As post-secondary institutions continue to respond to employment sector demands not just for students emerging with more market-ready skills, but insight into those skills, competency-based education (CBE) continues to gain traction as a way to model pedagogy to meet those demands and to provide an articulation of achievement that learners can take to employers as evidence of their skills.
This, in turn, has created an increased demand for competency management tools for use in the education technology ecosystem. Competency management tools can generally be thought of as software applications that allow an institution to define and manage competencies (often in the context of learning outcomes) and apply those definitions to courses of instruction so that, as a learner progresses through or completes a class or program, they demonstrate mastery of those competencies, which is captured as part of their learning record. There are a host of capabilities and features that any particular supplier may include as part of their solution, and with the market evolving at high speed, the baseline of “nice to have” v. “differentiator” v. “table stakes” is changing rapidly.
Unicon had the opportunity to interact with a room full of institutions at various stages in their CBE journey this Fall at the 2022 CBExchange conference hosted by the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN). We wanted to get a better understanding not just of the competency management tools that institutions are using, but of what the important capabilities those solutions must have to meet today’s, and tomorrow’s, CBE programs are; what are the use cases these institutions are trying to meet; and how can we as a community of suppliers, consultants, and consumers come together to ensure that we are meeting the needs of this next generation of learners.
We began by getting a sense of who was in the room. It’s important to note that this was, by definition, a self-selecting group: they chose to attend this conference, and they chose to attend this session as opposed to other sessions being held at the same time. (They also chose to participate in the Slido polls that we used in our audience engagement throughout the presentation). That being said, the session attendance reflects the dominance of attendees from Higher Education institutions at the conference in general, with a lower mix of suppliers, K-12 districts, and others.
In this case, the session did not include attendees from any K-12 districts, or from any consortium or standards organizations; two other categories that were specifically included in the poll.
We then proceeded to ask those in attendance what tools they were currently using for competency management.
As can be seen, the majority of institutions that answered are currently using various capabilities within their Learning Management System to manage competencies. Very few are using bespoke competency management solutions.
Over the course of our overview of the current landscape of competency management tools, we polled attendees on the features or capabilities they would like to see competency management tooling solutions incorporate, or strengthen, in order to help them meet their CBE needs on campus.
The feedback was open-ended but fell into several distinct categories.
- Mapping of competencies to job skills
- Standards Support
- Set Up
Almost a third of responses included requirements for INTEGRATION with other key systems on campus, including LMS, SIS, and other credentialing and badging solutions, as well as increased ability to import spreadsheets and similar formats. Related to some of these requirements were requests for increased support for STANDARDS, particularly in the context of making integrations with other systems easier as well as increasing portability of competency and skill definitions.
Only slightly behind integrations in terms of the number of responses were ANALYTICS and dashboards. Many of the responses were general (“ability to analyze data”) needs but a number of them called out more specific scenarios, including the ability to leverage data within the tool for participation in accreditation, visual tools to assist coaches, and visualizations of pathways, hierarchies, and relationships of competencies and skills.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given that last example, MAPPING emerged as a frequently cited requirement, primarily expressed as a need for easier mechanisms to map and/or link competencies to courses, the ability to align course-level objectives with institutional goals and competency catalogs, and the ability to map institutional competencies and skills to workforce data on skills requirements and demand. Where these abilities already exist, there was a general demand for easier ways to SET UP the data, including better mechanisms for curriculum planning and course setup, as well as the use of templates and other repeatable patterns.
Spanning most of the categories above, there was a general requirement for improved USER INTERFACES, with requests ranging from more effective interfaces for each level of type of entity to be managed, and for different user types to better support for specialized UI constructors, e.g., for mathematical symbols.
Our interpretation of the results really boils down to the “requirement” expressed by one respondent:
“the best features of every system.”
The Competency Management Tool as a product space is comparatively immature. There are a number of tools that provide a breadth of capability but often at the expense of depth of functionality, and there are tools that excel at a more limited feature set. This is a natural evolutionary stage in an emerging software space, but we believe it was beneficial, and important, to see that expressed by the potential consumer base, and that we can derive important insights from that.
The speed at which the adoption of CBE is occurring in higher education, and the related demand from the employment sector for skills and competencies, and systematic articulation of those skills in the context of education, presents the education technology industry with a unique challenge. We believe that the normal iterative market dynamics of product and feature introduction based on consumer demand leading to differentiation will not be sufficient to meet the demands of scope and speed that are already upon us.
With all of the above in mind, Unicon would like to work with both the supplier community as well as the institutional customer community to understand and provide a foundation for the next generation of competency management tools. This includes working with interested institutions as well as key stakeholder foundations such as the Competency-Based Education Network to gather a comprehensive set of requirements for broad-based competency management, including a catalog of detailed use cases that capture current and emerging needs and scenarios. That’s not to say that every solution would then solve for every requirement, but this catalog of requirements can serve as a springboard for institutions to think about their current practices and how they see those evolving, and how the market can continue to improve and expand to meet those needs.
If your institution or organization is interested in participating in that effort, please contact Kate Valenti or Cary Brown at Unicon.