Competency-based Education: Strategies for Change Leadership (Part 2)

Office with workers mapping out strategy for project

For many in higher education, Competency-Based Education (CBE) is synonymous with change, big change. But one of the most important — yet often overlooked — aspects of developing a successful CBE program is change leadership. Effective change leadership can mean the difference between success and failure in mobilizing and energizing the vital human resources that drive CBE innovation. We have identified six strategies that illustrate the kind of intentional and thoughtful change leadership essential for developing innovative CBE programs.

In my last blog post, I covered the first three strategies for success. In brief, these were:

  1. Be clear about the particular need for a CBE program
  2. Question all of your assumptions in a formal way
  3. Allow time for debate, dissent, and questioning

In this post, I will complete our list of six strategies by diving into the last three areas to address.


Six Strategies for Change Leadership and CBE (4-6)

  1. Create an environment for innovation and provide the right support to empower faculty and staff.
    Once the proposed program idea is adopted, the biggest challenge is to engage faculty and staff as partners and owners of the program. There is a predominant notion that visionary leaders craft a clear pathway to change, but in reality the most effective and innovative changes result from visionaries who outline goals for a change and then step back, providing the structure and support to unleash the creative and innovative thinking of the key participants.The IMPACT program at Purdue is a good example of just such an innovation structure. Consisting of a collaboration among six university offices, IMPACT seeks to “achieve a greater student-centered learning environment by incorporating active and collaborative learning as well as other student-centered teaching and learning practices and technologies into large enrollment foundational courses. “The entire program provides a design process and support for faculty, the educational equivalent of an R&D lab, but it engages faculty to work with designers to identify how this goal will be achieved. Change in this instance is not something done to faculty or staff but done collaboratively with active faculty and staff involvement.
  1. Build the program based on essential and vital relationships that engage participants – especially employers.
    Effective change leadership recognizes that people are not merely assets; they are essential ingredients in the success of any new change–especially CBE. Change leadership strategy seeks to form, grow, and sustain the kind of relationships that can propel the program. Employer relationships are one that higher education has perhaps struggled with the most. CBE programs offer rich opportunities to more effectively include employers more directly in the curriculum, in helping develop important personal and social skills, and with practical experiences tied to career success. The College for America at Southern New Hampshire University recruits most students through employer relationships. But these relationships go beyond recruiting students. CBE programs not only need to define competencies well, but also need to demonstrate their validity through evidence after program completion – evidence gathered in partnership with employers.
  1. Recognize that change leadership changes over time.
    Too often the emphasis on change centers on getting a new initiative off the ground. But after a successful launch, different challenges and needs usually emerge related to sustaining, growing, or improving that change. Nina Morel, Associate Dean of the College of Professional Studies at Lipscomb University confirms this experience. She relates that during the startup phase for Lipscomb University’s CORE CBE program the conversation had do a lot with accreditation and approvals for one program in within the Professional College for adult learners. But as the program matured and university leaders began to look at ways to grow and expand the CBE efforts more people began to see and feel the impact it could have across the institution. The conversation shifted from a focus on approving a new program to a deeper discussion what the program means to the future of the institution. The change leadership process is still an essential part of the process.

Unleashing Rather Than Managing Innovation

In his book, Change Leadership in Higher Education, author Jeffrey L. Buller convincingly argues that change leadership produces better results, because the emphasis is on building highly participatory processes for change, innovation, and design. Effective change leadership is not about managing the process for a new academic initiative, but rather is about creating the underlying conditions and support to allow new innovation and creativity emerge, invigorated by faculty and staff who view themselves as empowered to forge powerful and sustainable change rather than seeing changes as something that happens to them


Fuller’s Ten Analytical Lenses

Lens Focus Relevant Questions
20/20 lens Provide clarity and objectivity What are the facts?

What is indisputable?

What do data indicate?

Concave lens Correct for myopia How can we see the forest, not just the trees?
What is the big picture?
How might we get too caught up in the petty details?
Convex lens Correct for hyperopia How can we see the trees, not just the forest?
What details do we need to see before we can proceed?
How might we get too carried away by remote possibilities?
Telephoto lens Scan distant horizons What is far off in the distance?
What is the territory like between here and there?
How can we sharpen the view of what lies ahead of us?


Bifocal lens Permit close analysis What has been right in front of our faces all along?
What assets and resources do we see around us?
What information do we need to see clearly before we can proceed?
Rose-colored lens Take an optimistic view What could work out unexpectedly well?
What is the best-case scenario?
What benefits might occur because of this idea?
Sunglasses Take a dim view What could go wrong?
What is the worst-case scenario?
What problems might we encounter along the way?
Rearview Mirror Bring the unseen into view Where have we come from?
What is looming behind us?
What might we be overlooking?
Contact lens Enhance social interactions Who are the people around us?
What do they want and need from us?
What do we want and need from them?
Wide-angle lens Take in the whole picture How do all of these views fit together?
How we feel about the overall landscape?Based on what we see, should we proceed?


We also invite you to join the CBE employability conversation in a webinar, taking place November 10th as part of National Distance Learning Week. Edmonds Community College and Texas A&M University will share strategies for developing employer partnerships and increasing the employability of graduates from CBE programs. Event details can be found here.


About the Author

Paul Bowers is a strategic consultant for Learning Strategies with Pearson Higher Education and has worked at the forefront of educational technology and distance learning for 32 years. Paul has served on the Board of the Instructional Management System (IMS, now IMS-Global), the Board of Advisors for the Monterey Institute NROC open courseware project, and on the Iowa Educational Telecommunications Committee. His approach to online education is informed by seminal philosophies and strategies for engaging students in rich and meaningful learning communities that produce deep learning outcomes. Paul has served in a variety of roles at public and private higher education institutions, including 22 years as a faculty member as well as serving as Director, Dean, and Vice President for online and adult learning at several institutions, including Buena Vista University, Cleveland State University, and Hiram College. Paul also has worked extensively with community colleges and universities as a consultant for educational technology in private practice.