Over the past several years, the educational requirements for jobs have been increasing. According to a study by Georgetown University, 63 percent of all jobs will require a bachelor’s degree by the year 2018. However, although students have been scrambling to get their degrees, employers are experiencing an unprecedented gap between the skills they need and the skills their employees have. In a survey conducted last year by Adecco, 92 percent of U.S. senior executives reported a workforce skills gap. The major areas of weakness were soft skills, technical skills, leadership, and computer skills, and these gaps are negatively impacting U.S. businesses, particularly in terms of their ability to obtain investment.
The problem can be traced to inadequacies in traditional education as well as a lack of sufficient workforce training. Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents reported that U.S. colleges and universities are not adequately preparing students for the workforce, and although 89 percent believe corporate apprenticeships or training programs could be a solution, more than 4 in 10 said that cost was a major impediment to developing in-house training programs.
The apparent disconnect between what students are learning in their degree programs and the skills that employers require has sparked interest in competency-based training programs, as well as digital learning environments like MOOCs that can greatly facilitate this training. Businesses need employees with skills, and they need them now.
Why use competency-based training?
The dominant model in education and training is based on the idea that learning is somehow related to how many hours someone spends in class. But this equation simply isn’t valid, especially in a work environment, where research has shown that because of inefficient, ineffective training people forget 90 percent of what they learn within a year. Competency-based training models unbundle the time spent learning from what is actually learned—if learners already have the knowledge and skills, they move on; if they need more time, they continue engaging with the material until they get it. The goal of competency-based training is learning mastery, not just getting your hours in.
HR consultancy firm The Competency Group (TCG) describes competency-based training as “training designed to deliver performance.” In this model, learners are assessed by their ability to apply what they learn in meaningful ways. TCG identifies the following four main advantages of competency-based training:
- It is cost-effective, goal-oriented, and productive.
- It targets specific training needs.
- It standardizes performance.
- It improves the quality of products and services.
How can competency-based training be implemented in MOOCs?
MOOCs can help companies address the skills gap, more quickly and effectively than traditional instructor-led training, and without them necessarily having to invest in full in-house program development. Here are a few models companies can adopt to use MOOCs for competency-based training:
- Verified certificate programs. All of the major MOOC providers have verified certificate programs. They also have multi-course sequences, for example Coursera’s Specializations, that culminate in a capstone project. Companies can award training credit to employees who earn verified certificates and complete the projects. The cost of this method ranges from about $40 for a single course to a couple of hundred dollars for a full course sequence.
- Direct assessment. Companies can recommend courses from the major MOOC providers or license courses from a third-party developer and then design their own competency-based assessments. This would still come at a fraction of the cost of developing in-house training programs.
- MOOC development. Using an LMS platforms, companies can develop their own competency-based MOOC training programs. These courses could take the form of full MOOCs or of individual learning modules.
In all of these models, employees can take the courses on their own schedule and at their own pace, and then demonstrate their learning in a way determined by the organization. This minimizes the time they spend learning what they already know (which often constitutes a large part of instructor-led training), as well as provides opportunities for them to apply what they learn.
Challenges to implementing competency-based training via MOOCs
Currently, one main challenge to this model is how to credential learning in MOOCs. In traditional instructor-led and even computer-based training, the “credential” is based on attendance, not performance. In competency-based training, performance is everything.
At present, there are two main methods of credentialing learning in MOOCs. One option is verified certificates, which are usually contingent on passing a proctored exam. The other major option, which is growing in popularity, is digital badges. Digital badges are microlearning credentials that unlike credits and degrees are directly tied to particular competencies. The biggest player in the digital badge arena is Mozilla Open Badges—using this open-source platform, organizations can develop and issue badges to individuals who have demonstrated specific skills or pieces of knowledge. Businesses are quickly learning the value of having credentials that reflect competencies rather than hours—last year the Mozilla Open Badges project grew from 50 participating organizations to 265 and the number of badges issued went from 50,000 to 235,100.
A second big challenge is simply a lack of understanding about both MOOCs and the competency-based training model. Traditional training isn’t built around competencies, and although MOOCs are becoming more widely recognized, many organizations and trainers still look at them somewhat suspiciously. But with the widening skills gap, more companies are embracing alternative training models.
Companies don’t need employees who have spent a certain number of hours daydreaming in a seminar or sitting in front of a computer terminal hitting the “Next” button. What they do need is employees who have mastered defined sets of knowledge and skills and are able to demonstrate that mastery on the job. MOOCs are digital learning environments where employees can learn, practice, and apply new knowledge and skills in ways that will have a positive, immediate impact on their job performance. This provides a powerful solution for firms to address their skills gap now, before they fall even further behind.
Copyright 2014 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.
Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– offers 25+ years of training and talent management helping executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.
Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bryantnielson