Experimental Online Program is Strategically Aligned with the Right Partners

An experimental online program is available for students at Southern Hampshire University. The university is experimenting with a “competencies” based model that sees students showing their mastery of certain competencies before moving on to the next challenge or competency. The example given in the article by Marc Parry from The Chronicle has a student proving they can use “logic, reasoning and analysis to address a business problem.”

Although this is an innovative step in education reform, assessing student competencies is something that currently occurs in the typical “seat hour” degree completion. Students must prove their competency via projects, exams, essays, or presentations and more. The real power of this model lies in the fact that “seat hours” are not the determining factor. This model could truly allow students to become competent with a skill or skill set in an amount of time that is suitable to the student’s learning ability and life situation. It truly makes learning a skill about the learning and not about the time to complete.

In the article Parry refers to an anomaly that has US state law makers, the white house, and even some private foundations, with a common goal to graduate more students, to do so in more timely manner, and to keep the costs for students lower. The alignment of goals has made funding projects(like the one at Southern Hampshire University) a possibility as the needs for education reform at the political level seem to be bending to accommodate these experiments. In the case of Southern Hampshire University not only was funding needed to get the courses built and optimized for a competency based model, but the ability to award funding to students for non-credit hour courses was also granted. So although funding is a key issue in helping these experimental programs get off the ground, it seems that funding agents need to align goals and strategies with those in the political game to tear down other barriers to education; in this case financial concerns.

This alignment seems to be a good thing for education reform, and education funding, but what about the ideas that are not aligned? Are these ideas ruled out? They are not nessecarily ruled out, but the ones with funding, and that are aligned with political education reforms may get more of the spotlight, causing other reforms or projects to be overshadowed.

What do you think about a competency based program of studies? Are there areas on campus that you could see competency base programs succeed?

Check out the full article by Marc Parry below: