Review of: Weise, M. (2014, November 10). Got skills? Why online competency-based education is the disruptive innovation for higher education. Educause Review, 49(6).  Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/11/got-skills-why-online-competencybased-education-is-the-disruptive-innovation-for-higher-education

Abstract

This article presents online competency-based education (CBE) as the model disruptive innovation in the U.S. higher education sector. The article provides an operational definition of disruptive innovation as a new product or service that reduce consumer costs, thus eroding the market control of incumbent organizations. In this manner, disruptive innovations differ from countervailing sustaining innovations that drive up consumer costs. Included in the article is evidence of the higher education sector’s inability to serve the emerging population of nontraditional learners. To address this systemic issue, online CBE offers five distinctive advantages, compared to traditional higher education: (a) modularization of curriculum to accelerate learning and increase scalability, (b) a low-cost tuition model, (c) personalized learning with faculty and other support personnel, (d) direct linkage with workforce preparation, and (e) the potential to address social inequality. In summary, the author posits that CBE offers a dramatically different value proposition for students and can be a significant disruptive innovation for U.S. higher education.

Personal Reflection

The article highlighted the major differences between disruptive and sustaining innovations.  Originally presented by Christensen (1997), the Disruptive Innovation Theory proposes why larger, successful companies underperformed smaller, under-resourced companies.  Christensen’s thesis is that a disruptive innovation provides a substitute experience or product at a lower cost, thus eroding the market control of incumbent organizations.  In contrast, a sustaining innovation reflects the actions of incumbent organizations to offer products or experiences that will continue higher costs (Weise, 2014).  According to the author, the U.S. higher education sector largely focuses on sustaining innovations, including “enhanced technology in teaching, improved classrooms, more faculty research, and better dining facilities” (Weise, 2014, p. 28).  Despite these innovations, higher education institutions fail to serve the emerging population of nontraditional learners, who represent those that commute, work part-time, have families, and need direct links to employment (Weise, 2014).

Weise (2014) suggested that online CBE is the antithesis of traditional education by converging “the right learning model, the right technologies, the right customers, and the right business model” (p. 30).  The author offered five distinctive advantages of online CBE, compared to traditional higher education: (a) modularization of curriculum to accelerate learning and increase scalability, (b) a low cost tuition model, (c) personalized learning with faculty and other support personnel, (d) direct linkage with workforce preparation, and (e) the potential to address social inequality.  In the next paragraphs, I will provide personal reflections related to the author’s assertions.

First, I considered carefully the author’s arguments on the CBE business model.  Although the consumer costs may be lower, the early research does not indicate the same outcomes for organizations.  From an institutional perspective, the potential for increased efficiencies is less certain due to the startup costs (Porter & Reilly, 2014).  Also, as with other products, the lower costs will slowly escalate as the product becomes more mainstream; the allure of “cheap” degrees may become a fad as the model matures.

Second, I resonated with the author’s connection between online CBE and workforce preparation.  Similar to the findings of Weise (2014), the statistics from the article highlight the major gap between educational outcomes and employer expectations.  Online CBE could create direct, measureable linkages between educational experiences and workplace competencies.  This would raise the profile of CBE programs with prospective employers, who might endorse certain programs and reimburse expenses.  Further, this leads to discussions about the role of employers in curriculum development.  Recent pundits insinuated that such educational policies may lead to further stratification as the liberal arts become less important (LeBlanc & Selbe, 2016; Ward, 2016).  This will become an important debate as the CBE movement matures.

Last, the concept of addressing social inequalities through nontraditional education is an interesting concept.  An important role of higher education personnel is to eliminate systemic or individual inequities that reduce access and success of students.  Systemic change, however, will take an incredible amount of time to institute.  Historically, nontraditional education has aided underserved and underprepared student populations (Weise, 2014).  Online CBE, if appropriately designed and financed, could lead to an equitable system with improved student interactions and outcomes.  Nontraditional education is not the cure-all for social inequality, but it could serve as a catalyst for long-term change.

Innovative education is an important subject to me personally and my institution.  As a small, private university, we cannot follow the traditional model of education, including adherence to high-cost and low-return strategies; otherwise, we will repeat the same mistake of other institutions that ultimately closed or diminished.  Thus, we continually improve existing modalities and search for new opportunities.  Online CBE is an option in consideration.  If we choose to implement CBE programs, the university must consider the recommendation of the author, including modularization, low tuition, personalized learning systems, and linkages to employers.  Overall, I found the article helpful to my personal research and administrative demands.

References

Christensen, C. (1997). The innovator’s dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

LeBlanc, P., & Selbe, J. (2016, February 2). Another take on competency. Inside Higher Ed.  Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/02/02/alternative-view-competency-based-education-essay

Porter, S. R., & Reilly, K. (2014). Competency-based education as a potential strategy to increase learning and lower costs. Retrieved from HCM Strategists, Inc. website: http://hcmstrategists.com/maximizingresources/images/CBE_Paper.pdf

Ward, S. (2016, February 1). Let them eat cake (competently). Inside Higher Ed.  Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/02/01/competency-based-education-threatens-further-stratify-higher-education-essay

Weise, M. (2014, November 10). Got skills? Why online competency-based education is the disruptive innovation for higher education. Educause Review, 49(6).  Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/11/got-skills-why-online-competencybased-education-is-the-disruptive-innovation-for-higher-education