12-11 Competence theory and research

This course addresses the field of competence theory and research which has been developing strongly during the past decades. After being used in daily language the concept gradually entered professional discussions about teacher education, management development and corporate strategy. In recent years the concept is institutionalized in agreements such as the European and National Qualification Frameworks. There are however fundamentally different conceptualizations of the concept: competence can be conceived from the perspective of functionalistic behaviorism, integrated occupationalism and situated professionalism, all with important pitfalls. The different conceptual approaches will be elaborated on, and the main research studies that have been influential will be studied.

Furthermore, the course discusses how research can be conducted in current competence-based education and training contexts (CBET), the implications of conceptual choices for the measurement of competencies, relevant research questions in CBET, challenges in competence-based assessment and consequences for research questions and approaches.

Students can use this course to develop their own research at conceptual level, for research questions, discussion sections and/or research instruments. 

Course objectives
After the course students:
  • are able to describe the genesis of the competence movement;
  • understand the main theoretical approaches in the field of competence theory;
  • are able to define competence standards and profiles of professionals and professions;
  • understand the research merits of competencies and the matrix of comprehensive competence-based (vocational) education;
  • are familiar with research opportunities and challenges of (authentic) competence-assessment;
  • can apply their insight in competence theory and research in different professional fields such as innovation, sustainability and entrepreneurship;
  • present and defend a coherent vision on competence theory and research.

The students should have an academic master degree, but no further requirements need to be fulfilled.

Lecturers Meetings
The course will be taught to WASS (Wageningen School of Social Sciences) and ICO students. For WASS students the course will be 4 ECTS (112 hours) and for ICO students the course will be 100 hours. The WASS students will do an additional assignment which is linked to their PhD-project.

ICO students who want to participate in this course are requested to contact the WASS Office in advance (marcella.haan@wur.nl).

There will be 6 sessions. The first session is an introduction session; for the next four sessions student conduct assignments based on provided literature for the various course topics; the last session is dedicated to presentations of papers based on a final assignment. The session and final assignments can be done on an individual basis, but group work is also an option.

The themes of the sessions are the following:

  1. Genesis of the competence movement; competence development in organisations (M. Mulder)
  2. Competence standards, vocations and professions; Competence-profiling for vocational and professional education (M. Mulder)
  3. Competentiveness of curricula in vocational education; measuring and developing competence-based teaching and learning (R. Wesselink – H. Biemans)
  4. Competence, innovation, sustainability and entrepreneurship research(T. Lans and R. Wesselink)
  5. Recent approaches and purposes of (authentic) competence assessment (J. Gulikers)
  6. Final session: Paper presentations - Integration of and discussion on the final assignment (all)

Students' work on all assignments will be assessed, including the final presentation and contribution to the discussions. Students must pass all assignments to complete the course.


Several assignments will require different students to read different parts of the literature and share this with other students during the course meetings, to increase students' active use of the literature and discussion on the literature. This will be made very clear in the first meeting of the course (not all literature is always obligatory).

  1. Genesis of the competence movement; competence development in organisations

    M. Mulder (2001). Competence Development – Some Background Thoughts. The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, 7, 4, 147-159.

    W.J. Rothwell and J.E. Lindholm (1999). Competency identification, modelling and assessment in the USA. International Journal of Training and Development, 3, 2, pp. 90-105.

    McClelland, D.C.(1973). Testing for Competence rather than for ‘Intelligence'. American Psychologist, 28, 1, 423-447.

    Prahalad, C.K. and G. Hamel (1990), "The Core Competence of the Corporation", Harvard Business Review, May-June, pp. 79-91.

  2. Competence standards, vocations and professions; Competence-profiling for vocational and professional education

    Karbasioun, M., M. Mulder & H. Biemans (2007). Towards a job competency profile for agricultural extension instructors: A survey of views of experts. Human Resource Development International, 10, 2, 137-151. ISSN: 1367-8868.

    Mulder, M., Wesselink, R. & Bruijstens, H. Chr.J. (2005). Job profile research for the purchasing profession. International Journal of Training and Development. 9, 3, pp. 185-204.

    Bartram, D. (2005), "The Great Eight Competencies: A Criterion-Centric Approach to Validation", Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol.  90, No. 6, pp. 1185–1203.

    Chatenier, E. du, Verstegen, J., Biemans, H., Mulder, M. & Omta, O. (2010). Identification of Competencies for Professionals Working in Open Innovation Teams. R&D Management,40,  3, pp. 271–280. 

    Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, C.L. (2011). Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development. Sustain Sci, 6, 203-218.

  3. Competentiveness measurement of curricula in vocational education; competence-based teaching and learning

    Wesselink, R., Biemans, H.J.A., Mulder, M.  & Van den Elsen, E.R. (2007). Competence-based VET as seen by Dutch researchers. European Journal of Vocational Training, 40(1), 38-51.

    Westera, W.(2001). Competences in education: a confusion of tongues. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 33, 1, 75-88.

    Sturing, L., Biemans, H.J.A., Mulder, M. & De Bruijn, E. (2011). The Nature of Study Programmes in Vocational Education: Evaluation of the Model for Comprehensive Competence-Based Vocational Education in the Netherlands. Vocations and Learning, 4(3), 191-210.

    Biemans, H., Nieuwenhuis, L., Poell, R., Mulder, M. & Wesselink, R. (2004). Competence-based VET in the Netherlands: background and pitfalls. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 56(4), 523-538.

    Velde, C. (1999). An Alternative Conception of Competence: implications for vocational education. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 51, 3, 437-447.

  4. Competence, innovation, sustainability and entrepreneurship research

    Capaldo, G., Iandoli, L., & Zollo, G. (2006). A situationalist perspective to competency management. Human Resource Management, 45(3), 429-448. doi: 10.1002/hrm.20121

    Chandler, G. N., & Jansen, E. (1992). The founder's self-assessed competence and venture performance. Journal of Business Venturing, 7(3), 223-236.

    Hayton, J. C., & Kelley, D. J. (2006). A competency-based framework for promoting corporate entrepreneurship. Human Resource Management, 45(3), 407-427.

    Lans, T., Hulsink, W., Baert, H., & Mulder, M. (2008). Entrepreneurship education and training in a small business context: insights from the competence-based approach. Journal of Enterprising Culture, 16(4), 363-383.

    Mitchelmore, S., & Rowley, J. (2010). Entrepreneurial competencies: a literature review and development agenda. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research, 16(2), 92-111.

  5. Recent approaches and purposes of (authentic) competence assessment;

    Baartman, L. K. J., Bastiaens, T. J., Kirschner, P. A., & van der Vleuten, C. P. M. (2006). The wheel of competency assessment: presenting quality criteria for competency assessment programmes. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 32, 153-170.

    Boud, D. (2000). Sustainable Assessment: rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education, 22(2), 151-167.

    Boud, D., & Falchikov, N. (2006). Aligning assessment with long-term learning. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 31(4), 399-413.

    Gulikers, J., Biemans, H., & Mulder, M. (2009). Developer, teacher, student and employer evaluations of competence-based assessment quality. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 35(2-3), 110-119.       

    Price, M., Carroll, J., O'Donovan, B., & Rust, C. (2010). If I was going there I wouldn't start from here: a critical commentary on current assessment practice. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(4), 479-492.

    Gulikers, J. & Mulder, M. (in press.) "Modeling and Measuring Competencies in Higher Education" Conference, Berlin, 24-25 February, 2011. In S. Blömeke & O. Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia (Eds.), Modeling and measuring competencies in higher education (ch. 17). Berlin: Sense Publishers

Tentative course schedule:

Session 1: 23 February 2012, 10:30-15:00hrs
Session 2: 8 March 2012, 10:30-15:00hrs
Session 3: 22 March 2012, 10:30-15:00hrs
Session 4: 5 April 2012, 10:30-15:00hrs
Session 5: 26 April 2012, 10:30-15:00hrs
Session 6: 24 May 2012, 10:30-18:00hrs

Maximum number of participants