Competency-Based Learning: It’s As Easy As 1-2-3!


This past Tuesday, I filled in for one of my teammates as a substitute instructor. The class was a soft skills class regarding how to complete an annual Individual Development Plan or IDP. I really enjoyed the interaction with all of the students, as always, but I also was reminded how well competency-based learning works. Over the past couples of years, I have chatted with dozens of learning professionals to compare notes regarding the implementation of competency-based learning or to provide guidance about getting started. This past March, I also gave a presentation on creating a culture of learning. The following post is an amalgamation of all of those conversations, and that presentation, and will hopefully help others get started with their efforts.

Step 1 – Build a competency library

Now, it helps to have a governing body build a mega, all-encompassing library that you can borrow from but it’s not required. Take a look at your organization. Take a look at the modern workplace. Tap into an effort like New World of Work’s “21st Century Skills.” Once you establish your library, comb through the competencies and select a handful to be the set of competencies that apply to everyone. Since everyone will be affected, get everyone, from the C-Suite to the “Boots on the Ground,” to buy in. The remaining competencies will allow you to subdivide your employees into more specific groups, but that is a conversation for another time. In all of this chaos, you may find it helpful to partner with someone. I would recommend anyone in your organization who has a knack for “workforce planning.” The data that flows into workforce planning tends to be the yin to the learning and development field’s yang. The professionals from workforce planning can play an integral part in developing behaviors or behavioral indicators for your competencies.

Step 2 – Map your learning opportunities to your competencies

Get rid of the guesswork for your staff. Review the class title of your class. If the class title doesn’t speak to you, review the actual learning objectives for your class. Do your best to assign a competency to the class. Some pairs will come easy. For example: a class pertaining to presentation skills probably fits nicely under communication as a competency. Along those same lines, start with your internal offerings. Your instructor-led classes will seem the most familiar. There’s just something about leading, or experiencing, a class that helps to identify what sort of competency would make a nice complement. That’s why, if we truly reach an impasse, I query the team in a sort of toss-up fashion. Nine times out of ten, talking and brainstorming out loud allows us to reach a consensus.

Step 3 – Give employees a tool to assess their behaviors

I used to be mesmerized by 360-degree assessments, Emotional Intelligence assessments, and ergonomic assessments until I pulled apart these assessments and saw that anyone with a decent working knowledge of Algebra and Statistics could formulate one. That means that you can too! Your competency assessment can be fairly straightforward. List the behaviors and then provide a space for “Yes” or “No,” “1” or “0,” or even “Plus” or “Delta.” At the end of the assessment, the employee should be able to determine what competency needs the most attention for the next established time period. Back in the Good Ol’ Bad Ol’ Days, people used to just grab class titles out of thin air and make the request to attend. Now, an employee can determine their competency, go to a list of learning opportunities mapped to their competency, and have a meaningful conversation with their manager.

It’s as easy as 1 – 2 – 3!

TS Hamilton is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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