Competencies and assessment strategies

Recent posts have centered on the skills and attributes we expect our future colleagues to have. How will they get there and how will we know? How do we design L&D experiences with the goal of having assessments be “competency-based? “While there are many definitions of competency, most of them have two common elements:

comptency modelThe process we use in a workplace setting is to find, observe, and list the specific skills a group of highly skilled incumbent workers demonstrate successfully. This can be done when there is an active collaboration between the business partners and the learning/training teams to define required competencies at a detailed level that ultimately meet the requirements of the employer and the measurable (educational) outcomes. In my vision for future success I see education providers and employers coming together to determine what the future employee will be able to do and from that what the curriculum will include. Key to this is the creation of accurate, realistic assessments that will provide both learner and employer the confidence of skill attainment. To get to this level we need to move from simply asking for input and feedback from employers to actively collaborating. We need to define the tasks to be performed at a granular level and we need to develop assessments that will realistically test the individual while satisfying the need of the business and accrediting bodies.

One example of how this can work is the Automotive Manufacturing Training and Education Collective (AMTEC). The curriculum development process brought together multiple automotive manufacturers and educational providers who focused the design and development on “high-performing technicians (not managers) from several auto companies outlined every task they performed and the competencies required for each. They then ranked these based on importance, developing a list of tasks common to the dozens of companies involved over several rounds of iterations. This was done for each specific activity, leaving no room for confusion.” How do we get to this level of granularity in non-technical skills? What groups do educational providers partner with for professional aptitude, digital skill abilities, and leadership? How do we build competency-based assessments to demonstrate mastery of these and many other non-technical skills?

A good place to start is within the college community itself. Modeling the DACUM (Developing a Curriculum) process we could begin with faculty-generated competencies on specific learning outcomes that have been defined by those invested in success ranging from business to government to non-profit agencies. A team, internal as well as external, then reviews and identifies the overlap and duplication of the submitted attributes remaining focused on the defined outcome. From this information a set of core steps needed to demonstrate mastery will emerge. This is an opportunity to review courses and curriculum to identify areas of duplication and provide learners with a streamlined approach to completion and success. We also need to partner actively with the employer community and be ready to hear differing ideas of the same skillset. Customer-focused may mean one set of skills in retail while another set in a hospital setting. This is an opportunity to build common core curriculum and share across the learning community and develop new content where needed and where it will have the most impact. From this vantage point assessment strategies can begin to form. Field observations may prove valuable to visualize what mastery, and success, looks like and methods that will enable a learner to demonstrate their synthesis of content into a manner of demonstration can be designed. Core content may be shared however assessment of a specific skill might have a demonstration that varies such as a competency of “customer-focused”. Combining best practices in content development and working with the employer community will create opportunities for strategies that students will face in the workplace. There is a need for real and authentic assessments that will allow the student to fully demonstrate the level of mastery they have obtained and synthesized within themselves. Portfolios have longed been used to showcase skills with actual materials and examples of work. They can also be used to store submissions along a timeline that can be evaluated and measured to observe growth and change. If a competency is described as “build a family budget” the examples over time could show how a learner has incorporated the initial requirements of owning a car include buying gas and paying the loan however as time, and learning occur, now include saving for scheduled maintenance and insurance costs as well.

“I think somewhere along the way we, in L&D, became so enamored with the perfect design we lose sight of the primary purpose of training which is to prepare people to succeed in their roles, to perform effectively and efficiently.”  Curation can be used to demonstrate synthesis of content into meaningful and critical skills focused on specific needs. Content curation can help critical thinking allowing those that need to make more informed, and faster decision. Robin Good said that “curation is about making sense of a topic/issue/event /person/product etc. for a specific audience” and Catherine Lombardozzi described that a “well designed learning environment is curated with a specific need in mind. It may be curated by an individual (as in a personal learning environment), by a group (such as a community of practice), or by a designer who is supporting a specific complex need that can’t be met by training or other formal programs alone.”

We have to focus on what we want people to be capable of performing. This “capability model” has three components: Individual Attributes, Competencies, and Outcomes. Key to this model working is our ability, as designers of the learning experience, to align expectations, define the metrics of success, and outline the continued skill development that will benefit an organization’s growth for long term success. What are we waiting for?

2 thoughts on “Competencies and assessment strategies

  1. belly bandit September 19, 2014 / 2:21 am

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    • wjryan December 8, 2014 / 8:08 pm

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