Michael Feldstein has been examining Desire2Learn’s competency model that is supposed to make e-learning that much more aligned with education. The D2L model is one that starts with a Competency, from which there are certain Learning Outcomes and from these, Assessments can be developed. Michael shows some of the inherent difficulties with such an approach:
This is the root of one of the most intractable problems in the outcomes debate: What should we be assessing? Which of the questions listed in the previous paragraph is the most important to answer? What is the most important possible outcome of an education? These are cultural, political, philosophical, practical, and ideological questions all tangled up into one big hairball. There isn’t one universally best answer. Some of where you come down depends on why you’re asking the question in the first place. Are concerned with training the next generation of literary scholars? Are you looking to maximize students’ likely economic benefit from their education, regardless of career path? Are you trying to create better citizens? Or do you care most about helping the student cultivate a rich and fulfilling life of the mind? The answers to these questions have a strong impact on whether it makes more sense to look at test scores or portfolios, whether assessment instruments should be the same across courses or even across states, and lots of other critical implementation questions. Without widespread agreement on goals and priorities, there will be no widespread agreement about what to assess or how to assess it.
Given all of these questions, I would say – stop. You cannot create a neat and clean system of competence, outcomes and assessment unless you place everything in a specific context. When you add that context, it is called TRAINING. Within a given context, training works. The military Systems Approach to Training (SAT) which I implemented for many years, includes a competence tool, called a Performance Objective (PO):
- Performance Statement (that which must be done to show competence)
- Conditions (how, when and where a person would be required to do this)
- Standard (to what measurable and observable level of performance must this be done)
Each PO includes Enabling Objectives (EO’s) which describe the Skills, Knowledge & Attitudes that should be learned in order to achieve the PO. Again, all of this is about doing something of value to the organisation in a specific context. It is not about education, self-actualisation or learning how to learn.
Training methods work when you have clear performance objectives, like driving a car or repairing an aircraft. Training methods do not work for education. I previously noted in Training vs Education:
I think that one of the problems with our education system is that there is too much of a focus on getting quantitative data, like testing. These functions are more suited to a “training” system, where the performance requirements are clear, measurable and observable. In education, the performance requirements are fuzzy. There is nothing wrong with either a training focus or an education focus; each one has its merits. The problem is when you try to mix the two. The arguments that I hear over testing or the adoption of blogs in the classroom seem to be the result of mixing a training systems design approach with a general educational approach. Water and oil.
If your organisation, be it a school or a company, has clear performance expectations, then you should use proven performance technologies, such as drill & feedback, performance support, or a wide variety of other interventions. On the other hand, if your objectives are educational in the broad sense, then forget about testing and controlling, and allow learners to explore and construct their own knowledge.
Learning Management Systems purport to manage learning. By definition, they cannot. An LMS can manage administration and perhaps some functions of training, that’s it. Using training tools to manage learning is like using a spreadsheet to grow your garden. A waste of time and energy.