What is a Competency-Based Learning Program?

Rachel Lallouz

What is a competency-based learning program?

You've probably completed some kind of learning program before. Maybe you've had to complete the requirements for a professional certificate, or maybe you've moved through introductory HR training at a new job - maybe you've even had a hand in designing training for others at an organization. Usually, these learning programs or training are helpful for improving performance - but not always. Some learning programs might lack common standards of achievement and success or proper methods of evaluation. So how is competency-based learning - and a competency-based learning program itself - a specialized and unique method of learning?

A competency-based learning program identifies specific competencies that a learner must demonstrate and practice to a set, measurable standard. These competencies are then assessed through different forms of evaluation. According to the competency model, learners generally progress through a program at their own pace, focusing on step-by-step mastery of each competency necessary to be successful in their position.

The broader, overarching goal of a competency-based learning program is to assist individuals and teams in acquiring new knowledge, skills and learning attitudes - all of which are standardized to ensure the same level of learning for everyone.

For a competency-based learning program to be successful, it must address what are referred to as the three domains of learning. These domains were developed by Dr. Benjamin Bloom's (1913-1999), and refer to:

1. The cognitive domain (knowledge, or "the head") 2. The psychomotor domain (practical application of skills, or "the hand") and 3. The affective domain (learning attitude, or "the heart")

Competency-based learning programs can have a variety of targets specific to an organization's needs and goals, but they all share a few basic principles in relation to their significance. This learning is based on the idea that any job is composed of a set of observable competencies which an individual is trained for. This individual would also receive modelling, demonstrations and practice to complete their learning. This learning is then followed up by the critical assessment step to ensure a set standard of competence.

Why is a competency-based learning program necessary?

Imagine a restaurant that has no standardized training for any of its employees. Some employees would work with a perfect understanding of food safety guidelines and have ample customer service. Other employees, though, might not know the basics of critical health and safety rules that keep customers, and other restaurant staff, safe. Some employees might not know how to interact on a service level with the restaurant's main customers. Without a learning and training program that identifies what employees need to know and how to perfect their responsibilities - along with a system of evaluation - organizations would experience:

  • Significant internal disorder due to lack of consistency in learning and training
  • Loss of revenue
  • Inability to meet internal and external deadlines
  • Poor reputation in the sector and
  • A generally low performance

Who needs a competency-based learning program?

This unique kind of learning is especially important because it builds the competencies required for a safe and productive workplace. This means that all organizations, across every sector - from small companies, non-profits, academic and government groups and large corporations - can benefit from the implementation of a competency-based learning program.

Competency-based learning programs are not designed as one-size-fits-all systems because the desired outcomes are going to be different depending on the competencies required to successfully meet the standards specific to a position or an organization. Instead, competency-based learning programs tend to focus on providing the specific knowledge, skills and attitudes that will be most useful to each learner.

This is the first article in a three-part series covering Chapter 3 of our Skilling Up textbook. To access other articles in this series, please navigate below.

 Article 2 - How Competency-Based Learning Can Work For Your Organization

Article 3 - Not yet available.

Rachel Lallouz

Rachel is our Writer/Book Development Coordinator and uses her experience in the fields of communication, editing and journalism to craft work that fits the flexible needs of BaseCorp and its clients. Her knowledge base has been shaped by her degrees in English and education. Rachel is originally from Vancouver, and is currently at work on her doctoral degree. In her spare time, Rachel is an avid cyclist and lover of all outdoor activities.