Kairos Philosophy Series Introduction

November 9, 2020

by Greg Henson, President, Sioux Falls Seminary

For several weeks, David Williams, President of Taylor Seminary, led us through a conversation about a new way of learning.  He invited us to consider everything from how we understand Paul’s words in Romans to the standards of excellence that are embedded in Kairos to how one’s context shapes their learning in profound ways.  In this upcoming series of articles, we will build on the foundation he created by looking at how Kairos seeks to implement the concepts we explored.

Most of the world of higher education refers to what we do as “competency-based education.”  As we go through the next few weeks, we will see that competency-based education may not be the best phrase for what Kairos is doing.  It could be that we are creating something new. That doesn’t mean, however, that our approach to theological education appeared out of thin air!  Like all things, it can be traced through a narrative.  We will be exploring this narrative over the next few weeks.  (As a side note, if you’d like a longer article on this topic, feel free to read this article.  As a co-author, I will no doubt borrow from it.)

From Outcome-Based Education (OBE) to Competency-Based Education (CBE)
Around the 1950s and 60s, the world of education in the United States began to think more about the point of education.  Up until that time, modern higher education tended to have a bit of an “assembly line” feel.  Eventually, educators began to talk about the need for outcome-based education.  The idea was to put a heavy focus on the actual results of educational journeys rather than simply assuming the journey did what it was presumed to do.

One of the offspring of this philosophy was competency-based education.  It got its start around the 1970s.  Rather than using courses to measure progress or to structure educational journeys, programs were structured around discrete competencies that could be demonstrated by the student.  Today, some of the most prominent or well-known systems of competency-based education are run by places like Western Governors University or College for America.  Other programs that approach the work of competency-based education very differently than the schools above are more prevalent than some might imagine.  Thousands of students all over the world are engaged in competency-based education.

Next week, we will take a deeper look at outcome-based and competency-based education.  In particular, we will explore why they begin with the end in mind and how that differs from the approach often taken in modern higher education.

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