Competency approach : what it is, and characteristics of its educational model


Competency approach : New educational models are constantly emerging in search of greater efficiency in transmitting knowledge to students.

One of the most recent is the competency approach. With this article we will be able to better understand the fundamentals of this methodology and thus discover the immense potential of this technique, which is already used in many educational institutions.

What is the competency approach?

The competency approach or competency-based learning is an educational methodology whose foundation is to facilitate students acquire the contents of each subject through practical situations and experimental environments. This system, therefore, is opposed to the classic models of education in which a syllabus is presented in an eminently theoretical way and students have to memorize the data in order to be evaluated later.

It can be easily appreciated, according to this comparison, that the competency approach follows a much more dynamic and participatory methodology on the part of the students, being an active part during the acquisition of knowledge and not mere passive subjects who attend the teacher’s lesson, which can be more or less enjoyable, but under a rigid methodology and without much possibility of interaction.

It has been shown that these traditional methodologies, based solely on the students’ memory capacity, are not a fully effective system and do not produce a quality processing of this knowledge, which in the long term can be greatly deteriorated. However, the methods that imply the implementation of the topics being taught, such as the competency approach, favor the acquisition and retention of knowledge to a greater extent.

For example, when evaluating, traditional methods choose an exam or test with which to assess how much you have learned, or actually, how much have you been able to memorize, because in many tests it is not even necessary to reason about the concepts studied, but simply to capture them as they appear in the textbook or how the teacher dictated them during the corresponding lesson.

On the contrary, with the competency-based approach to evaluations, evaluative tests are practical activities in which the student has to demonstrate, in an active way, that he has acquired said abilities, and he does so through a test that inevitably implies , have achieved the required competence to be able to successfully overcome it.

How to implement it in the educational context?

We already know what the foundation of the competency approach is. Now we might wonder How is it possible to implement this model, since the educational subjects are very varied and apparently not all of them fit into this practical evaluative system that we have described. The key to this lies in the concept of prior modularization of education.

What does this mean? That all the content that we want to transmit to the students must first be divided into its simplest parts, in order to be able to transfer them in a progressive way. In this way, until the student has acquired the most basic competences of a specific subject, he will not go on to the following ones, which need the previous ones as a basis to be able to be understood and assimilated in their entirety.

This system offers an advantage over the traditional model, which normally involves a cascade of data in which it is not difficult for the so-called snowball effect to occur. This occurs when a student has problems understanding a very specific point in the lesson and this means that he or she does not assimilate correctly everything that comes after, as it is a cumulative issue. This means frustration and loss of interest.

On the contrary, with the competence approach, Until the student has shown that he has correctly assimilated the exposed material, he will not go to the next level. In this way, no student is left behind and at the same time personalized support is offered to each one. If any of them experience difficulties at any given time, we will know exactly the competition that is involved and we can help you.

Continuous evaluation system

This also carries over to recoveries. In the usual system, if a student fails a subject he is forced to prepare it all over again to be evaluated in a recovery exam. The competency approach has another proposal: If a student has failed the test regarding a specific skill or knowledge, we will propose a test to be evaluated again in that particular part.

Therefore, the continuous evaluation system would govern, as opposed to the unique evolution that is common in a large number of academic institutions. What is avoided with this methodology is that the student is a passive entity that only tries to assimilate the knowledge at the last minute, trying to memorize a complete syllabus to be able to pass the proposed test.

And it is that even if it succeeds, that does not guarantee quality learning, far from it. On the other hand, if we use the competency-based approach and propose evaluations for each module of knowledge, we will be making sure that the students have fully internalized the questions that we have asked them before having to move on to the next phase, so they do not run the risk to suffer the effect of the snowball for a concept that they did not understand well at a certain moment.

Is it a new methodology?

If we think about the principles raised by the competency approach, we will realize that in reality this teaching style is not something new, since it is the methodology usually used to facilitate the learning of skills or techniques, such as playing an instrument, practicing a sport or a martial art, different styles of dance, to learn to operate a program or a machine or even to learn to drive.

Therefore, it is not that what the competency approach proposes is a revolutionary idea, but it is It is a great opportunity to take advantage of a methodology that has been shown to be useful for teaching techniques and transfer it to formal educational institutions. In fact, in recent years it has already been done in many of them.

For example, the concept of continuous assessment is common in schools. Although the figure of the final exams is still maintained, it is true that throughout the course it is common to take partial tests that sometimes even free the student from having to re-study the topics included, in the case of passing the exam. In other cases, these partial controls are also carried out but the final test is maintained, with the complete agenda.

Even in the university environment, which has traditionally been the most rigid in this regard and standardized tests were used at the end of the semester In order to quickly evaluate a large number of students, the system has been modified thanks to the implementation of the so-called Bologna Plan, a standardization at European level that was completed in 2012.

One of the pillars of the Bologna Plan is, precisely, the continuous evaluation system that it proposes, very much in line with the approach of the competence approach. Not only that, but it also attaches great importance to practical teaching, which is why it was a change from the classic master classes, where the student remained passive, as we have already mentioned.

In this way, Theoretical teachings continue to be given, but increasingly supported by practical learning, where each student must demonstrate that they are capable of carrying out what the teacher has previously explained to them in the classroom. Likewise, if you have difficulty passing a practice, the teacher will give you the guidelines you need to achieve it, so you should not get stuck in the process.

Criticisms of the competency approach

Despite all the advantages that the competency approach apparently raises, some authors do not entirely agree that it really is such a useful and innovative methodology. This is the case, for example, of Ángel Díaz, who raises the question of whether in reality learning by competencies is nothing more than an illusion of change. To begin with, it states that the very term “competences” raises doubts, since there is no standardized classification of them.

Doubts also arise as to the ability of the school system to fully adopt such a practical methodology when many of the contents are theoretical and require a more traditional method in this regard. Therefore, it is difficult to create a curriculum design based on that series of competencies, which is not even entirely clear what they are, beyond very general concepts.

However, it does recognize the advantages in some respects and the potential of the competency approach, if a satisfactory method of incorporating it into the education system is found.

Bibliographic references:

  • Diaz, Á. (2006). The Competency Approach in Education: An Alternative or a Disguise for Change ?. Educational profiles.
  • Perrenoud, P. (2009). Competency-based approach: a response to school failure? Social pedagogy. Interuniversity magazine.
  • Rodríguez, RL, García, MM (2007). Compendium of strategies under the competence approach. Technological Institute of Sonora.
  • Rueda, M. (2009). The evaluation of teaching performance: considerations from the competence approach. Electronic journal of educational research.

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