Competency vs Time

A quick comment on the concept of competency that Stephen Downes makes note of:

We don’t have any courses, and we don’t have any credit hours, but we have 120 competencies, and you can master those as fast as you like, or as slow. The thing that we don’t care very much about is time. And that is such a fundamental reversal of the basic structure of higher education.

The sentence I’ve emphasised is something I have issue with – we don’t care about time. Who’s time don’t they care about? The students. They can take as looong as they like, why would they care, it’s not their time and it’s not their expense. I think framing competency based education like has an air of contempt for the student and the value of their time. I think in some cases it sets some students up to fail as it re-enforces feelings of inadequacy and being dumb. I’d also suggest that this mindset affects the learning design. Why would you build complex constructivist activities when you don’t care about time? Why would you remove endless readings when you don’t care about time?  Design is as much about what you remove as it is about what you add. I think this mindset could instil a behaviourist approach to design where primacy is given to recall and simple pedagogy of reading and quizzing.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with competency – it’s a far better standard for education to align itself to than time. Just don’t compare the two.


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