Competence development

240_f_57698650_fkwfsai71f5bgz2536i1bbuyi5hti1tnI am currently attending a meeting on educational policy development with 25 representatives of higher education (mostly Ministries) from European members states. In the meeting of the working group nr 3 on developing the future education policy recommendation here in Stockholm, we are discussing the experiences and the way forward the European member states have made in the field of Competence orientation of higher education. And we ended at the same conclusion like discussions about competence development often  end…: it is complicated!

Why is that? I was wondering why a discussion about competence orientation is so difficult to conclude something from. I believe, it is because with this topic we are right in the center of the educational concepts, and these are, as we know, very much rooted in national cultures, terminology is often not common and what is right and wrong is subject to longstanding rules, experiences and practices.


However, our discussion proofed to be very fruitful in the end. The discussion about competence in higher education has three important moments:

Moment 1: The Why

That is the rational, the context for which we assume competence orientation is the important future development in education.

The main issue on which our argument builds here is uncertainty. Educators, policy makers all over Europe become more and more aware that we educate for an uncertain future. For jobs which we do not know yet and which have not been developed yet. The importance  of the concept of competence oriented higher education which emphasizes: Being able to act successfully in unknown future context is there fore more convincing than the current state of the art model – to convey  knowledge which can be reproduced any time. This has to do with exactly this idea of uncertainty.

Moment 2: The How

If we have accepted the why – the how becomes important. Here it is indeed really complex and it is a matter of hard and deep education science considerations… but also institutional management and strategy issues. There are a lot of models about curriculum development and a lot of different definitions of competence and competence assessment techniques available out there. An important  learning which  we could draw from the discussion in the working group: There is one particular place in an educational experience where competence orientation becomes manifest – and that is the assessment, the test, the exam. If this is designed in a traditional way and asked for mere reproduction of knowledge, then, the entire educational process is probably also designed in a way whee education is seen as  knowledge transfer to students, and not skills and attitudes development. But if the test or assessment  is designed in a way that it  focusses on performance, solving a problem, mastering a problematic situation, act in a successful way, then the learning before also has to be designed in an active way, competence oriented.     There fore: Competence orientation needs to include – or even start from – the moment of designing assessments for competence.

Moment 3: Institutions and policies 

In our discussion we are always asking for the consequences for European and  national policy making in higher education and institutional development. In the discussion it was becoming clear that teacher education is key for successful  implementation of competence orientation, that sufficient time for development and implementation and good practice sharing will be important. The implementation needs a holistic full institution strategy to get the important topic out of the corner of the individual enthusiastic responsibility into the institutional responsibility.

The meeting was very interesting and I am looking forward to the next which will take place in April 2017 in Brussels.

About Ulf-Daniel Ehlers

Ulf is a learning innovation expert and has been appointed Professor for Educational Management and Lifelong Learning at the Baden-Wurttemberg Cooperative State University in Karlsruhe in 2011. From 2011-2016 he held the position of Vicepresident at the same university and has been responsible for Quality and Academic Affairs. He held positions as Associate Professor of University Duisburg-Essen (Germany), Professor for Technology Enhanced Learning of University Augsburg (Germany) and Associate Professor of the Graduate School for Management and Technology of the University of Maryland University College (USA). Ulf is a featured keynote-speaker and speaker to audiences in more than 45 countries and is author of more than 150 scholarly articles with over 3000 academic citations. Ulf holds degrees in English Language, Social Sciences and Education Sciences from the University of Bielefeld, where he finished his Ph.D. with honors in the field of Technology Enhanced Learning in 2003. He was awarded his habilitation in 2008 from the University of Duisburg-Essen.
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