Competency-based Learning in Higher Education

Tritton, Brian (2008) Competency-based Learning in Higher Education. Research Master thesis, Victoria University.


In 2004 the Victorian Office of Higher Education accredited a four-year undergraduate degree: Bachelor of Health Science (Myotherapy). This degree had stemmed from a three-year competency-based, Advanced Diploma of Myotherapy which is no longer accredited in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. Myotherapy can be defined as the treatment and management of musculoskeletal pain. The Myotherapy degree program was developed as a content-based curriculum without a formal competency-based component. As with many vocational programs in the Higher Education (HE) sector, Myotherapy requires the development of both underpinning and acquired knowledge to carry out a number of procedural tasks. Consequently, this study intended to ascertain if there is a place for the formalisation of Competency-based Learning in Higher Education. A qualitative methodology using principles of grounded theory was used for the study. The data examined comprised documentation pertaining to competency-based programs combined with information from descriptive surveys and semi-structured interviews conducted with a cohort of participants experienced in teaching, lecturing and/or designing curriculum for competency-based programs in the VET and HE sectors. Data collected was coded throughout the collection process and analysed for identification of themes and interpretation. Results of the study suggest that competency-based learning has a place in the higher education sector and can be effective in those elements of a course which place an emphasis on procedural tasks. Its suitability was acknowledged as a component part of an integrated curriculum rather than the complete program. Results also suggest that the nature of competency-based programs in the VET sector tends to produce a rigidity of thinking which can be described as ‘protocolic’ and based on the ability to following specific procedures, whereas the aims of the HE sector require graduates to acquire functional knowledge based on analytic inquiry. This implies that the HE sector needs to look ‘beyond competency’ to an approach such as ‘capability’ to produce graduates with the required generic skills and graduate attributes considered to be both employable and possessing acceptable qualities within the broader community.

Item type Thesis (Research Master thesis)
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 330000 Education
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Education
Keywords competency-based learning, tertiary education, integrated curriculum, health education, Australia
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