At a recent presentation at the British Council’s International Education Conference, I was interested to note that none of the attendees  had ever heard of Western Governors University (WGU) or Competency Based Education (CBE).

No big deal, of course, there are well over 5,000 US colleges, so not having heard of one is hardly a crime, but why does WGU matter and why does CBE matter too?

It is estimated* 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet and 65% of children starting school will one day hold jobs that do not exist now. It is widely anticipated that many existing jobs will be replaced by robots/AI. However, there is a pretty clear view that the jobs that will remain and new ones that will undoubtedly be created will, to some significant extent, focus on advanced soft skills, as these are the skills that are hardest to automate.

Therefore, finding new ways to teach and accredit soft skills has never been more important and this is why WGU is interesting. Along with a couple of other ‘mega universities’ in the USA (Arizona State and Southern New Hampshire being the other main members of the unofficial ‘mega university’ club) they are predominantly teaching students using CBE.

WGU has over 120,000 students all studying online, all being taught via CBE pedagogy. This approach allows students, often working adults, to progress quicker towards a qualification because their existing skills are assessed and they quickly receive ‘credit’ for what they already know. This matters because some of the skills they receive credit for, that count towards their degree, are soft skills. WGU has had years of experience in the competency based field and is working on mapping skills, including soft skills, across jobs to ensure that their qualifications focus on teaching and evaluating crucial soft skills that employers are increasingly demanding from their workforce.

Colleges like WGU and Southern New Hampshire rely on incredibly high quality, cloud based Learning Management Systems to ensure their students online learning experience is rewarding and interactive. Long gone are the days of recorded lectures being the mainstay of online learning, interactive webinars, peer to peer learning, online forums chaired by faculty and very strong academic support and pastoral care all underpin the online learning experience.

Seeing online education as a ‘cheaper’ way to deliver higher education has also long been debunked in the US and now almost 35%** of students study at least 1 online course in the US.

Online and blended learning also offer plenty of opportunities for UK Boarding schools and some are now dipping a toe in the water, notably the launch of Harrow school online, for able, international 6th form students and EtonX. Also, UK Universities are increasingly embracing online courses, but it is less clear that any UK providers are investigating CBE and this is puzzling. CBE is making such an impact in the US and helping many more adult learners get the qualifications they need to survive in an increasingly automated/AI driven economy.

There is a real opportunity here for forward thinking UK based academic institutions to introduce CBE qualifications and UK institutions could reach out to US institutions like WGU to learn from them…

Another interesting new development and related to the rise in the importance of evaluating and ‘crediting’ soft skills competencies is the growing use of the technology that gave us Bitcoin.

Blockchain technology is already being used by some colleges, including the University of Texas system to ‘lock in’ all the ‘achievements’ of pupils & students. Instead of a potential employer receiving copies of CV’s and scanned exam certificates, Blockchain encrypted reports of potential employees will not only include exam certificates, but also details of soft skill mastery and extra curricula achievements.

Companies such as IBM and Sony are already looking into the applications for Blockchain technology to change the way we all register our achievements, both inside and outside the classroom. Employers are seeking to recruit future employees to fill the skill gaps in the 4th industrial revolution and those jobs will require more than just a CV with details of our academic achievements…

Learning from the US: new ways to evaluate & record skills and competencies

*https://hbrascend.org/topics/the-skills-you-need-for-tomorrows-jobs-that-dont-exist-yet/

**https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/search/ViewTable?tableId=