Competency-Based Learning: Skills Mastery Part 3
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How Technology Supports Skills Mastery

From the earlier Skills Mastery parts, Part 1: Introduction To Skills Mastery and Part 2: Pros, Cons, And Essential Elements, we have learned what competency-based learning means. Now we turn our attention to how this trend can be supported technologically.

Did you know that:

  • Globally, competency-based learning is growing at a rate of 29% from 2018 to 2024, and spend is estimated to surpass $2 billion by 2024.
  • However, only 31% of organizations have determined what competencies their leaders require as necessary in achieving their business goals.
  • On average, it takes 20 separate instances for someone to master a new skill.
  • We are seeing an ever-increasing "show-what-you-know" world with companies such as Google, Kellogg, and L’Oréal—to name a few—changing their recruitment processes to incorporate competency skills tests across categories such as data and analytics, machine learning, communicate skills, design, problem-solving, etc., allowing candidates to demonstrate their mastery and possession of the required skills.
  • And, only 24% of organizations are fully using any of the components of a competency-based talent management program.

Described in Part 2 is how corporate education is moving away from measuring the number of courses completed and "seat time" to competency-based education. Competency-based learning means moving learners forward when they demonstrate mastery. Therefore, modern digital learning technologies need to allow learners to progress through their training at a pace based upon their mastery of the skills being taught. There is no such thing as failure—there is only (1) mastered, and (2) not yet mastered. Learners work on concept mastery for as long as they need to before moving on to the next one. We will now explore the technology that can help make this your training reality.

Competency-Based Learning Technology Framework

A competency-based learning platform requires a learner-centric approach to data and a full suite of functionality to cover learning, instruction, assessment, and reporting. Because each person learns at a different pace and comes to work knowing different things, they require individualized learning which is a fundamental requirement of competency-based learning. To achieve this, we can harness the power of technology. Using technology to support the competency-based training approach enables you to develop complete "individual learning journeys" with a curriculum, progress monitoring, and results in evaluation by means of specific performance indicators along the way.

However, most legacy Learning Management Systems are not designed, nor provide the features needed, to support competency-based learning programs. Some modern enterprise Learning Management Systems have built-in workflows and processes that meet the fundamental requirements of competency-based learning. The following technology framework for competency-based learning illustrates what you need in your corporate learning platform to help individuals define and develop their own career paths.

1. Learning Paths

Your corporate training system should support you in developing individual learning plans or paths. Learning paths are used to structure and illustrate long-term learning scenarios. A learning path is a sequence of courses and digital multimedia content that are linked together so that a person can build knowledge and master a particular training goal. A learning path ensures that learners are working toward an overall goal by mapping learning activities to specific levels of expertise.

A learner’s perspective: "I have my own learning path that helps me reach my learning goals. As I build knowledge, I move along the path at my own pace to skills mastery."

2. Job Roles

For competency-based learning to work, your learning platforms need to support the definition of job profiles and individual competencies, including the skills, knowledge, and abilities that each staff member needs to perform effectively in their job. The skills needed for each job need to be assigned to a job profile, which is assigned to the learner. Such systems allow you to freely define skills dependent on corporate structure, job roles, and HR processes (i.e., any skill required can easily be replicated). For each skill, levels—none, basic, intermediate, advanced, for example—could be applied. There should be no restriction on the number of levels you can define in a skill.

The job role is fundamentally built on skills grouped together to represent what the organization considers necessary for each person’s job function. Each learner could be assigned one or more job profiles in the system, and actively seek out content that fulfills the relevant skills and competencies for their position. Your employees may also have further skills that need to be documented, and doing so will help managers and HR professionals better understand the skills, qualifications, talents, and expertise of the employees in your organization.

A learner’s perspective: "The organization provides me with a job profile where I can see what skills I need for my position and what skills I already have."

A manager’s perspective: "I want to check my staff skills profiles and quickly find somebody with the right job profile and skills for my new project."

3. Skills Analysis

The learning platform needs to give each employee an easy-to-see understanding of what skills and knowledge are needed for their job so that they can easily see if they are missing any skills deemed necessary. The employed learning platform needs to support employee skills and enable you to implement comprehensive skills and performance management to define and achieve the learning goals. For example, your business’s job roles could be mapped against employee skills, and then documented and managed in a cross-organizational competence database. This creates transparency in career planning by clearly listing the job profiles and competencies (skills) assigned to the employees and the acquired competency status for both the employees and their superiors. Your Learning Management System needs to be able to allow you to assign skills that are created in the system to any learning activity or content item and define the competency level it provides for completing this. When a learner completes the relevant task, this is awarded to them with fully configurable settings for the time the user remains competent after the completion.

A learner’s perspective: "Technology needs to allow me to easily see what my skill gap is."

A manager’s perspective: "I want to easily evaluate a self-assessment of an employee and approve—or not—their self-assessment."

4. Close Skills Gaps

Modern digital training platforms allow skills gaps to be closed through:

  • An automatic guide to training
    Your corporate LMS should also help people who aspire to a future role with a simple-to-use function in order to identify how to close any skills gap they might have. Simply clicking on a button should return a list of courses and training events that, together, provide the skills necessary for the learner to close the gap.
  • Learner self-assessment
    Learners perform a self-assessment manually if they feel they already have mastered a skill—and documents, certificates, photos, etc., could be uploaded as evidence of the skill obtainment. Once completed, their manager/HR/whoever has been delegated can assess and confirm/deny the skill self-assessment request.

A learner’s perspective: "How do I close my skills gap? The system can support me by finding training based on the skills gap analysis. The system guides me toward training that increases my skill levels. I can also do a manual skills self-assessment to close my skills gap because I believe that I can demonstrate my mastery of the topic area."

A manager’s perspective: "I want to review self-assessment requests and either approve or decline them via an easy-to-use dashboard."

5. On-The-Job Training (OJT)

Learning on-the-job from peers is important for skills development. Setting up and updating work objectives through an on-the-job (OTJ) training module can support development activities that are normally undertaken directly in the workplace between a trainee (a member of staff, guest) and an experienced person (mentor, manager, etc.). Such training modules are useful for onboarding, mentoring programs, or apprenticeship schemes where learners need to skill up quickly.

A learner’s perspective: "I might need to perform a task or join a project where I need to learn on-the-job to improve my skills and competencies. After performing the required task, I can leave feedback and upload a document—photo, certificate, etc.—as evidence of my skill obtainment."

A manager’s perspective: "I need an easy-to-read report on my staff’s skills development."

6. Engaging Learning Experiences

One’s learning experience is as easy and intuitive as possible with an appealing User Interface—self-explanatory, easy to use. Your system must have a very clear and consistent navigational structure, for instance, one GUI for the entire system, all add-on modules, no plug-ins. For competency-based learning, we need engaging digital learning resources that surface at the point of need and are in line with the speed of business. Generally, learning experiences are enhanced with the following:

  1. Multimedia content
    To create engaging competency-based learning experiences, incorporate multimedia elements such as video and gamification. With the introduction of multimedia technology, today’s technologically-savvy employees have been seen to embrace and be motivated by new training technologies. Incorporating the latest multimedia elements and interactive features into Learning and Development training activities creates better learning and teaching environments for both employees and trainers. Choose a digital learning platform that has a full media management facility for the upload, management, and deployment of different types of media files and documents. You need to be able to add content in several different file formats, in the common audio, video, and image formats, plus many more. Multimedia content needs to be able to be added to a course or be a standalone media object with the ability to track and report on use, with the range of statistics available on user interactions.
  2. Reward and recognition
    The concept of gamification helps bring a competitive element into learning by providing rewards for completing certain objectives and tasks, thus increasing motivation. Through the ability to earn experience points and badges, while leveling up capabilities, reward and recognition provide users with the chance to play against other learners, individually or within teams, with organization-based leaderboards to help see where they are in the rankings. Experience points could also be collected by the learners so that they understand where they are in their learning path and that they are motivated to pursue their training to successful completion by "leveling up."

A learner’s perspective: "I want an enjoyable-to-use way to find and do my training on all of my devices and share with friends."

A manager’s perspective: "My staff are motivated and progressing with their skills acquisition well."

Conclusion

Linking organizational goals to learning outcomes promises to increase your organization's competitiveness with competency-based trained employees possessing the skills your business needs. Technology that supports you with delivering competency-based learning allows you to change your learners’ training experience and focus on your core mission: training and retaining a productive workforce.

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