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Disruptive Education - Competency Based Training

May 21, 2015


A New Learning Paradigm

When we think of the word learning we inevitably picture formal learning - schooling, university, TAFEs, technical colleges. No one doubts that a great deal of the ‘learning’ someone does throughout their life falls outside of this, such as routine on-the-job activities, or self-taught skills, however small. Capturing this outside learning and recognising it has been on the agenda for a long time, and for good reason.

The concept of Competency Based Training (CBT), has been present within the VET sector for some time.  The concept was first introduced to Australia in the late 1980s as part of wider economic policy measures to improve the skill levels of the Australian workforce (Dempsey, 2013). At it’s core, Competency Based Training is outcome based as opposed to time based; it aims to pull away from using time as a yardstick for completing a degree or course and focus more on the outputs of learning: what a student knows and is able to do (Kamenetz, 2014)

The big drawing card for CBT is that it caters to numerous trends shaping the future of the education industry.

Because CBT is not focused around rigid time constraints students do not have to worry about full-time or part-time workloads but can schedule their workload around their other commitments. This is especially important for those entering into vocational education at earlier and later stages in life and the need to work around school or full-time work. This is a crucial requirement for the future of the education industry as the trend in both older and younger students is only expected to grow. In the UK, the total number of vocational qualifications awarded increased 11% in 2009, which was driven largely by students undertaking vocational courses while still at school.  In Australia, the number of VET school students aged 15 to 19 years increased from 167,100 in 2006 to 216,700 in 2009.  This growth is fuelled by schools’ increasing accountability for student outcomes beyond the school gates (Davies & Crabb, 2011).  Furthermore as the demand for new and higher-level skills increases and the population in developed countries ages, older workers will increasingly be required to be retrain. Consequently there needs to be a focus on lifelong learning policies that can fit around participants’ full-time jobs. Singapore quadrupled its' continuing education and training capacity from 22,000 workers in 2007 to 80,000 workers in 2010.

The change in the demographic of students applying for vocational education has led to another trend within the education sector: the need for multi-channel and immersive training delivery. Constant technological advancements and the increased need for vocational students to fit training around their other commitments have caused a significant global uptake of online and blended learning. The growth rate in student online enrolments in the U.S alone in 2010 far outstripped overall growth in the higher education student population and Australia has experienced similar bouts of growth. Furthermore experimental mobile applications are emerging globally and are a significant resource for training and assessment (CISCO, 2011).

This need for online and blended training fits well with the framework of CBT, which offers multiple training lessons, assessments and resources online. 

Another key characteristic of CBT is Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), a process for giving candidates credit for skills, knowledge and experience gained through working and learning. RPL can be gained at any point in a student’s life through informal or formal learning, work experience or even volunteering. This is especially useful for students who are looking to update their skills or re-enter the workforce, as previous knowledge and skills retained can be counted towards future programs, which can considerably shorten the training course. RPL is becoming an increasingly important factor for the education sector, as student retention becomes an increasing battle for training providers. In the year between 2010-2011 one in five students in the US and one in seven students in Canada did not make it into the second year of their college courses. The US figure alone represents a total cost to the economy of $6.2 billion from students not being retained (CISCO, 2011). Australia has also experienced the challenge of retaining students. The length of time needed to complete training courses and the costs involved are two key factors. Allowing students to fast-track their training through using RPL may be a contributing factor to minimising drop-out rates.

While the Australian VET sector has been incorporating these elements of CBT into their training practice for the last decade, the recent global drivers within the education industry indicate that the prevalence of CBT is only going to continue to increase. During July 2014, the U.S Department of Education announced a new round of its “experimental sites” initiative, which waives certain rules for federal aid programs so that institutions can test new approaches to training without loosing aid eligibility. Sources said a majority of 350 institutions were planning to use this initiative to either ramp up or begin Competency Based Education (the US equivalent of CBT) (Fain, 2014).

Technical Vocational Education & Training (TVET) programs in India hope to up-skill 500 million workers for the technical and manufacturing  industries by 2022 through using competency-based education models. Closer to home, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines governments are increasing  vocational education targets (Davies & Crabb, 2011).

The market for Competency Based Training presents an opportunity for Australian training providers within the VET sector to expand their training packages offshore. Already, Australian VET institutes have increased the number of offshore student enrolments from 21,000 to close to 60,000 students between 2004 and 2008. Considering that so many current trends within the global education industry serve CBT, and the VET sector already incorporates CBT into their training, the stage is set for Australian training providers to exploit their knowledge and application of CBT and branch out internationally. 


CISCO. (2011). Global Trends in Vocational Education and Training. Retrieved from http://www.cisco.com/web/ANZ/netsol/strategy/content/training.pdf

Davies, B. & Crabb, A. (2011). Global Trends in Vocational Education and Training. Retrieved from http://www.dandolo.com.au/images/reports/global-trends-dandolopartners.pdf

Dempsey, M. (2013). Impacts of the changing nature of the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system on educators within the VET system in Australia. Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/586

Fain. Paul. (2014). Experimenting with Aid- Competency Based Education. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/07/23/competency-based-education-gets-boost-education-department

Kamenetz. Anya. (2015). Competency-Based Degree Programs On The Rise. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/01/26/379387136/competency-based-degree-programs-on-the-rise

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