies.
The negotiation of assessment according to the learners' needs allows for individual learning differences.
The removal of competitive hindrances focuses the learners on the true learning struggle with the outcomes.
The focus on practical application provides motivation by connecting the learning to the real world.
In the first case there may well currently be examples of those who have used such an approach to further mechanise their training control (Lange, 1993). These examples are a dysfunctional interpretation of the principles that we have reviewed. The more recent trend within several more enlightened practitioners within VET in WA is to focus upon learning skills within their competence approach. There experience is that many students in fact need development in their learning skills to manage their own learning in the more open environment that is being offered to them through the competence approach (Weinstein, Goetz, Alexander, 1988).
In the second case real student focus and choice is not an easy option for institutions. Where handbooks have grown to include many hundred units, the prospect of controlling thousands of individual learning routes is not immediately appealing. Yet there must be the recognition that tackling such an issue is the challenge of the future. If not to promote more customer options from a business perspective, then to develop the learners' own self management abilities through learning responsibility.
The proposal is that while change towards such a competency approach is neither inevitable nor compulsory, improving the current system is necessary, and that these concepts provide a focus for such change.
Here the outcomes would specifically focus on cognitive development as well as content replication. The outcomes would not be limited to defining just skills and content.
They would specifically encompass the abilities of students to construct and manage their own learning process and reflect upon that learning process (Jonassen, 1991, CTG-VU, 1991). Such outcomes could also specify the relationship and responsibilities of both the learner and tutor. Furthermore they would develop the ability of the learners to analyse the outcomes of the unit and become critically aware of the agenda that was being set for them and the underlying rationale of that agenda. Deconstruction of their learning outcomes would become an integral learning activity (Yeaman,1994). In addition the emphasis upon practical outcomes would necessitate a more phenomenological methodology for such a course structure.
Such an approach would not only demonstrate that Higher Education was listening to the needs of the professions and developing a congruent approach for articulation with the rest of the educational environment, but it would also be underpinned with the deepest concern to develop critical student thinking.
An outcome based development approach which recognises process goals might enable Higher Education to clarify what it wants to achieve and provide a more effective monitoring platform to see if it has been achieved. By developing the current system with consideration for the concepts inherent in the competence based approach there is the opportunity to produce greater self management and more reflective learning for the learners. This would provide a more fertile environment for the development of student cognitive strategies, their toolkit for the future.
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|Please cite as: Barratt-Pugh, L. (1995). The competence approach: Constricting development or the freedom to learn? In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p13-19. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/barratt-pugh.html|