Bridging Academic and Occupational Learning and Credentialing in U.S. Postsecondary Education by Competency-oriented Program Shaping

Research insights on approaches, challenges, and perspectives

On both sides of the Atlantic, there is a need to better train and adapt the workforce for twenty-first century jobs. In the U.S. as in Germany, a debate drives shaping programs and credentials in all education and training sectors along competencies. The objective is to sustainably promote lifelong learning and the quality and the transferability of learning achievements between the education pathways to better address the needs of the learners as well as society and labor markets. The increasingly knowledge-based requirements in manufacturing and service areas in particular call for appropriate conceptual adaptations in program shaping within and across the sectors of postsecondary education and training.

In his research, DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow Volker Rein argues that a compatible practice orientation exists for the acquisition of appropriate knowledge, skills, and competencies to solve complex problems and tasks both in the academic and in the workforce-oriented educational perspectives. Using a comparative bi-national perspective, his December 18, 2018 presentation on U.S. postsecondary education and training focused on selected conceptual developments and challenges within Associate degree programs, as well as on linkages to non-degree and Bachelor programs. These findings were discussed in the context of advanced instrumental and conceptual approaches from the U.S. and from Germany.

The presentation provided an overview on practical implications of the research insights for program development, pedagogy and articulation, as well as on possible scenarios for prospective developments of academic and occupational learning and credentialing in the postsecondary education and training in the U.S. and beyond.

Key takeaways

  • Bridging academic and occupational education is a worldwide challenge for educators.
  • In Germany and the United States, there are three objectives to education: mastery of discipline, capability to act as a citizen, and personal development.
  • Educators whether in community colleges or universities should consider not only labor market needs but also the needs of learners.
  • Competency includes skills, knowledge, and comprehensive understanding.
  • Even within disciplines, community colleges are anything but homogenous. Institutions in the United States and Germany have difficulty standardizing and comprehensively defining core competencies.
  • Within curricula, key competencies and a capstone are vital.
  • More crossover research should be undertaken in order to bring in a broader perspective.
  • Institutions need to overcome utilitarian credentialing perspectives.
  • New sectors could push competency qualification forward; sectors such as health and IT are more standardized and defined.
  • Enduring partnerships between the United States and Germany are needed, not necessarily to homogenize education in the two countries but to better cooperate and understand best practices. The U.S. system likes freedom, but industries are learning that cooperation is key to help learners. There are convergence trends in the United States and Germany.

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