Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Can we really quantify learning?

The recent developments in the US in Competency Based Education (eg Wisconsin and SUNY) may well signal the start of a movement away from "seat-time" towards a measurement of what students actually know or can do.  Personally, I think this is a positive development as it will enable disaggregation of the learning and assessment processes and thus incentivise competition and innovation in the facilitation of learning.  However, it does beg the following question.  If we no longer measure learning in terms of student effort, how will we quantify how much learning goes into a qualification?  In the US a 4-year degree requires 120 credit-hours of courses and in the EU it requires 240 ECTS.  The Bologna agreement has required that European institutions standardise both the volume and level of content in such degrees.  In my limited experience of institutions it seems that it is the academic's subjective view of what content can be realistically covered in the time available that determines how much content goes into a particular course or module and the practice of using external academics in the process of programme approval acts as an equaliser between institutions.

So if we move away from seat-time, what other technique have we available to us to define the quantity of material that goes into a course?  I recently posed that question to an Educational Measurement group with over 5,000 members in Linkedin and no real response emerged?  Could it be that this issue has not been addressed?


  1. In my view Wisconsin is pathfinding the future, however, such programs will rely heavily on Instructional Systems Design. Moreover, I detect also from Wisconsin that they are trying to implement an RPL program, which we have singularly failed to do and it is badly needed. I might add that the language used regarding "quantity" locks us into the current discourse, which, in my opinion, is already spent.

  2. Hi JMC.

    If Wisconsin are planning to have self-paced online courses with little instructor input, you may be correct. However, if the plan is to concentrate more on the assessment end, perhaps not. They may not be too worried how the student learns as long as they can perform in the assessment. They might even provide instructor led online courses with very little instructional design that might prepare learners for assessment. I agree that this is an RPL issue - perhaps the idea of providing competency based assessment is a shortcut to RPL - no matter how you claim you have learned we will ask you to prove it the cheapest way - by examination/assessment.

    I'm not sure how "quantity" locks us into the current discourse. Could you expand? My point is that currently we do talk a lot about quantity but only in terms of student effort and this is not an appropriate measure. If we agree with the initiatives to equalise qualifications in Europe we are forced into quantification. However, if you are suggesting that individuals should be presenting their competencies as a portfolio of things they can do or have achieved, then you might be right. This can be facilitated by the Open Badges infrastructure - an online verifiable system for awarding certificates, often based on competency.