Competency-Based Education (CBE) and Educational Partnerships (EP)


The focus of this compare and contrast will be limited to the corporate training (and business consulting) environment.


Despite their differences, CBE and EP—from a corporate perspective is identical:  a significant ROI (i.e., return-on-investment) for dollars spent.  In other words, employers want to know that their investment in employee training pays in ways, including but not limited to: greater skills, greater efficiency, greater customer satisfaction, lower costs, etc. Given that premise, there are some differences between the two approaches.


Educational Partnerships

According to Hill[1] educational partnerships require the educational facility to include the courses in their curriculum to ensure a student can:

  1. Attain some “industry certification”.
  2. Apply successfully completed coursework towards a degree.

Hill refers to Cisco’s Networking Academy as a technology company that has embraced this model. Cisco’s rationale for housing this partnership under their “Corporate Social Responsibility” umbrella—and not part of a line of business or as a central corporate business function—is unclear. While Cisco clearly benefits from the arrangement, its being marketed as “Social Responsibility” seems more like corporate patronage than human capital investment.


That noted, the concept of EP exploded since it first appeared in 2007 (Hill)[2]. For example, a quick Google search of “educational partnerships” reveals a litany of over 20 million colleges, universities and other organizations willing to provide these services or facilitate the process.


With Cisco’s success, many of nation’s most elite universities, like Stanford, have entered the educational partnership marketplace. For example, Stanford has partnered with Google[3]. According to its website, Stanford is also willing to expand its educational partnerships into research partnership, and vice versa[4].

For profit colleges and universities are also in the mix.  Probably the best known is the largest for-profit university, University of Phoenix, who touts its successes as corporate partners for both on-line and blended courses.[5]


While the relationship is called a “partnership”, programs and courses appear to assume more towards a traditional academic model than what might be considered a business bottom-line mentality,.


Competency-based Education.

According to Hill, CBE effectively begins at the endpoint or outcomes (e.g., skills, competencies).  Once articulated, instructional designers and content experts work backwards; they create a pathway that can include content, exercises, simulations, etc.


The learner who follows the defined path will acquire specific predetermined skills and/or knowledge.  CBE has been shown to be an especially effective to teach technical materials (e.g., engineering).


While no direct link was found, CBE seems to have its roots in the business practice of Management by Objectives (MBO). As defined by, MBO is, “A management system in which the objectives of the organization are agreed upon so that management and employees understand a common way forward.”[6] MBO dates back to the 1950’s[7].


In the Glossary of Educational Reform, CBE refers to “systems of instruction, assessment grading, and academic reporting that are based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education”.[8]The Glossary implies that that the desired outcome is the starting point.


In 2002, Vorhees posited that CBE models will force a rethinking the relationship between educators, schools and accreditations. Extending CBE to corporate environments requires a broader scope than accreditations. For example, on-line and blended MBA, engineering and other post-bachelor’s technical degrees can be tailored to employer specifications.


Currently, 2014, the Clayton Cristensen Institute’s blogs, articles and books champion CBE as (positively) disruptive force.[9][10]  Essentially, both Vorhees and the Institute suggest that CBE thinking will likely be infused in all other on-line, blended and platform education.



In sum, the premise for EP and CBE is the same: a significant ROI for dollars spent on educating employees. While the EP model is seen as a vehicle to increase employees’ skill sets and knowledge, it appears rooted in the traditional academic model. CBE seems to be rooted in the far older MBO approach to business. Like MBO outcomes are the focus. And, the process to get there is detailed. While the outcomes of EP and CBE might be identical, the probability of achieving them with CBE might be higher.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s