Competence Theory and Research

Published on
August 1, 2012

The concept of competence has a rich history and is most known from current practices of competence-based education and competence-management in organisations. During the period that the concept is studied at ECS, a lot of critique was given. ‘We don’t need the concept in educational science, it does not add anything’, ‘It is a container-concept, everyone attributes a different meaning to it’, ‘There is no theoretical background for the notion of competence’, and ‘There is hardly any research on competence’.

Wrong. There is no excuse for ignorance, especially not when one studies in a group called Education and Competence Studies. That is why the group decided to teach a course on competence theory and research.

What was known already was shared more broadly: there is a massive amount of theory and research. Think about the seminal work of R.W. White of 1959, Motivation Reconsidered: the Concept of Competence in the Psychological Review, cited 5515 times (Publish or Perish), or The Core Competence of the Organisation of 2006 by C.K. Prahalad and G. Hamel, cited even 17929 times.

The best piece of recent research on the relation between competence and performance is done by Dave Bartram and published in 2005 as The Great Eight Competencies: A Criterion-Centric Approach to Validation in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The H-index of the concept competence is 263, which should silence all critics who state that there is hardly any theory or research in the field.

This all sounds a bit defensive, although we are generally very positive of our research domain. And apart from the proliferation of the concept in practice, we also see further attention to it in educational research. Did you note the key term ‘competence’ in the directory of the American Educational Research Association? Check.

The course we taught had five components:

  1. Genesis of the competence movement; competence development in organisations
  2. Competence standards, vocations and professions; Competence-profiling for vocational and professional education
  3. ‘Competentiveness’ of curricula in vocational education; measuring and developing competence-based teaching and learning
  4. Competence, innovation, sustainability and entrepreneurship research
  5. Recent approaches and purposes of (authentic) competence assessment

The course was finalized by producing papers that interlinked the themes of the course and the PhD-work of the candidates. Some students took an oral exam.

There were around 14 participants, most of which were PhD students from ECS itself, but there were also students from ICO and WASS, the graduate schools of the educational sciences in the Netherlands and the social sciences in Wageningen University.

Although the evaluation results are not fully known yet, the course went well. Participants appreciated it to be able to go in depth in competence theory and research. This first course definitively tastes for more. Therefore we are thinking of teaching a follow-up course ‘Competence Theory and Research 2’ during the first months of 2013.

Contact Prof. dr. M. Mulder for more information.