I was part of an online panel session “You get what you assess: Competency-based education in the digital era.” at EDUCAUSE 2021 this morning (or afternoon, depending on where people were). I talked about how we use competencies and learning outcomes at an institutional level, and some of the opportunities and challenges we’ve seen. It wasn’t a scripted presentation bit, but they turned on the Zoom auto-transcribe feature so I grabbed the transcript for my portion. There was a bunch of Q&A that had some great bits as well, but I couldn’t grab that part of the transcript before the meeting went poof. Also, holy smokes is the spoken word different from what I would have written in text. Yikes. Anyway… Here’s my part, for posterity.

Competencies are already extensively used in higher education, guiding the design of programs and courses. They are the core of curriculum design, mapping, review, and analysis processes.


  1. Disaggregating and modularizing - Microcredentials and stackable certificates that provide flexible pathways for individual students while maintaining the quality of the program
  2. Adapting programs to integrate work-integrated learning opportunities as well as integrating indigenous ways and supporting equity, diversity, and inclusion. A focus on competencies can identify opportunities for these kinds of adaptation.
  3. Adaptable course designs - using competencies and learning outcomes to design and implement courses, including the use of tools within the learning management system


  1. Awareness - Competencies and learning outcomes are already core components of higher education courses and programs, but many instructors still only approach design implicitly
  2. Data entry - documenting alignment of competencies and learning outcomes is a time- and labour-intensive task
  3. Adapting assessment strategies around competency-based models can be challenging - but we are making incredible progress there

One of the amazing things about universities is they are hubs of innovation around pedagogy of ways of teaching, and at our university as I’m sure at all of yours as well, our programs and curricula are largely competency based - the things that you want students to learn and the types of things you want them to be able to do.

And so we’ve got a number of of things that our institution. We’re actually looking at really refocusing our courses from being sort of content centric to really focusing on the competencies, and it enables some things. We’ve got some opportunities and of the major buckets of opportunities what we call “disaggregating and modularizing” and you take a four year program, which can be a big commitment for students, and it’s hard to sort of describe what that program does but if you take that break it down into a number of of certificates, we have this in our workload School of Education where a four year graduate degree can be a lot for especially a teacher who’s working to also take on.

But they could maybe do a series of one year certificates and that also gives them a way of picking what they want the focus of each of the certificates to be and that’s around competencies, they might take a certificate on academic leadership on pedagogical design on course design on assessment and they can stack these certificates together to form a larger credential. And so it gives you flexibility on the pathways there.

We also do a lot of work on micro credentials badges. And that’s a way of describing competencies essentially and having people not just students could be used across the institution, demonstrate proficiency at the, at these various competencies in our at our institution we’ve had a bad as platform for over six years now.

And we’ve offered. I think it’s over 120 different badges of different scales and it’s everywhere from our computer science graduate students needing to show that they can log into a server and do a thing so they get a badge, they have access to that to the labs, all the way up to large larger batches that are someone’s gone through a Course Design Program and they’ve done a capstone project and they’ve taught a thing and they’ve developed that all of these competencies are demonstrated in the same system. And what that lets people do is create these interesting cross-career cross-curricular connections that are hard to do when we look at our programs and our academic activities as these big monoliths. We can modularize.

We’ve got a lot of work on adapting programs so at our institution, again, as I’m sure is that all of yours. We have an institutional initiative from our provost office called the Program Innovation Hub and it’s looking at how do we redesign existing programs to integrate things like work integrated learning. And indigenous ways of knowing and all of these things that we need to do that are hard to do when you look at programs from a content centric way.

But if you’re looking at them from a competency based way, all of a sudden there’s opportunities to do this, including adaptable course design so we can use our competencies learning outcomes to design and implement these courses. This provides an opportunity and this.

Once we’ve got the courses designed around these competencies and outcomes, we can use the tools to connect those competencies with the content with the assessment and and sort of doing some interesting things as Carine kind of talked about with the algorithms and Kritik, the learning management systems have similar things as well and we can sort of automate a lot of these things that make them possible at scale of a lot of a large larger courses.

They come with a bunch of challenges though, right. So, one of them is awareness, a lot of instructors are doing competencies and outcomes without really being aware that that’s what they’re doing and so making sure that they’re aware of sort of vocabulary around and the concepts and why it’s important to to focus on these on these things. And what tools and Institutional processes are able to help support their work.

Now the challenges. Data entry, when you’re designing a course around competencies, there’s a lot of, you know, assigning this competency in this chain of competencies to each piece of content and assessment and activities and of course, and it’s a very intensive labor intensive process so the challenge is finding ways to make it more more manageable for people going through the course design and implementation stage.

And then, adapting assessment strategies again to get away from that focus on pure content, but assessing skills and assessing the proficiency on these various types of things. And again, that disaggregation and modularization even within the course. How can you look at assessment differently when you’re not just going to be looking at content.

Again, something in higher ed we’ve been doing for forever, but it’s making the implicit explicit and then once we do that, we can connect it with software and algorithms and other tools to really make it more sustainable and that’s such a huge opportunity for this stuff.