12 Training and Learning

Relating competencies to formal and informal learning activities

High level context: Competencies provide clear definitions of expected performance, and therefore can be used to inform the training and learning needs of individuals, teams, and organizations. Training and learning may be formal, such as structured courses and programs of study, or informal, such as a personal development plan in the workplace.


Who: College or university teams (curriculum developers, teaching and learning centres, faculty, continuing education leaders, Deans)

What problem: We have heard that we need to incorporate competencies into our programming, but don’t know what that means.

What context: Hoping to build competencies into new programming, or approach existing programming with a competency lens to “uncover” latent competencies that may be eligible to turn into micro-learning opportunities.

This will help: By providing a baseline of information to understand how to identify and speak about a competency vs. a learning outcome.

Who: Employer (e.g. HR department, Managers, Executives)

What problem: We need to connect ongoing professional development to our organization’s needs and job roles.

What context: I would like to develop a professional development framework for all of our employees that can link the competencies we need with both internal and external training.

This will help: By providing a validated process to align competencies with formal learning and training needs.

Learning Outcomes and Competencies

If you are working in the training and learning sector, you might have been challenged with trying to explain the difference between a competency and learning outcome.  Learning outcomes relate closely to competencies and often sound very similar. However, there are two major distinctions.

  1. Competencies describe what someone can do, but not how the competency was developed (i.e. A competent individual can…) Learning outcomes describe what someone can do as a result of a learning activity (i.e. Upon completion of this course, the learner will be able to…)
  2. Competencies can be developed through formal learning or not. The purpose of a competency is to describe a desired level of performance/ability in relation to activities. Someone may be able to demonstrate the competency without a learning intervention, through self-directed learning and repetitive practice. Learning outcomes always include a learning intervention.

Learning outcomes may encompass one or many competencies in order to achieve the outcome and the competencies may be repeated in multiple contexts. For example, developing competence in problem-solving may be carried out over a number of courses associated with various learning outcomes.

Using competencies to inform learning


  • Review competencies and supporting information
  • Identify performance criteria and supporting skills and knowledge
  • Will there be formal training required for the competency, or can it be developed over time through informal learning and coaching?

If no formal learning is required:

  • Provide some context in how the competency can be developed through self-directed learning and repetitive practice

If formal learning is required:

  • Determine scope of learning – will it cover some or all of the competency, or multiple competencies?
  • Draft learning outcomes and determine relationships to competencies
  • Determine learning objectives to support the learning outcomes
  • Develop learning activities and lesson plans aligned with the learning objectives

A few questions to consider for formal learning:

  • Does the learning outcome include both the context of an activity and a performance standard?
  • Does assessment of the learning outcome include observing performance over a period of time and in real-world conditions?
  • Is further practice required outside of (or following) the learning activity in order for someone to develop competence?

If the learning activities and outcomes are designed as a component of developing underlying skills and/or knowledge, but will not result in the ability to demonstrate all of the performance criteria for the competency, then any criteria that need to be developed externally should be identified.

The Learning Design Canvas in the Templates section is a helpful tool to get you started.



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eCampusOntario Open Competency Toolkit Copyright © 2021 by Dennis Green and Carolyn Levy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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