Competencies vs. Learning Outcomes

There’s buzz growing around competency-based learning and something called “competency-based pedagogy”. Much of it appears muddled, particularly when someone wants to throw in a technology to enable this “competency-based pedagogy”. Perhaps it’s important to make sure we are all speaking the same language.

Fallacy 1:
Competencies are equivalent to learning outcomes

Fallacy 2:
A series of related and linked competencies is equivalent to a curriculum

Fallacy 3:
A curriculum that is mapped to competencies means that the competencies determine the teaching approach.


1. Competencies: describe abilities (cognitive, motor, affective…) of a particular discipline

  • Can be taught, or not: the point is that the teaching/training of an individual is not the purpose of articulating a competency; the goal of a well-conceived competency is to describe a desired ability.
  • Can be articulated to degrees of expertise/accomplishment

2. Curriculum design: the determination of what a learning intervention will be composed of

  • driven by who determines what is required and how it is determined
  • driven by what paradigm the curriculum is based

3. Competency-based curriculum design:

  • Competencies from the discipline inform the design of the curriculum
  • As such, competencies need to be translated into curriculum outcomes, based on the parametres of the specific learning intervention

4. Instructional design/lesson planning within a competency-based curriculum:

  • Lesson planning entails linking lesson outcomes to competency-linked curricular outcomes
  • Lesson outcomes do not equal competencies. Good instructional strategies will embed single and multiple competencies, and parts of competencies, in holistic, authentic learning activities that create contexts for (often partial) competency acquisition.

Some strategies for working with instructors teaching within a competency-based curriculum:

  • Highlight the difference between a competency and developing learning outcomes for a lesson that supports the acquisition of one or more elements of a competency
  • Work with instructors to focus on authentic and student-centred activities to achieve the lesson’s learning outcomes
  • Work with instructors to map their lesson activities to competencies as a secondary activity