If you spend any time at all reading about the latest innovations in higher education, you know that the buzz is all about competency-based education. There are a few elements of this movement that would at first glance be antithetical to the goals of seminary education. Competency based education is described as: highly individualized for each learner; dependent on technology and on-line learning; and oriented heavily towards skills-building for specific jobs. Competency based education, in its purest form, decenters learning from the classroom where the teacher is surrounded by students to a model of extreme micro-learning, where each student is considered a “center” and the teacher becomes one of many possible resources that the student may use in his or her mastery of competencies.
How can there be any value in this model for a place like RRC, where we emphasize community building, the cultivation of meaningful relationships among students and between students and faculty? How can competency-based education serve an institution that values the development of a student’s inner spiritual life as much as skills acquisition? Why would RRC employ a system that seems to valorize the individual over the community?
Over the past couple of years, the faculty at RRC has been engaged in the creation of a new curriculum for rabbinic education and we have come to realize that competency-based education has a place within a community of learners. In fact, I would argue that in some ways, competency-based education is a return to more “traditional” modalities of Jewish learning!
Over the coming months, I will be inviting colleagues as guest bloggers to share their thoughts about the future of rabbinic education and the value of a Jewishly modified competency-based education.
It is my hope that in addition to re-imagining rabbinic education, we will also be making a small contribution to the future of higher education in general.