What is a competency?

A competency is the capability to apply or use a set of related knowledge, skills, and abilities required to successfully perform “critical work functions” or tasks in a defined work setting.

Competencies often serve as the basis for skill standards that specify the level of knowledge, skills, and abilities required for success in the workplace as well as potential measurement criteria for assessing competency attainment.
The difference between a competency and a learning objective:
  • Competencies define the applied skills and knowledge that enable people to successfully perform their work, while
  • Learning Objectives are specific to a course of instruction.
  • Competencies are relevant to an individual’s job responsibilities, roles and capabilities.
  • Competencies are a way to verify that a learner has in fact learned what was intended in the learning objectives.
  • Learning objectives describe what the learner should be able to achieve at the end of a learning period.
  • Learning objectives should be specific, measurable statements and written in behavioral terms.
In short…
  • Learning Objectives say what we want the learners to know, and
  • Competencies say how we can be certain they know it
Here is an example of competencies and learning objectives relating to the competency:
Utilizes appropriate methods for interacting sensitively, effectively, and professionally with persons from diverse cultural, socioeconomic, educational, racial, ethnic and professional backgrounds, and persons of all ages and lifestyle preferences (competency from: Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice)

Learning objectives from a course that relate to the above competency:
Describe the demographic trends and epidemiological trends related to diverse populations in the United States and abroad

Compare and contrast diversity and cultural competency in the public health context

Identify a framework to design culturally competent public health care services for diverse populations

How to write a competency:
1. Begin with a present tense action verb.     (Example: Convert meters to points and inches.)

2. Each action verb requires an object.   (Example: Identify bacteria, fungi, and parasites.)   (Verb followed by object)
3. Each competency is measurable and/or observable.   (Example: Describe general methods of child study by describing such procedures as longitudinal study, case study and correlational study.)
4. Each competency is based on performance.    (Example: Evaluate literacy genre from a historical perspective by comparing and contrasting the literary works in the 19th Century.)
5. Do not use evaluative or relative adjectives.   (Do not use words like good, effective, appropriate.)
6. Do not use evaluative or relative adverbs.   (Do not use words like quickly, slowly, immediately.)
7. Do not use qualifying phrases.  (Do not use a phrase such as “Write with greater confidence.”)
8. Say what you mean, using only necessary words.
  1. Content
    Use all domains as appropriate: cognitive, psychomotor and affective.
  2. Build the level of learning from the lowest level to the highest level in each domain, e.g., from knowledge to evaluation in the cognitive domain; from imitation to naturalization in the psychomotor domain; and from receiving to characterizing in the affective domain.
  3. Organize similar knowledge, skill and abilities together into a competency, developing a smaller number of competencies rather than an extensive number of knowledge, skills and ability outcomes.
  4. Introduce the knowledge, skills and abilities required for transfer to upper division programs, or performance in career.
  5. Relate competencies to prerequisites and general education requirements.
  6. KNOWLEDGE Recognition and recall of facts and specifics   EXAMPLES: Define Describes List State
  7. COMPREHENSION Interprets, translates, summarizes, or paraphrases given information   EXAMPLES: Convert Infer Rewrite
  8. APPLICATION Processes information in a situation different from original learning context   EXAMPLES: Demonstrate Relate
  • ANALYSIS Separates whole into parts; clarifies relationships among elements   EXAMPLES: Diagram Outline Illustrate
  • SYNTHESIS Combines elements to  form new  entity from original one   EXAMPLES Compile  Compose Design
  • EVALUATION Makes decisions, judges, or selects based on criteria and rationale   EXAMPLES: Compare Contrast Justify
Evaluate desired learning level
  • IMITATION Observes skill and attempts to repeat it
  • MANIPULATION Performs skill by instruction rather than observation
  • PRECISION Reproduces a skill with accuracy, proportion, and exactness; usually performed independent of original sources
  • ARTICULATION Combines more  than one skill in sequence with harmony and consistency
  • NATURALIZATION Completes one or  more skills with  ease; requires limited  physical or mental  exertion
  • RECEIVING Listening passively.  Attending to   EXAMPLES: Ask Name
  • RESPONDING Complies to given expectation; shows interest   EXAMPLES: Answer Recite
  • VALUING Displays behavior consistent with single belief or attitude; unforced compliance   EXAMPLES: Complete  Explain Justify
  • ORGANIZING Committed to a set of values as displayed by behavior   EXAMPLES: Integrate Adhere
  • CHARACTERIZING Total behavior is  consistent with values internalized   EXAMPLES: Qualify Modify Perform