What Competency-based learning is...

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Successful and relevant application of learning happens when individuals activate and apply knowledge, attitudes and skills in a specific situation. This ability can be described as competence. From a lifelong learning perspective it is a short time people spend in educational institutions. Outside of formal learning settings they continue self-development, gain new insights and shape their personalities. This new view on learning as a continous, transfor­mative and diverse process is becoming more important for the society.

Reasons for Competence-based Democracy Learning

We might conclude, that education and qualification needs to respond to that observation and cover the broad range of experience, attitudes, book-knowledge and skills that one has and needs for his or her active and autonomously shaped life.

Reasons for Competence-based Learning

  • Considers all learners’ experience as a relevant resource - of diverse situations, roles and life phases.
  • Goes beyond knowledge-centred teaching to understand competence as knowledge and critical understanding, skills, attitudes, behaviours and values, and an understanding of how they interact.
  • Takes the individual learner seriously and tailors the learning design to their needs.
  • Strengthens individual ownership of their learning biography.
  • Sees learning as a social and cooperative process – between classroom and real life, formal, non-formal and informal learning, and between sectors.
  • Appreciates the diversity of perspectives and learning styles in a group as a potential (instead of trying to even these qualities).
  • Is relevant, because it allows learners to apply their abilities in many different social roles and situations.
  • Is flexible, because it understands learning as a non-linear process instead of forcing it into an overly linear curriculum.

...and 5 Problematic Practices

Beyond all missionary words we need to acknowledge, that competencelearning is not always easy to implement. It is often a disruptive element in the learning culture of a school, of an academy or an organization. Changes are never easy and dilemmas appear between old proven and new risky ways of educating and unclarity about how they might go together. For instance:

What Competence-centered Learning Should Not Be

  • A new layer of bureaucracy: It's intended to give learners and teachers more freedom instead more rules or procedures. It requires flexible teachers/facilitators and more freedom for learners.
  • Tailorist instead tailor-made learning: It's a humanist and holistic approach aiming to support autonomy, not usability. However, some promoters of competences misunderstand competence-learning as emphasizing on skill training only.
  • Optimization without development: Competence is not a self-optimization tool nor for assessing the fittest or increasing competitiveness. They are an instrument for individual and free personal development.
  • Doing without thinking: Competence-centered learning involves knowledge, attitude and skills. But some understand that it is a practice-only approach. However, successful action is not possible without the ability of a learner to assess and reflect on activities and goals.

Democratic Learning in (Digital) Transformation

Human-centered social change requires individuals feeling capable to address challenges and to co-create a situation in an often ambigous and open context. A transversal understanding of learning is becoming crucial in here, helping learners in mobilising knowledge, skills and attitudes acquired in diverse contexts and social roles. In this perspective the meaning of competence "involves the ability to meet complex demands, by drawing on and mobilizing psychosocial resources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context" (OECD).

Competence (OECD)

"(Competence)involves the ability to meet complex demands, by drawing on and mobilizing psychosocial resources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context." (OECD)

Key Competences for Lifelong Learning

"Competences are defined as a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes, where:

  • knowledge is composed of the facts and figures, concepts, ideas and theories which are already established and support the understanding of a certain area or subject;
  • skills are defined as the ability and capacity to carry out processes and use the existing knowledge to achieve results;
  • attitudes describe the disposition and mind-sets to act or react to ideas, persons or situations." (EU Key Competences for Lifelong Learning

Focus of Democracy-related Learning

Education encompassing knowledge, action and attitudes is the basis for forms of education such as democracy and human rights education, which aim at the protection of democracy, the empowerment of people as well as at democratic change. Education for democratic citizenship includes learning...

  • Democracy as a form of governance, including principles, structures and rights.
  • Democracy as a form of living and learning, including democratic attitudes and habits.
  • Democracy as a form of society, including social and participatory processes and relations.

Goals of Human Rights Education

  • Learning about human rights, knowledge about human rights, what they are, and how they are safeguarded or protected;
  • Learning through human rights, recognising that the context and the way human rights learning is organised and imparted has to be consistent with human rights values (e.g. participation, freedom of thought and expression, etc.) and that in human rights education the process of learning is as important as the content of the learning;
  • Learning for human rights, by developing skills, attitudes and values for the learners to apply human rights values in their lives and to take action, alone or with others, for promoting and defending human rights.

Source: Council of Europe, COMPASS

The digital transformation is one example, illustrating how our learning concepts and understanding of education might change toward a holistic perspective.

Holistic Digital Transformation Learning

  • Learning for digitalisation: co-determining the digital transformation in society.
  • Learning about digitalisation: social, cultural, economic impact of digitalisation in society.
  • Learning through digitalisation: digital learning, digital tools and services.



The focus on applicability of learning, the lifelong perspective and the positive attitude toward learners as the ones being able to co-create their learning biography, these are achievements of competence-based learning concepts. A shift has taken place from traditional knowledge dissemination toward modern competence development.

Experiential Learning

What we do is the result of observation, action, and reflection. In contrast to a linear understanding of learning, this dynamic could be described as circular development. It involves referring to previous experiences as well as anticipating outcomes, and is fluid.

Power and Participation

Empowerment in the context of Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education has the goal to enable citizens to claim their rights, act in the public, get involved in discussions or decision-making, and live and act according to democratic values.

Motivation and Inspiration

Motivation is vital to self-directed learning, the intrinsic joy in doing well - when we want to achieve something for the resulting personal satisfaction alone. A person’s motivation corresponds to available resources and to his or her own personal needs: The key to intrinsic motivation is the achievement of self-actualization.



Competence Frameworks

From the community library

Competence Frameworks for Educators

From the community library


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A competence is more than just knowledge and skills. It involves the ability to meet complex demands.

"A com­pe­tence is more than just know­ledge and skills. It involves the ability to meet complex demands, by drawing on and mobili­zing psycho­social resources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context."