Simplifying Learning and Growth

Debra is part of a conference planning committee but is concerned because there doesn’t seem to be any way to prioritize the many potential sessions that have been submitted for consideration.
Susan is keen to continue her self-directed learning and growth but isn’t sure where she should be directing her efforts.

Tom’s organization has been contracted to develop training materials for a specific list of topics but he doesn’t have a clue as to where he should begin.

Sound familiar? My guess is the above scenarios might be fairly common given that every one of them surfaced in my circle within the span of a week.

Fortunately, I’ve learned – often the hard way - that all of these situations can be effectively addressed when those involved have the benefit of working from a set of competencies or learning outcomes.

I first learned about competencies a number of years ago when I was seconded from my teaching position at Niagara College to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. My job was to facilitate the development of a program standard for all of the recreation-related programs within Ontario Community Colleges. 

No small task, the idea was part of an inspired movement designed by the Government of Ontario to ensure students graduated with the entry-level skills needed to become successfully employed. The intent was to bring a greater degree of consistency to college programming and provide public accountability for the quality and relevance of college programs.

Since the concept of these standards was introduced in the College System in 1994, more than 200 program standard documents have been developed, approved, and released. Within each program standard there are typically about 10 to 15 vocational learning outcomes or competencies. Each college is required to ensure that its programs and program delivery are consistent with these as minimum standards, and must assist students to achieve them.

In addition to seeing competencies or outcomes at the post secondary level, many professional associations in Canada have developed their own standards. I’ve been involved with the development of competencies for entry-level recreation practitioners as well as the more advanced competencies required for community leadership.

While it all sounds relatively straightforward, the process of getting consensus for competencies for an entire field or practice can be quite complicated and time consuming. This is in large part due to the fact that ideally, the process should involve a cross-section of practitioners, employers, and academics who may not always agree on what is essential.

Additionally, there is the matter of grasping the concept of a competency. It’s not, as many think, simply a list of discrete skills. Instead, competencies describe a culminating demonstration of learning and achievement that typically reflects a combination of skills, knowledge, and attitudes.

Each competency is also accompanied by additional descriptions, elements or indicators. These further define the level and quality of performance necessary to meet the requirements of an individual competency or learning outcome.  For example, my current work has resulted in the development of six community leadership competencies. These include being able to act as an agent of change who understands, demonstrates, and exerts influence by building trusting relationships, and being able to utilize a proactive systems-thinking or holistic approach. Each of these two sample competencies also includes a list of indicators as further explanation.                       

Identifying and agreeing to a foundational set of vocational competencies allows a field or practice to work with post secondary institutions to develop strategies for working together. They are also useful when it comes to promoting the profession, writing position descriptions, and developing evaluation strategies.
Additionally the competencies would serve as a framework to help Debra’s committee develop a meaningful and relevant conference program, direct Susan to the most appropriate learning and skill development, and help Tom develop appropriate training materials.

Having competencies for our respective fields may take time and energy to develop but they are a wise investment that provides a valuable foundation and filter for learning and growth. 

Posted on 08-02-10


Great blog, Brenda!  We all need places to not to ‘start at’ but to also ‘aspire to’... competencies help us with these reference points.  I’m working on my community leadership competencies all the time.  What are other people working at?

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  08/03/10  at  11:39 AM

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