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Part 5 in my Top 10 Trends of 2014 series

I’m not a big fan of using the Hype Cycle to explain the adoption of technologies. The Hype Cycle is a great piece of marketing for the research firm Gartner, but I’m not sure of its utility beyond that. Yes, sometimes it does seem like certain trends reach a “Peak of Inflated Expectations” then sink into the “Trough of Disillusionment.” But not all trends work that way, and the Hype Cycle does nothing to explain why or why not technologies become interesting or important or mainstream. There’s not a clear timeline for adoption or rejection or “best practices” to emerge. As the annual Horizon Report illustrates, for example, some technologies – hyped or not – stay on the cusp of adoption for years. Predicted to become “a thing,” some instead simply fade away.

Neither competency-based education nor alternative certification efforts have reached the frenzied hype of MOOCs. (Not much in education technology has, with the possible exception of Khan Academy.) After writing tens of thousands of words on the last two) posts in this series, these trends – competency and certification – feel much smaller. Or at least this post is shorter. There is talk that competency-based education and certification are poised to become “a thing,” to "disrupt education," but again, I just don’t think that change happens in ways that neatly fits into a research firm’s or a business school professor’s model.

Growing interest this year in competency-based education and alternative certifications is certainly tied to the labor market and to the high cost of college tuition. It’s also a reflection of the changing demographics of post-secondary students. The average age of those enrolled in the Flexible Option, the University of Wisconsin’s competency-based degree program, for example: 37. And finally, competency-based initiatives are related to a very, very old push to free students from “seat-time” and “the credit hour” and to allow them to move through course materials “at their own pace.” Thanks to technology, some argue, this is increasingly possible.

But competency-based education is hardly new. The General Educational Development test (the GED) is over 70 years old. Initially designed to help soldiers who’d joined the military without finishing high school demonstrate that they had academic skills equivalent to those with a HS diploma, the GED has been an important, albeit highly flawed, competency-based assessment.

A newly revised GED went into effect at the beginning of the year. The test is now a for-profit effort run jointly by Pearson and the non-profit American Council on Education (ACE). The new exam is aligned with the Common Core (the next trend in this series!), and it’s proven to be more difficult to pass (just 53% of test-takers now pass, as opposed to 72% under the older version). The new exam is more expensive as well. The price has gone up to $120, and you’re now charged $30 each time you retake it. As a result, the number of those taking the test has plunged. During the first half of the year, only 105,000 had taken the test; in the past, about 750,000 typically take the test each year.

As this change highlights, it's worth asking who benefits from, who profits from competency-based programs, and how?

Read the rest of the post (just over 2300 words this time) here.

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Audrey Watters


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