The “buzz” about competency-based approach is not a fad. I really don’t think that it will pass. It is complex. Or maybe it’s just different from what we know and expect when it comes to education. But what is fundamentally different is this: the competency-based approach isn’t about education. It IS about learning. And learning focuses on the learner and the subject matter. Education seems to focus on the system.  It focuses on the process of “educating” (that’s a transitive verb) meaning “to train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession.” At least that is what Merriam Webster says. Nothing about the learner in there.

Learning signThen there is autodidactic learning. That does focus on learners and recognizes that people can (and do) learn in many ways. Again, a focus on the learner. Not an arbitrary system that force fits everyone who wants and needs to acquire new skills and abilities into a rigid system.

The U.S. Department of Education is devoting space on their website to competency-based, or what they also call, personalized learning.

New Hampshire, Michigan and Ohio all have initiated programs with various approaches to competency-based learning for public schools. There are also local school districts in Alaska and rural Colorado implementing “performance-based” or “learner centered” education.

It was announced in January of this year that the Department of Education will allow up to 40 colleges and universities to test the competency-based water. But it is complex (I guess I said that already) … “This is much more complicated than any experiment they have done.” (said Amy Laitinen, deputy director – New America Foundation higher education program).

And of course, the U.S. Congress feels like they need to play in this space as well. While it didn’t make it to the White House for a signature (well it didn’t even make it to the Senate), the House of Representatives did pass H.R. 3136 – Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project during the 113th Congress.

And finally, there was a pretty interesting Huffington Post blog in April … Sparks Fly: Competency-Based Education Catches. Julian Alssid does a great job of making the case of “workforce relevant education” and outlining benefits for working adults, while at the same time noting that not enough businesses in the U.S. understand the competency-based approach.

If our public schools and colleges are moving (and it seems swiftly) to a competency-based approach, the CPA profession needs to move as well. Let’s be innovative. Let’s be flexible and maybe have a little patience. And don’t feel threatened. If your preferred way to learn is in a seminar or conference, no one says that has to change. But at the same time, we must provide avenues for professionals who learn best (and more efficiently) in other ways.

Let’s just all agree that we need to focus on the learner and the outcomes. Not the system and the hours.