Over the past two months, I’ve had several invitations to discuss the intersection of higher education (HE) and K12 in competency education. It makes sense to see these two sectors of education as one huge movement. Both receive complaints from their customers of poor and inconsistent quality (i.e., students are ill prepared for advanced studies and entry into the workforce). Both sectors are turning to greater personalization, online and blended learning and competency education to help them improve their systems. It’s easy to leap to the conclusion, especially if you are a systems thinker who jumps for joy when alignment is in the air, that the pieces are all going to snap into place.
No matter what we all imagine, no matter how beautiful our maps of an aligned system are, there are two important things to remember. First, in a personalized world where students have agency, we have to let go of our mental model of a linear, conveyor belt model. We need to think about adaptive systems. If you need a picture to hold in your mind, think highways with lots of on and off ramps.
Second, there may be risks in talking about HE’s and K12’s transition to competency education as one and the same. Certainly both emphasize progress upon mastery. However, much of the drive for change in HE is to reduce tuition costs, whereas in K12 it is to personalize education so that all students get what they need to succeed. Thus, the K12 focus is on cost-effectiveness, not cost reduction. This may have large implications about what is emphasized and how models develop. Furthermore, our efforts will come to a grinding halt if we lead policymakers to assume that they can reduce budgets in K12 competency education systems. We can explore competency education in both sectors without advancing the idea that they are the same thing.
I’m now going to break a rule of blogging with a very long exploration of the intersection of competency education across K12 and HE. I start by exploring the similarities, differences and intersection of the two systems and close by looking at the implications of the different contexts in which competency education is developing in each sector.