Category Archives: Competency Based Education

PIDP 3240 Podcast – What is the Future of Education?

Have a listen to the  following podcast, which is based on an article I recently read. The article link is below, as is the text of the podcast.

I came across an interesting article the first week of our PIDP 3240 course. I subscribe to a number of newsletters on education and technology, including Academica’s daily top ten. Every weekday morning at about 6 am – shortly before I leave for the bus, I get an email that has today’s top ten news stories in the world of Canadian higher education.

Every day, there is at least one article that talks about technology, and this article from January, by Alexander Holt in the online news magazine Vox, really stood out to me as something that I would likely want to draw on at some point. The article is titled “How Amazon could Destroy College as we know it”, and is a fictional account of a speech given by Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, in the year 2030.

However, it touches on certain aspects of technology and education that are already happening and how they might unfold over the next 15 years. In my course journals, I wrote about how I felt the integration of higher education and technology into workplace learning struck a chord with me.

Firstly, I don’t teach in a college setting, or really have any aspirations to do so, but work very closely with teachers, deans, instructional designers, and others involved in that space.

My next big shocking secret is that I have no University Degree, unlike my three brothers who are all PhDs and live very much in the university world.

I chose a path in the trades as a cook, and have leveraged that expertise plus my knack for picking things up quickly and strong core competencies in the English language and all of the other tenets of an academic education like critical thinking skills and the ability to analyze complex information and think outside the box into a decent white collar job over the last 8 years.

For these reasons, I am drawn heavily to the idea of competency based education, and believe it’s what you can do that matters most. Most recently, I have been doing a lot of work on blended learning and open education, particularly in ways it can help apprentices in the trades complete their certifications, but also how I can use similar approaches to help support the tourism industry’s training needs, which is the main function of my job.

Let’s get back to the article. In the story, it talks about how Amazon started to first support their employees’ training in traditional bricks and mortar classrooms, and then started use technology to develop internal certifications, and how that expanded into a discovery that many of their university educated employees didn’t have the skills Amazon needed as their employer.

Now these things have already happened in real life and not just at Amazon. Last year, several major international firms based in the UK, including Ernst and Young, Deloitte and  Penguin Random House all abandoned their requirements of a university degree as a minimum standard for new hires, citing no real evidence that having a degree meant better on the job performance. We’re not talking about new, nimble start-ups here, these are serious major corporations in the business world.

Next the article starts talking about badging – something that I am very interested in and is just starting to take hold in some fields. Badging is the issuing of mini digital credentials, usually linked to a certain competency area, that is recognized by employers as well as in some academic circles. Think of it as a representation of some training or proof of competence that is small, portable, and can easily be validated or accessed, but has a credible source behind it.

Here’s how it works. Take a short course, or get assessed in an area, and you get a digital badge in your portfolio, and move on. Get a few badges that show you are competent in a whole work area, such as supply chain logistics. When you apply for a new job, you show your digital portfolio and badges, etc. Do you get the picture?

Where the article gets into new territory is the next evolution of this. Holt poses that as companies like Amazon build these internal certification systems and see the value, they will realize that other companies might be willing to purchase these same services from them, particularly if they have a digital delivery system. Hence the birth of the fictional Amazon University in the article.

Overall, I found this article a fascinating read, and that it tied into so many of the concepts and ideas that I came across in our text and research for journal entries. In my last journal, I posed the following question, that Brian suggested I share with my classmates:

Will we ever get to a place where the workplace and the classroom are fully integrated?

Is the google degree, or the Amazon University of the future really that far off? Have a read of the article I have talked about today, and let me know your thoughts.


Journal Entry – PIDP 3240 Week 3


There is no doubt that technology is changing the world of education. In chapters 4-8 of Teaching Naked (Bowen, 2012), the author takes us through the various ways that technology will impact course design, delivery of information, student engagement, assessment and ultimately how teachers use the classroom. These changes and more are already taking place, as recent literature continues to unfold and predict how technology is shaping education in increasingly short, iterative cycles. Contact North recently released a two part essay featuring their 2016 outlook on online education and highlight many of the themes predicted in Bowen’s book, but also some that were not even on the horizon yet, such as the emergence of adaptive technology and artificial intelligence into the education space (Contact North, 2016).

Colleges and universities are also moving away from standardized tests and doing more assessment of learning outcomes, with the number of colleges using standardized assessments of knowledge to benchmark student achievement dropping to 38% compared to nearly 50% in 2008 (AACU, 2016). While this is happening, we still rely almost exclusively on high stakes- must pass multiple choice written examinations as a mechanism for certification. The Red Seal program, which issues inter-provincial certification endorsements for 57 trades, relies on a must pass, 100 to 150 question multiple choice exam with a fixed pass score of 70% (Red Seal Program, 2016) as the single most important benchmark for certification. A focus on time spent in the trade, but not necessarily how that time is spent, is the second most used critical factor.


As someone who has worked for a number of years within the post secondary system and specifically in the trades context, this would seem to be an insurmountable challenge. All of the information and research around adult education over the last half century would lead us to believe that must pass certification exams combined with time in trade are not necessarily the best indicators of competence.

Other fields, such as the medical community are moving away from cumulative certification exams and time in trade towards more competency based models (Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, 2015). For those faced with the reality of our certification system in the trades, does this limit the ability of instructors to use technology to transform our educational practices, or does is mean that they have to approach the situation differently?


This presents an interesting paradox for those teaching and designing learning in the trades. While there are those who want to embrace the latest thoughts on course design and ways to use technology to deliver information and assess our students, the reality is that we must still prepare students to write a comprehensive, paper based, multiple choice, timed exam that will be recorded and scored on a bubble sheet. No books, no devices, and not even their instructor will be in the room, as the process is overseen by a third party government assigned invigilator.

Whether or not the students pass this test will be used to determine in part the effectiveness of the teaching, and may also be used to determine which programs get funded in the future, as educational budgets tighten. But does that mean that we can’t embrace better ways of imparting information to the student, and that we shouldn’t strive for students to really understand and interpret the content so that they can apply it to practice in the field? Bowen (2012) articulates how we can use instruments like multiple choice examinations to test higher level thought processes, and perhaps that is one way we can attempt to bridge the concept of using modern teaching practices in a world where antiquated assessment processes still exist.


The reality is, even in the most progressive universities and colleges there exist these kind of paradoxical challenges. I have no doubt that eventually the mechanisms by which we certify tradespeople will shift. I was fortunate to work on a national pilot with The Canadian Centre of Directors of Apprenticeship which tested out various competency based assessment approaches, and which is informing further work to evaluate and implement additional assessment methods and improved national occupational standards through the Strengthening the Red Seal Initiative (CCDA, 2012). It will likely be several more years yet before we see any real change how our summative Red Seal assessments work, but that doesn’t mean that embracing new ideas for teaching and using technology in and out of the classroom is for naught.

I can see that by building skills and scaffolding learning, along with using technology and elements of game play to deliver content and assess progress, we will make the students better prepared for the workplace, but also help them to pass the dreaded “final exam” at the same time. I liked how Bowen (2012) referred to students knowing all of the answers in the test bank as being perceived as cheating or teaching to the test, but his view was of them actually really having a full grasp on the content. We need to look at certification exams as a necessary evil, and do everything in our power to ensure our students are best prepared to succeed. Introducing game play and having them “level up” each time they master a section of the content is a great way to make that happen, as is finding new and engaging ways of delivering the content to them in ways that they will best be able to understand it.

Technology is changing education, but education changes at a much slower pace.


Association of American Colleges and Universities (2016) Trends in Learning Outcomes Assessment. Retrieved from

Bowen, J.A. (2012) Teaching Naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (July 2012) Strengthening the Red Seal: Lessons Learned and Next Steps. Retrieved from

Contact North (2016) A 2016 Look at the Future of Online Learning – Part 1. Retrieved from

Red Seal Program (n.d.) Overview of the Red Seal Examination. Retrieved from

Royal College of Physicians of Canada (n.d.) Competence by Design. Retrieved from

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