An alternative to competencies: cognitive processes…

Roger Schank in his book, “Teaching Minds”, has identified 12 cognitive processes that underlie learning. I strongly agree with this idea and its application. Schank breaks the 12 processes down into 3 areas:

Conceptual Processes:

  1. Prediction: Making a prediction about the outcome of actions.
  2. Modelling: Building a conscious model of a process
  3. Experimentation: Experimenting and replanning based on success and failure.
  4. Evaluation: Improving our ability to determine the value of something on many different dimensions.

Analytic Processes:

  1. Diagnosis: Making a diagnosis of a complex situation by identifying relevant factors and seeking causal explanations.
  2. Planning: Learning to plan; needs analysis; conscious and subconscious of what goals are satisfied by what plans; us eof conscious case-based planning.
  3. Causation: Detecting what has caused a sequence of events to occur by relying on a case base of previous knowledge of similar situations.
  4. Judgement: Making an objective judgement.

Social Processes

  1. Influence: Understand how others respond to your requests and recognizing consciously and unconsciously how to improve the process.
  2. Teamwork: Learning how to achieve goals by using a team, consciously allocating roles, managing inputs from others, coordinating actors, and handling conflicts.
  3. Negotiation: Making a deal.
  4. Describing: Creating and using conscious descriptions of situations to identify faults to be fixed.

Like competencies, these are developed over time. Indeed, they really have no end and directly sponsor lifelong learning. A course ends. Improving negotiation skills does not.

This is an alternative example to show that education systems need to be flexible — particularly universities. Each distinct region in a province, state, or country has unique needs that should be developed and measured accordingly. A one standard fits all is the old factory approach and only convenient for institutions to weed through the masses. It actually does not have anything to do with real learning.

Of course, there will always be some kind of standard. No problem. Every kid should leave high school being able to communicate effectively and there most certainly needs to be standards for that. But everyone needing to meet the same requirements to get into higher learning is preposterous. Especially as regions need to focus on their strengths and keep their young people employed in the area. What is needed in the a large city is not the same as what is needed in a rural area. Education systems need to be flexible to allow these regions to develop assessments based on their needs and not be hamstrung by a one size fits all approach.

We already allow teachers, for the most part, the autonomy to teach their classes as they see fit. It is not that hard to stretch that ability to an entire district. It is the universities that need to flexible in allowing for more than just one way to enter a university (a transcript of courses). I see no reason why one district cannot adopt a competency based approach while another adopts Schank’s cognitive processes model for assessment. They are both getting at the heart of truly representing learning.