Much like their Higher Education counterparts, associations and corporations tend to look at education programs as end-to-end collections of information and/or skills training that comprise multiple competencies or capabilities.
The challenge with credential programs, whether for professional certification or continuing education credit, is that they tend to be inflexible. Because these programs are necessarily designed as sequenced packages of information and skills, they often require users to acquire expertise in areas that are of little professional value to them in order to get a credential. In addition, they tend to provide little evidence for competency beyond a basic certificate or completion report.
This isn’t to say that certificate-based and continuing-education-credit programs aren’t important, but rather that, in their current state of design, they are not flexible enough to address many of the needs of today’s working professionals.
Increasingly, workforce professionals are interested in individual competencies or capabilities as opposed to the linked sets of information and skills addressed in an entire program. This emphasis on competencies leads many professionals to forego more formal credential programs and cobble together DIY solutions from the Web.
The good news is that, with a modest amount of learning design, associations and corporations can transform current certificate-based or continuing-education-credit programs into education offerings that are flexible and appeal to a larger market segment.
Here are five strategic steps for transitioning learning or training curricula so it also supports individual competencies:
1. Conduct market analysis to determine specific competencies that are of high value to members. This provides a “demand” list that can be overlaid on current content programs to identify potential starting points for the transition toward competencies.
2. Evaluate existing program content and identify specific competencies or capabilities addressed throughout. The next step is to list specific competencies that are already being addressed via existing education programs. Since some competencies will be addressed more completely than others, it’s important to note any information, practice, or evidence gaps between existing content and what’s needed to provide complete competency coverage.
3. Re-organize the structure of existing programs or courses so they can be presented as a set of stackable competencies. Many education programs are designed as scaffolded narratives that are fairly inflexible and lose integrity if pieces are removed or shifted around. While there are certainly scaffolding dependencies related to individual competencies, in this step the goal is to minimize such dependencies and to make each competency module as independent as possible. This will provide maximum flexibility with regards to packaging competencies into different products, and will also allow users to focus only on the competency modules they need.
4. Create practice, evidence, and feedback specific to each of the competencies addressed. Making individual competencies modular and stand-alone units requires that we create standard templates for the practice, evidence, and feedback necessary to demonstrate understanding or mastery. It’s also important to provide concrete, visual evidence of understanding or mastery of each competency.
5. Provide options for members to earn credentials by collecting packages of specific competencies. A great benefit of shifting to competencies is that it provides greater opportunities for members to personalize their education. Associations can help members in this process by identifying competencies that are connected.