By 14 November 2017 | Categories: Skills and Development



The rise of competency-based learning is changing the landscape of higher education in South Africa.

This is according to Sam Paddock, CEO and co-founder of Cape Town online education company GetSmarter, who says that this method of learning has the potential to bridge the gap between higher education and the workplace, because it focuses on what students can do and not just what they know.

“It could shrink the skills gap,” he explains. “Competency-based learning enables students to get academic credit by demonstrating proficiency in specific areas such as leadership, entrepreneurship, business management, computer science, engineering, and teaching.”

It also accommodates the busy lifestyle of working adults who do not have the time to earn university degrees through the traditional methods of higher education, says Paddock.

“It provides the flexibility to hold down a full-time job while earning a degree or certification.”

Competency-based learning also gives millions of adults who struggled to complete college or university but earned some credits the opportunity to obtain degrees or certifications that can lead to good jobs.

“Individuals can quickly prove what skills they already possess and move on to learning those they don’t,” he says.

GetSmarter provides short online outcomes based courses to working professionals worldwide in conjunction with local and international universities.

Outcomes and assessments are the cornerstones of competency-based learning, degrees and certifications are awarded through tangible evidence of learning, and students can apply knowledge acquired through work, life experiences or prior education.

Paddock says that what students know and can do is more important than how they learned it or how long it took to learn.

“Students can fill the gaps in their knowledge through self-study at any time of the day or night from anywhere in the world at their own pace,” he adds.

Regardless of whether they master the course content in 100 or more learning periods or in half as many, they can get credit for their progress.

Digital technologies also allow the learning experience to be personalised to meet each student’s specific needs.

Because students’ progress is measured based on the demonstration of the skills they have acquired, online competency-based learning allows for a quick flow of work-ready individuals.

Employers are looking to hire skilled workers who can demonstrate critical thinking abilities and analyse and problem solve real-world challenges, both of which play an integral role in online competency-based learning, says Paddock.

“Acquiring skills like these is vital in a rapidly changing world where individuals need to embrace a culture of lifelong learning to remain relevant.”

Competency-based learning can help colleges and universities to turn out graduates who are prepared for the working world rather than just being good at memorising lectures and cramming for tests.

“Countless local and international colleges and universities are offering or developing online based education programmes, including competency-based courses,” says Paddock.

In a new survey of more than 100 university deans, nine out of 10 of those surveyed said their campuses will offer more online courses a decade from now than they do today.

The survey was conducted by the Arizona State-Georgetown University Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership and GetSmarter’s US based parent company, 2U, which partners with top colleges and universities to provide online degrees.

“Higher learning institutions worldwide are searching for new approaches like online education to expand student enrollment,” says Paddock.

This will enable them to create new revenue streams when enrollment is declining and tap into the growing market of older students, many of whom are already employed or are looking for jobs.

Charla Long, former dean of professional studies at Lipscomb University in Tennessee, who is now the executive director of the Competency-Based Education Network, is particularly vocal about the value of competency-based learning.

“I think it is being seen as something that can help higher learning institutions sustain themselves,” she was quoted as saying in an article on ( “This might eventually be seen as the new face of higher education.”

Laurie Dodge, vice chancellor and vice provost at Brandman University in California was quoted in the same article as saying: “Competency-based education is popular, and everybody wants a piece of it.”

Another champion of this method of learning is Harvard Business School Professor and disruptive innovation expert Dr. Clayton Christensen. 

"Online competency-based education stands out as the innovation most likely to disrupt higher education," he said in an article on the Western Governors University website:

Visit: for more information on online competency based courses to further career prospects.



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