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Aurora Institute

Art and Science of Designing Competencies

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, How to Get Started

Greetings everyone!  We just wanted to let you know about our first working paper — the working title is the Art and Science of Designing Competencies.  Our goal is to quickly capture knowledge through a short briefing paper, wiki resources, blog posts and a webinar.  We do not want to duplicate efforts  so if you now about resources that already tackle this issue, please let us know immediately! If you have resources that you think can be useful, please send them our way so that others can draw on them as well.

We have a great group of people willing to share their knowledge — Kim Carter, QED Foundation; Rose Colby from New Hampshire; Gloria Pineda, Diploma Plus; Steve Kossakoski, Virtual Learning Academy Charter School; Kari Webb from Iowa. Thank you to all of them and others who will be reviewing our work to make sure it will be helpful to schools and districts tackling competency education for the first time.

The set of questions that are guiding our work together are:

Definitions and Qualities

  • What is the difference between standards, competencies, and learning objectives?  — referencing the different language people use
    • What is a competency as compared to a standard? (i.e. how do you know you are looking at a competency?)
  • How do you know if a competency and learning objectives are well designed? Are there examples when you thought you had something well designed and then had to revise it later (with explanation)?
  • Let’s take three examples of a competency and its learning objectives.  What are the strengths? Where could it be improved? Where is it going to not be effective?
  • What are the top 10 “things to avoid” in writing competencies?


  • When you first sit down to start designing competencies, what are the big ideas or design principles that you are considering?
  • What is the process? Who do you involve in the process and in what way? When and how do we build upon Common Core?
  • Can schools adopt competencies from other schools or is the DIY process important to the effectiveness of competency education? Are there particular places in which DIY is a non-negotiable?
  • Are there differences in how you approach developing competencies in different disciplines?


  • At what point do you develop the assessments to go along with the competencies and the learning objectives?
  • How did you design your lifelong learning competencies? How is designing academic competencies different than those for lifelong learning competencies?
  • How do you assess lifelong learning competencies?

We would love to have your help in this process —

  1. Are these the right questions? What other questions do you keep hearing over and over in your work?
  2. Would you like to contribute a post on any of these questions? If you don’t want to take the time to write a post, send me an email with your thoughts on one or more of these questions and I can turn it into a post based on an interview format.
  3. And as always, if you have resources we can share on the wiki, please let us know.

 __________About the Author__________

Chris Sturgis is Principal of MetisNet, a consulting firm that specializes in supporting foundations and special initiatives in strategy development, coaching and rapid research. Along with project managing CompetencyWorks, she is strategic advisor to the Youth Transition Funders Group and manages the Connected by 25 blog.