Do School Bells Still Need to Ring? Seat Time vs Competency Framework

Last year when we collected public comments on IREC’s Certificate Program standard (fondly known in house as Standard 14732), some asked how many hours should a course be to meet the requirements for accreditation.  It’s a good question. But there is no single answer other than “it depends.”

Course length varies depending on learning objectives, the background of the students, prerequisites, and the results of an assessment – did the students learn what they needed to learn?  To address that, a written examination is a 14732 requirement.It must be based on stated learning objectives and follow guidelines for acceptable practices in developing exams.

Continued reliance on the credit hour (or seat time) as a metric for learning is a significant structural barrier, according to a 2011 Center for Post Secondary and Economic Success report, Giving Credit Where Credit is Due. A system that assesses competency should be the measurement for learning, write authors Evelyn Ganzglass, Keith Bird and Heath Prince.  They continue on to discuss a competency-based framework for occupational education and the metrics for valuing non-credit learning.

The “seat time vs competency” issue is one that we intend IREC standards to  address by providing requirements for accreditation that promote learning objectives based on industry-driven job task analyses, or similar empirically-based processes, and criterion-referenced examinations.   The job task analysis defines the competencies in knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities that are validated by subject matter experts for a job or a specialized area of practice.  These pre-determined competencies form the criteria for scoring an individual’s performance.

Does a competency-based system bring value to the market?  We think so.  There needs to be a demonstrated outcome that training resulted in learning job-needed skills.

IREC offers two very good publications that address these key elements of a competency-based approach – task analyses and assessments.  Do take a look at the Job Task Analysis Guidance Document, authored by Dr. Christine Niero, and also Best Practices #3, Developing a Quality Course, by Dr. Barbara Martin.



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