Competency-Based Learning – for 12-Year-Olds?

We often talk about how organizations need to get moving when it comes to newer technologies like social and mobile because the Millennials are coming and they demand them. We are told these young workers require learning experiences that mirror their digital lives and presumably won’t work for some prehistoric company that won’t allow them to connect to their learning community with their smartphone.

These warnings have had a real effect on how quickly organizations try to adapt to changing technologies. The promise (or fear) of Millennials was probably the biggest early driver in social and mobile learning technologies. So what happens if the generation behind them wants even more?


According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, competency–based learning has found its way into the education system, and not just at universities. Middle schoolers are now dabbling in the ways of learning based on competency. Instead of moving ahead because they spent a year in a class, students can progress to higher levels in individual areas based on how well they are mastering the material.

Could this mean the market will be faced with a generation of workers who want to learn at their own pace with different focuses based on their strengths and weaknesses? Of course it does. That’s what people want now, they just don’t always get it. Perhaps having a workforce that had this type of experience from an early age will motivate companies to re-think how they deliver learning.

It doesn’t end with competency-based curriculum, either. There are other concepts organizations have been toying with that are finding their way into the classroom at early ages. One of the cornerstones of this competency-based approach is collaborative learning. Sound familiar? These students are also enrolling in massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

And while companies struggle to figure out how learning concepts such as games, leader boards and badges relate to their strategies, the kids in these classes are already earning digital badges for creating business plans.  It might be time for companies to wrap their heads around ideas like MOOCs and how they fit into the enterprise learning model before the hordes of Generation Zers come crashing through their doors, expecting to be able to learn anything, anytime, anywhere.

David Wentworth, Senior Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

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