Aptitude-based education is one of the big ideas on how to reshape education that has been around for some time. And fans of this approach say it’s a good time to take a closer look at the epidemic.
The basic idea of competency-based education, or CBE, is this: the way to get a degree or certificate is to prove to the college that you have learned the necessary knowledge and skills. It doesn’t matter how or where you learn the knowledge or ability. Colleges will be in the business of providing the coaching and materials needed to certify what students know and to fill in any gaps needed to gain credentials.
LeBlanc himself is a first-generation college student who has long experimented with ideas to help increase access to higher education. And over the years, he has led the University of Southern New Hampshire to create a mega-university online to serve students who cannot go to a traditional campus, with more than 130,000 online students.
In a program called College for America in South New Hampshire, he has brought competency-based education to his own university. But he admits that his CBE experiment did not grow as fast as he had hoped. And the reason is that moving to this model is a really big and really difficult change for colleges. But he thinks this approach can grow, especially after an epidemic and he has a proposal on how to get there.
EdSurge: In your book, you say that the biggest challenge for competency-based learning is that it requires more from everyone in the system ध्यापक professors and administrators, but also from students. What do you mean by that?
Paul LeBlanc: If you think of higher education today, people joke that “D” still means degree. We always let students slide, and we’re graduating people, in most cases, there’s not much clarity about what they know, what they can do. Utara is a black box for most outsiders. If I hire someone and I say, ‘Hey, you’ve got a management account.’ I can guess, maybe, what you learned, but I don’t know how good you are, what skills you have, what true knowledge you have.
[Take] The hostess, for example. We are nurse graduates and we know what it looks like. They will have to pass their state board national license exam.
But if you talk to the head of the healthcare system’s clinical staff, they will tell you that nurses are not ready to hit the ground running when they graduate. They will say, ‘We don’t have the skills we need to get the job done.’
I wonder what is really powerful about this model [of competency-based education] It forces us to be clearer about the claims we make.
You say in the book that just paying attention to this problem in colleges is like cleaning up the river flow, while the factory is dumping chemicals in the river upstairs. What changes do you recommend for K-12 to better prepare students for the competency-based college you are advocating for?
On one level they have the same problem. That is, they look at progress in a structured, sequential way, related to your age.
We know the same set of grade inflation [happens]. We know that 50 percent of students come to college campuses, not actually ready to learn college level math or English. So it will be open. It will shed light on the points of preparation. So it’s going to bring more rigidity to the K-12.
And you have K-12 systems in my home state of New Hampshire that are moving to a competency based framework. So the other thing that allows this, of course, is that the kids go through the system faster or slower.
I think that was a virtue and everyone loves speed stories – you know, the guy who completed a two-year associate degree in just one year. We have those stories. But I like to tell stories of students who took a year and a half to acquire writing skills. And the reason for telling me that story is that once it’s done, I can stand behind what I claim the student can actually write. It may not be the same as Hemingway, but in a given program they can write workspaces that we define as the main competencies. And that’s what employers love about competency-based education. It gives you a common language, but it also reassures them [that students have the skills needed].