The gap between what we know and what we can do

Clayton Christensen Institute  Michelle Wiese

Universities are environments in which academic knowledge is prized.  But how does this knowledge match real-world competency?  Is it possible to know a lot and still not be equipped to do things well in the workplace?  And how many “book smart” people have the specific and practical skills to excel in the workplace?

It is not hard to recognise that there can be a gap between what people know and what people can do, but is higher education grappling with this reality?

According to the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, they are not!  Although most universities think they are preparing students well for the world, survey after survey shows that most employers think otherwise.  An employer might be able to review a candidate’s courses and scores, but does this provide good insight into what the candidate can do?


In a mini book called Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution Christensen and Michelle R. Weise identify and explore what they see as the glaring holes in Higher Education.  The solution, they argue, is to be found by revisiting competency based models of education.   Higher Education, they think, is ripe for disruption, and it is competency based approaches, not MOOCs, that will disrupt it.

As their press release says:

The economic urgency around higher education is undeniable: the price of tuition has soared; student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion and is greater than credit card debt; the dollars available from government sources for colleges are expected to shrink in the years to come; and the costs for traditional institutions to stay competitive continue to rise. At the same time, more education does not necessarily lead to better outcomes.

Employers are demanding more academic credentials for every kind of job yet are at the same time increasingly vocal about their dissatisfaction with the variance in quality of degree holders. The signaling effect of a college degree appears to be an imprecise encapsulation of one’s skills for the knowledge economy of the times. McKinsey analysts estimate that the number of skillsets needed in the workforce has increased rapidly from 178 in September 2009 to 924 in June 2012.

…Despite these trends, few universities or colleges see the need to adapt to the surge in demand of skillsets in the workforce. Distancing themselves from the notion of vocational training, institutions remain wary of aligning their programs and majors to the needs of today’s rapidly evolving labor market. At the same time, the business models of most traditional schools make them structurally incapable of responding to changes in the markets that they serve. Therefore, whether institutions like it or not, students are inevitably beginning to question the return on their higher education investments because the costs of a college degree continue to rise and the gulf continues to widen between degree holders and the jobs available today.

Who will attend to the skills gap and create stronger linkages to the workforce? This book illuminates the great disruptive potential of online competency- based education. Workforce training, competency-based learning, and online learning are clearly not new phenomena, but online competency-based education is revolutionary because it marks the critical convergence of multiple vectors: the right learning model, the right technologies, the right customers, and the right business model. In contrast to other recent trends in higher education, particularly the tremendous fanfare around massive open online courses (MOOCs), online competency-based education stands out as the innovation most likely to disrupt higher education.

– See more at:



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *